Bike fit, muscle imbalances & my experiences.
Firstly, I would like to mention that I am in no way qualified as a bike fitter, and my knowledge of bike fitting is very limited in comparison to those within that profession. This post is simply just explaining problems I have had over the years due to a poor bike fit and muscle imbalances, hopfully some will find it useful and realise that you shouldn’t be uncomfortable on the bike.
One problem a lot of people face in the modern era of bike fit is what they see on social media. The trend of slamming a stem, using -17deg stems just because they look cool, downsizing on frame size so you have a cooler longer stem, using a Fizik Arione because “all the pros use them” (incorrect). When I first got into racing bikes, I literally did all of these things thinking it was the right thing to do, influenced by what I had seen on social media, what my friends had been doing etc.
Today I went training, and I encountered the same problem that I had a while ago with an aching lower back. Now, this problem usually came within the season during hard/long training rides, but I could never pinpoint what it was. I changed a lot of bits on the bike, stem length and height most notably. But it kept coming back. It turns out that its most likely due to my weak abs and glutes, and tight hip flexors.
‘Flat back wiggo’ is a phrase I’ve heard a lot, and yes, wiggo looks awesome on a bike with his flat back, but not everyones backs are meant to be flat! I ignored this physiology and decided I needed a big ol’ nego stem so I had a flat back too. However this only lead to too long and low of a reach for me, meaning I struggled with neck & lower back pain.
I ended up always trying to ride around with a flat back, wanting to look cool and thinking maybe that was the way to be if you were a racing cyclist. After a while, it became apparent that my lower back and abs were weakened, not necessarily from this, but in general, muscles not used vigorously during cycling do often become sedate and weak.
Thankfully I’ve never suffered a bad injury from a bad bike fit. But I know of those who have. Loss of power is one of the main factors of a bad bike fit – and as a racing cyclist, loss of power is basically the end of the world…
After years of experimenting, I feel like i’ve finally found a good bit fit. Recently I lowered my saddle slightly (2-3mm), shortened my reach slightly (8-10mm) and increased my saddle setback by quite a lot (15mm). The reasons for these changes were thought about over a long period of time, and I did much reading before changing anything. But I finally feel like I can get all my power out in the saddle now which is a big step forward.
I urge everyone who feels they lack power, have aches and pains or just generally not much idea on their bike fit to research into it, and possibly invest in a good bike fit. There are a lot of good names out there and plenty in the industry with great reputations.
One more thing to note is the importance of strength training!!! Yes we all hate it because it’s not riding a bike, but if you’re spending a lot of time in the saddle the chances are that some of your important muscles that are part of the chain are going to become weak. And if that happens, it can cause lots of problems, like my lower back pain issue. Lifting free weights is the ideal if you just need to maintain or gain strength, where as for pure muscle mass gain machine weights do a good job as it isolates the muscles you’re using.
No one likes doing core exercises, but the importance only becomes apparent when you’re losing power from a bad posterior chain or getting injured, so get on it before anything goes wrong!
Thanks for reading, and I hope some of you will find this useful and help you recognise the importance of bike fit and maintenance of good posture, and also a big thanks to my coach Joe Clark for always being one step ahead of me on my bike fit and imbalances, which I do tend to forget about from time to time!