The Five Contact Points on the Bike
by Coach Sarah
For the most solid and stable “platform” possible while riding a bike, it’s extremely helpful to literally “become one” with your bike. One of the most practical and logical ways to do this is to divide our bodies into a series of “bicycle contact points”, which are basically the places on our bodies where we have an opportunity with every pedal stroke to FEEL the bike! The more we feel the machines beneath ourselves, the more we stay in control of our ride, versus letting the ride control us.
Here are the five places where we have contact with our bikes:
- Right Hand
- Left Hand
- Right pedal via our shoe (or cleat, if using a clip-pedal system)
- Left pedal via our shoe (or cleat, if using a clip-pedal system)
For those who ride time trial/triathlon bikes, it could be argued that we have SEVEN contact points, when factoring in our right and left forearms via the aerobar pads!
For each contact point, we can train that area to become stronger and more purposeful with its role. And really, when we are spending countless hours on our trainers while riding indoors over the chilly Chicago winter months, this gives us something to think about besides perhaps wishing for the ride to end! 😉
- The hands are ACTUALLY controlled by the stability in our elbow and shoulder joints, via the muscles in our forearms, upper arms, shoulder girdles and chest muscles. Of specific use for us, are our:
- Biceps/triceps (this may vary based on the style of aerobars you have, or if you are riding in your drops or hoods.)
- Pectoralis Major/Minor
- Serratus Anterior (think “boxing” muscle)
- In addition, as our hands are an extension of our arms, which are an extension of our shoulders, which are an extension of our collarbones and therefore sternum and ribcage, it’s important to note that our UPPER CORE (think abdominals, especially our obliques) is tremendously helpful and useful in the stabilization of our hands on our handlebars.
- If you read nothing else in this section, take note here! Having a stable shoulder girdle is quite possibly the MOST IMPORTANT piece of the upper body equation on the bike! I’ll say it again, just for the heck of it… STRONG SHOULDERS ARE IMPORTANT! (Added bonus, strong shoulders help with swimming too!) 😊
- ACTION PLAN: Forearm planks and/or straight arm planks. Try doing these 3-4x/week, for :30-:60 at a time, and I promise this WILL pay off with your ability to handle your bike and have purpose to your upper body while riding!
Long live big butts! Why? If used correctly, our butts provide us with the GREATEST MASS OF MUSCLE available to us for movement via our legs! It is the opening and closing of the hips on the bike where we can find the most powerful AND SUSTAINABLE (that is REALLY important to note—-MOST SUSTAINABLE) muscular action while riding! Ironically enough, many of us don’t really know HOW to use our bottoms to move! Perhaps this is due to the countless hours many of us spend sitting at desks or in cars every day. Our bottoms go lazy, and don’t have to do anything to assist us in sitting. They just need to provide cushion. (!!!)
- Fact: We have two butts. A left butt, and a right butt. Who knew? Thankfully they work together via our SACRUM, which is the small triangular bone found at the bottom of our spine, just above the tailbone. Once we learn to recognize the fact that we have two butts, we can put both of them to good use while biking! (And while swimming and running!)
- Meanwhile, SADDLE comfort is a HUGE issue that I see and hear about over and over again with the classes I coach and the rides I help out on. It’s a topic that literally deserves books, clinics, seminars, and loads of personal discussion as lack of comfort on the saddle will make it nearly impossible to ask your bottom and legs to give you power on the bike for more than a few minutes.
- Soapbox note: PLEASE, if you are NOT comfortable on your saddle, do not blame the art of riding or the sport of cycling, but rather SEEK OUT A PROFESSIONAL BIKE FIT, complete with various saddle choices. There is a saddle for everyone… and the proper bike fit is a huge piece of this puzzle. Do NOT give up on seeking out the correct saddle and also having a proper bike fit to ensure your entire body has the best platform possible for performance!
- Our butt (gluteal) muscles help us open up our hips. While pedaling on your trainer or CompuTrainer, give this some thought. Actually, perhaps a lot of thought! Picture your hips OPENING up as you pedal FORWARD and DOWN on the pedals. SEE your glutes helping make that happen! The more purposeful we are with that action, the more WE control our bike, versus it controlling us.
- ACTION PLAN: Glute bridges. I don’t think I’ve personally come upon an exercise that isolates out the sensation of the glutes firing as that of the glute bridge. The version pictured below shows an advanced “kick-out” version, so just try doing this exercise with both feet on the ground for starters. Work up to 3-4x/week, holding the position for :30-:60.
- Feet, feet, feet… Well, what is helpful to say here? Our feet are perhaps our most “intimate” connection with the bike, at least as far as the production of power is concerned. And our cleats and shoes are part of this equation. Our feet are the final, and most FORCEFUL delivery point when cycling. They are THE PART of our bodies that are literally attached to the crank, which is THE PART of the bike that moves the chain, which is THE PART of the bike that turns our wheels. So… our feet are indeed intimately connected to our bikes.
- I encourage you to NOT overlook this part of the body/bike connection and know that there are additives available such as special insoles that give added arch support, or wedges to help correct knee issues or high/flat arches, or shims to help equalize out leg length discrepancies.
- Again, I go back to the topic of having a professional bike fit for this topic, as trying to correct feet issues on our own can actually make a problem worse without us realizing it until it is too late.
- How do we know if our feet are helping us out? We ought to feel a sense of control all the way to the ground if we are aware of our feet. They should be the piece that helps us FEEL the tension on the chain, and the tension on the crankset, which is a direct indicator of the power and torque we are putting into our pedal stroke.
- ACTION PLAN:
- Single Leg Stands – Work up to :30-:60 of stable/solid standing on your left foot, and your right foot, 3-4x/week. Focus on tightening your abs, glutes and hips to keep your body still. Think about your forefoot helping stabilize your lower body, almost picturing that space where your cleat is positioned on the bottom of your shoe.
- Calf Raises on a step with heels hanging off. – Work up to 10-20 reps on each foot, 3-4x/week. Use the handrails on the stairs for stabilization if necessary and allow your heel to drop lower than the ball of your foot. Focus on PUSHING your body back up through your forefoot—again where your cleat would be positioned on your bike shoe—with purpose and stable force. This action replicates the bottom of our pedal stroke, when we begin the “backstroke”, engaging our calves with solid purpose.
So there you have it. A long laundry list of things to think about while pedaling thousands upon thousands of pedal strokes on your bike trainers this winter! 😊 Along with an Action Plan to help you “feel” the sensation you are aiming for!
Sarah Wangerin is the Director of Cycling Programs and Massage Therapy at Experience Triathlon. She is also a certified USA Cycling coach, USA Triathlon coach and Licensed Massage Therapist. Learn more about Coach Sarah, Experience Triathlon and Experience Massage at www.experiencetriathlon.com