Gene Hamilton created his BetterRide training courses to help riders of all levels improve their mountain biking skills. Here, Gene offers his tips on the best body position when riding. Gene’s students have included national champions Mitch Ropelato and Cody Kelley.
Mountain Bike Body Position: The Fundamental Movement
Body position is your riding foundation, and it requires a fair amount of effort and a strong and stable “core” (your core is more than just abdominal muscles, it also includes your lower back muscles, oblique muscles, and hip flexors). Every physical part of riding starts from proper body position and it protects your body.
That brings us to the proper Hip Hinge, something I didn’t learn about until 1999 (5 years into my pro career and 10 years after purchasing my first mountain bike!). Whether standing and descending or sitting and climbing, I have always had a habit of bending at the belly button and rounding my back. Probably the only time I didn’t round my back was when standing and climbing.
Bending at the belly button is a weak, not athletic position that causes us to ride poorly and leads to massive back pain. The Hinge is your power center, it helps you stay centered and neutral and it protects your back.
How to practice the hinge:
First practice off the bike, find your hip crease, push slightly back on the crease and lower your chest by hinging.
Shoulders back and down, belly button pulled toward your spine, back flat.
Hold that position, feel it in your hamstrings (if you can’t hinge so your torso is parallel to the ground, your hamstrings are really tight! Stretch and roll them out!). Feel it in your lower back. It should feel comfortable but require effort.
Now, bend at your belly button and compare how that feels, probably weak and painful.
Notice that the further you hinge the further forward your chest and head go and the further back your hips go. This is crucial to staying centered! When you bend at the belly, not only does it strain your back and make you weak but it doesn’t automatically keep you centered either.
Once you have practiced it and felt it off your bike, find a mellow hill, preferably off-trail, on a paved section ideally (whenever you are on a trail, you tend to lose focus on what you are practicing as you are now more concerned with staying on the trail!) and practice this both seated and climbing and standing and descending.
Focus on exaggerating all the pieces of this like I am in the video. Notice my elbows are even more forward than they need to be and my chest while climbing is much lower than it needs to be for the grade I’m climbing. Exaggeration is a great learning tool, you will usually end up halfway between your old way and the new way, so if you don’t exaggerate you will end halfway on the trail.
Once you feel like you have created a “circuit” for your body to follow, take this to a mellow trail and practice. Check out this post on how we learn physical skills: https://wp.me/p49ApH-19s
Then take it to increasingly steep hills and notice it gets harder to do as you start becoming more concerned about the trail than what you are practicing.
You will find that without a lot of deliberate practice the second you relax and stop thinking about this you will bend from the belly! It takes work.
Go work on this crucial body position piece and have fun.