Ask The Expert: Can this standing climb position be correct?
Kristen sent me an email:
I am beginning a segment of classes focusing on standing climbs. I am an avid reader of everything about Indoor cycling and outdoor cycling but I am a little confused. I am reading a book called Bike For Life by Roy M. Wallack. In this book he talks about standing climbs and proper form. Here is the quote:
"Because a stationary bike does not angle upward while climbing as does an outdoor bike, the indoor cyclist must make a posture change to cultivate hamstrings, glutes and back muscles in the same way that they'd normally be used outdoors. To replicate the outdoor position, hinge at the hips, keep your back straight and parallel to the ground, push your nose down to within a few inches of your handlebar , and shove your butt so far back that it barely brushes against the saddle. Look down, not forward, to keep your spine in a neutral, comfortable position. In fact, literally lengthen the spine by inching your tailbone back and the crown of your head forward.
This seems so wrong to me!! You are my go to gal when I need the RIGHT information.
Now, I scratched my head over this one. How on earth would a cyclist (supposed cyclist) say this? This is not how these muscles are used outdoors. while it is true that some cyclists and coaches suggest placing a few telephone books under your front tire if you ride your road bike on a trainer indoors to mimic the angle of climbing, if the front of the bike is not raised, lowering the upper body does not mimic this position at all. If the front end of the bike is higher, the angles at the hip remain the same relative to the bicycle. However, if you do what this guy is suggesting, you lower the upper body, closing the angle at the hip. Pushing the hips back as he suggests takes the hips outside of their optimal range as well as the knee joint. The knee is now far behind its optimal KOPS (Knee Over Pedal Spindle). This crouched-over position would also impinge the breathing muscles.
So that is my take: the guy is nuts. Let's see what Jennifer Klau and Tom Scotto had to say about this. We actually had quite a lively email discussion over this! I'm editing out some of our comments to keep it, um, diplomatic! ;-)
Tom Scotto's response:
EEW! Yuck! Biomechanic alarms are going off all over the place! Stop....Don't Do That!!! Kristen, this is so wrong and honestly, your knee-jerk response is smack on. Overall, the ideal position (fore-aft) for your body is balanced over the pedals/bike. Regardless of whether one is outside or inside, with a block under the front wheel or not, balance over the bike is the way to go. If you are leaning forward, this will place additional pressure on the hands, arms, shoulders, etc, pedaling mechanics will be hinders and bike-handling skills will be affected. If one leans to far back (over the nose of the saddle), all of the above will be an issue. PLUS, with the seat now between your legs, you will not have the ability to relax and allow natural movement to the upper body. Remember, a real bike will move side-to-side. Most indoor bikes don't provide the ability to move side-to-side, so our bodies must remain relaxed and move under the force and mechanics of muscle engagement.
Furthermore, "pushing" far back over the saddle will increase the extension of the knee placing the joint at risk of hyper-extending. The optimal angle for applying sheer forces to the crank arms will have been compromised reducing the effectiveness of both hip flexors and glutes (and basically everything else for that matter).
The whole "leaning forward with your nose a few inches from the saddle" thing is ridiculous. Not only do you hinder proper breathing as you indicated, it places the torso in extreme flexion AGAIN changing and hindering the mechanics at the hips, not to mention the strain on the lumbar spine. I'm trying to imagine what one would do with their arms in that position.
Now with more resistance on the bike, I might take a more aggressive posture on the bike (leaning SLIGHTLY forward), but this is solely a natural response to the workload. This is similar to how a jogger may run more upright and someone running fast or sprinting will lean forward to leverage the force and power. In all cases, balance must be managed otherwise everything breaks down.
When descending, it is common to assume an aggressive position with one's nose close to the handlebar. Hands can either be close together on top of the bars or in the drops. However, one DOESN'T pedal when descending in this position.
There is no reason to change climbing technique on an indoor bike or when using a bike in a trainer. If one uses proper form and remains balanced over the bike, the mechanics and muscle activation is the same minus the effects of gravity.
Honestly, it is so silly and so far off the mark that he shouldn't be given the time of day. However, it is sad how many people can be misled by stuff like this.
Jennifer (Klau), do you have anything to add or sticks to throw?
And here is Dr Jennifer Klau's take:
I didn't pedal up Mt Washington with my nose on my bars and I'll bet you didn't either, Tom. The front of the bike is raised on a steep climb, but the steeper the climb, the more you have to bring your weight forward, lest the front wheel pop up off the road.
I can't think of a valid reason to assume this ridonculous position indoors. Maybe this instructor figured it makes him seem more knowledgeable? In any case, Kristen, you are entirely correct that this is all kinds of wrong.
Here are a few photos that should help you see that climbing outside, whether attacking or not or whether sitting or standing, in no way resembles what he is suggesting:
This is a photo I took at the Tour de France in 2004. (I will withhold comment about the 4 cyclists in the photo - all who have been implicated in some way for doping). It is on the Col de la Croix Fry in the Alpes. It's a long hard climb, this is only about 6% where they are here, but it was much steeper below and is about to get much steeper. This is 2km from the top, which was followed by the descent to the finish (which Lance won). No one is attacking here, and they are all seated, but believe me, they certainly aren't taking it easy either. This was a fast pace they were holding!
[Photo by sirotti, from www.steephill.com]. This is an amazing shot of two cyclists on a very steep segment in the Pyrénées (2011 Tour de France). Both are out of the saddle in a position that is helpful on a very steep hill just like Jennifer Klau suggested above in her discussion of climbing Mt Washington (one of the steepest roads in the world used in a bicycle race). Moving this far forward is not recommended indoors because there is no "real" steepness - we can't mimic the upward angle of the road; the front end of the bike is not raised, so riding in this position indoors would place a lot of pressure on the hands, as Tom indicated. But you can see it is the exact opposite of what the author has suggested.
[Photo by sirotti, from www.steephill.com]. Also in the Pyrénées in 2011, this is Andy Schleck arriving at an uphill finish. While no one is attacking (Andy is crossing 4th, so no one is racing for first), you can see that the most aggressive position is Cadel Evans who is the rider in red behind Andy. He has his hands on his drops, which does bring him closer to the handlebars, but nowhere near where the author suggests. Cadel didn't climb this entire climb in his drops - he only went there towards the end. The rest of them are climbing normally, like most cyclists climb, both indoors and outdoors.
So there you go. Many of you reading this who have been a member of ICA for awhile, and/or have read Keep it Real and/or have followed me while at Spinning, can probably see through this right away because you've been educated about the proper way to ride a bike outdoors and indoors. So learn to trust your instincts. If it sounds silly, and looks even sillier, and if it takes you out of a biomechanically correct way to move on a bicycle, then you are probably right....
Just don't do it! ;-)