One of the more interesting things for me as a coach to see is the over-use and misunderstanding of the coaching cue “elbows out” when it comes to good body position on the bike. Like a lot of things in the cycling world, there are a lot of myths and half-truths being used to justify it’s use as a coaching cue and a lot of it sounds pretty good, especially if you don’t have a background in movement based principles to judge them against.
But the truth is that it is bad coaching cue and can quickly lead people down the wrong path when it comes to their body position on the bike. In my experience, here are the 3 reasons you want to avoid focusing on it…
Here are the notes from this video, although I go into these points in a lot more detail in the video:
1 – Elbows out is a weak position that makes it hard to efficiently transfer force into the handlebars. It also puts stress on the AC joint in the shoulder and disengages the lats. You also don’t steer the bike by bending your elbows from side to side, you steer by applying counter-pressure into the handlebars.
2 – Elbows out is a symptom, not a cause of good body position. In movement, based strength training we know not to coach the dysfunctional joint, you want to look at the joints above and below that joint. If they are doing their job then the joint in between will do its job. Example: Knees when squatting – look at the hips and feet/ ankles to see why the knees are doing the right thing. With the upper body on the bike you want to coach hand/ wrist position (palm pressure a.k.a. Purposeful Pressure) and upper back/ shoulder blade position and stability…then the elbows will be in the right place without coaching them directly.
3 – When cornering you want to not only push/ apply counter-pressure into the handlebars but you also want to pull with the top hand. Using this push-pull action creates a counterpoint in the core for both actions and results in a stronger, more stable movement. I’ve only recently started to pick up on this from my steel mace training where the off-set weight forces this counter-movement to stay stable when moving. When you pull with the top arm as well the elbow will be “out” but once again it is from the action at the hand and shoulder, not the elbow position itself that drives the movement and focusing on the elbow will take the focus off the shoulder/ pulling with the lat.
Look, here’s the thing…mountain biking is a very young sport and we are going to go through some growing pains when it comes to helping people learn how to apply movement skills to the bike. I’ve used and coached the “elbows out” position for a long time but found that it wasn’t adding up with other things I was doing and learning about off the bike.
Since focusing more on the things I went over above I have found my body position and other skills have improved…along with my ability to help other riders improve their skills on the trail. I think that getting past the over-use and misunderstanding of the term “elbows out” is important for helping our sport advance and for helping riders have more fun and be safer on the trail.
So my challenge to you is to try what I suggest in post and focus not on your elbow position but instead on your palm pressure and shoulder position and see what happens to your elbows. I’d be willing to bet that they did what they needed to do without your having to think about them…which is exactly what you want.
Until next time…
MTB Strength Training Systems