On the trail everything boils down to one thing – balance. The better balanced you are the faster you can ride and more confident you will be doing it.
Or, as Mr. Miyagi put it in the original Karate Kid…”Balance good, karate good. Balance bad, may as well stay home”.
On the trail we’ve all had those days when it felt like we were trying to kill ourselves and we would have been better off just staying at home. Well, not really since a bad ride is still better than doing just about anything else but you get my point.
Usually when we have those bad days it is because our balance is off a bit. It doesn’t take much to throw off your balance on the trail, which is why it is important you really understand good body position and how to apply it to the bike.
Your body position and how it affects your balance boils down to one thing – the relationship between your Center of Gravity (COG) and your bike’s COG. If they are lined up properly then you feel balanced and confident on the bike, if they are off a bit then you feel unbalanced and sketchy.
While this changes when you stand up to pedal, your basic body position on your mountain bike depends on one thing, which is your ability to hinge at the hips while keeping a neutral spine. This is the same movement pattern you train when doing the deadlift, which is why it is so high up on my list of all-time mountain bike exercises.
When you can do this then you are able to get your COG back behind your bike’s COG while still keeping some weight on the front end. It literally lets you spread your weight out over the cockpit more efficiently so you can stay balanced and be able to steer effectively as well.
If you can’t hinge your hips properly then you end up doing one of two things. You either 1) get your butt back but your chest is too high and not able to weight the front end or 2) you get your chest down so you can steer but your butt is so far forward you feel like you will get pitched forward easily.
Both of these things seriously compromise your performance and safety on the trail. When you factor in that your body position is important for every other skill you need on the bike and you can see why it is the #1 skill you need to learn.
So, what do you do if you struggle to get into a good, strong position on the bike?
If you do then odds are you suffer from tight and/ or weak hips. If you struggle to touch your toes or to be able to execute a perfect deadlift with 1.5 X BW then it probably isn’t from a lack of “knowing” what to do as much as a lack of the physical hardware needed to do it.
So, if you find yourself in that boat then here are a couple things you can do to improve your mobility and strength, plus how it applies to the bike.
Good body position on your mountain bike starts with the Hip Hinge. This is your ability to bend over at the hips to bend over instead of bending at the lower back.
If your Hip Hinge isn’t working right then you will tend to initiate movement from the shoulders and use your lower back too much, both of which will reduce your balance and strength on the bike. Plus it will place a lot more strain on the lower back, which will increase the chances of low back pain from riding.
To improve your Hip Hinge on a fundamental level you need to address muscle length and motor control. In other words, do some targeted stretching to loosen things up and then do some drills to help you better control that improved range of motion.
Here are two of my favorite ways to improve your Hip Hinge. The first video is a progression of stretches and the second one is one of my favorite mobility “hacks” of all time – the Toe Touch Drill.
Hip Hinge Correctives
Toe Touch Drill
Once you can perform a good hip hinge you need to put some strength behind it. Strength is just your ability to coordinate and produce tension within movement patterns.
This is just a fancy way of saying that, when done right, adding some strength to your hip hinge will let you use it in a more efficient way on the bike and be able to withstand more stress to the movement pattern before it breaks down.
Remember that there is a difference between being able to execute great body position in a parking lot and being able to execute it on the trail. Often the difference lies in the strength someone has to put behind their body position – without some the ability to efficiently create higher levels of tension they are quickly knocked out of position and revert back to bad habits.
While I know that some people keep going on and on about how great the deadlift is for mountain biking – oh wait, that’s me – the truth is that most riders need to gain an even more basic level of strength with their hip hinge before the deadlift will unlock its secrets for you.
This means that an exercise like the absurdly named Bulgarian Goat Bag Swing is a much better place to start when trying to strengthen the hip hinge in order to improve your body position. In this video I show you how to do this exercise and explain how it closely resembles what you should be feeling when in the Attack Position on your bike.
Bulgarian Goat Bag Swings for Mountain Biking
Now that you have a better idea of how to move off of the bike, let me show you how it all relates to body position on the bike. In this video I break down the basics behind good body position and how it relates to the movements I’ve discussed already. I’ll also show you some basic body position drills you can use to help you dial it in so it is easier to execute on the trail.
Body Position Clinic
There you have it, a basic blueprint for improving your body position on the bike. Being able to focus your training both on and off the bike towards the skills you need on the trail is the best way to see improvements with the least amount of effort. Try the mobility, strength and skills drills I shared with you in this post and I’m sure you’ll find the same thing.
If you have any questions or comments about this post please leave a comment below this post. And if you liked this post please share it with a fellow rider who could benefit from the info.
Until next time…