This is a great question I got yesterday about the posture you see pro XC riders using vs. the body position and posture that I talk about in my Body Position Clinic. Since I’m sure that a lot of riders may have a similar question I wanted share my answer with you…
The body position that may lend itself to a short term performance gain can also lead to long term joint damage and movement issues.
First of all- thank you very much for the valuable input that you are providing in your blog posts and training plans. I’ve started to see several aspects in MTB riding in a completely new light and I’m very happy about it. But one question has tempted me for some time now.
Recently, after installing a wider handlebar to my bike, I’ve been struggling to find a good body position on the bike and beside other articles in the web have read also your postings about proper body position on the bike. While after some testing I think I am almost there now, I have difficulties in understanding why the same doesn’t apply for many of the top riders.
If looking at a few examples like Christoph Sauser (world champion in XC maraton) and Jaroslav Kulhavy (last few years the nr1 XC racer)- it’s a bit painful to even look at their back being arched like a bow on hard uphills and their shoulders seem to be very tight, if looking at their body position when standing and giving interviews after another victories.
Also the good riders in my hometracks look far from being perfect in terms of body and back position, but despite that they ride fast like crazy and doesn’t seem to have any problems with their backs. This has made me think if the spine position is really that important in terms of power transfer and this area might be overstated?
If the best athletes in the world in this discipline are riding with such an arched spines and win the world cup’s, then I can’t find good arguments here…”
A: This is a great question and one I think I’ll dive into in more detail in a future podcast but I’ll throw a few things out there for you to consider.
1) Pro athletes often compromise their body to achieve the highest levels of performance. High level sport is not about health and the truth is that pro riders suffer from a lot of overuse injuries and joint pain. The body position that may lend itself to a short term performance gain can also lead to long term joint damage and movement issues. They make this trade off willingly because they pay their bills doing it. If you don’t ride professionally you need to consider your overall movement and health, in which case applying this fundamental movement patterns I talk about to the bike is very important.
2) Pros “cheat” differently than amateurs. You’ll see this same thing in pro Powerlifting – if you watch a top level pro pull his max his back is far more rounded than what I talk about in my videos. But if you look at where the pro lifter (and rider) bends it tends to be much less in the lower back and more through the upper back. This still isn’t optimal posture from a long term health perspective but it places much less strain on the lower back and results in more leg power than the rounded lower back posture you see in amateurs. There is a saying that it is alright to break the rules once you know what the rules are and in this case most riders need to learn basic body position before they start worrying about adopting performance specific postures seen in pro levels.
3) I’m not sure that they wouldn’t do even better if they did pay more attention to their posture on the bike. The truth is that just because the pros do doesn’t mean it is the best way to do it. You can look at the high jump for a recent example of this – it wasn’t too long ago that the Olympics and World Championships were being won with what we not recognize as an inferior high jump technique. The world of sport is littered with examples of the “best” way simply being the best we knew at the time.
So, hopefully I’ve given you some good arguments for avoiding the posture you in the pro XC riders unless you are paying your bills based on your performance in an XC race, and even then you’d still want to focus on this for the sake of longevity and making sure that you are still “cheating” as efficiently as possible.
Also, check out these article I wrote on the 4 Quadrants of Training and how they apply to mountain biking. I think they will help you better understand why you need an approach that is very different than the pro/ Quadrant 4 rider:
In my opinion, getting too caught up in what pro riders do when you aren’t a pro is a legitimate but ultimately misguided way of looking at your training and skills development.
BTW, one of the “secrets” behind the Ultimate MTB Workout Program is that the early phases fix your posture and bad movement habits you don’t even realize are holding you back. Until you address these basic things then trying to improve your cardio and strength may result in overuse injuries and less than optimal results.