Technique is undervalued in cycling. In many other sports, you won’t be able to get far without proper technique. In running, you would get injured pretty quickly. In swimming, you could just drown if you were really bad. In XC skiing, you would rapidly waste all of your energy. Technique in cycling is camouflaged because a bike is such an amazing energy converter but it doesn’t mean that proper technique should be disregarded as it can really help you reach new heights.
I don’t hear many cyclists mention posture at all in cycling clubs or groups. Though, having a proper posture is definitely important to use your glutes effectively, breathe fully with your belly and protect your spinal discs. Imagine your pelvis as bowl of soup, you want to drop the soup onto your feet, this is anterior rotation. You want to be close to your natural axial extension which means bending mostly from the hip and not from the spine. Saddle selection plays a key role here as well, if your saddle puts unnecessary pressure on your soft tissues, you won’t be able to rotate comfortably your pelvis as much anteriorly and your posture will be compromised. Most of the time when riding, the main force stopping us to go faster is wind, so being able to bend over easily at the hip is important if you want to reduce your aerodynamic drag too.
A proper pedaling cycle starts early engaging the glutes to push forward and down. Then, the second phase is very much like pushing against the surface of the Earth in a sense that is hard-wired in our nervous system. Then if your saddle isn’t too high so you can actually drive with a horizontal foot at the bottom of the stroke, you will be able to use your hamstrings effectively. A proper technique will help you share the load on your 3 big lower body muscle groups (glutes, quads and hamstrings) so you can maintain an effort for longer. Furthermore, note that pulling up past the bottom dead center is problematic in a sense that the body isn’t made to produce much force pulling with the lower body while fighting gravity and doing so, will likely make you less symmetrical as you will start to pull up more with one side as the body struggles to complete 4 different actions in a pedaling cycle.
If you think cycling is a lower body sport only, think again. Many are aware of the importance of core to stabilize your body when pedaling but good use of your shoulder muscles can help you produce significantly more power as well. When climbing out of the saddle, we want to pull up with the ipsilateral arm so we can engage the lats, biceps and triceps. Most people will move too close to the bars with the arms quite straight and will push against them. Optimally, we want a good amount of elbow flexion, hips quite back with a close to neutral back bend and of course pulling with the right arm when you push with the right foot and vice versa. This technique will basically give us the ability to switch between the upper and lower body musculature so you can produce more watts for longer periods of time. Personally, I’ve found power gains that you wouldn’t call marginal with this technique.
If you haven’t really explored these areas before, they really might be worth exploring if you don’t want to leave comfort and performance gains on the table. Finally, having a proper bike fit will also help you achieve these much more easily.