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on-bike positioning for someone with neck/upper back discomfort

Road Cycling “It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them. Thus you remember them as they actually are, while in a motor car only a high hill impresses you, and you have no such accurate remembrance of country you have driven through as you gain by riding a bicycle.” -- Ernest Hemingway

on-bike positioning for someone with neck/upper back discomfort

Old 05-25-13, 10:46 AM
  #1  
TallRider
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on-bike positioning for someone with neck/upper back discomfort

my officemate recently started bicycling. He's fairly athletic (though not typical endurance-athlete build) but always has significant discomfort in his neck and upper back.
He's more comfortable when sitting up straighter, which is true of most of us but he has a lot of issues going into any kind of aero(er) position.
I'm wondering if any of his issues might be fit/positioning related. Any thoughts? To me, the bike looks to fit him quite well and has a significant rise in the stem (almost to saddle level) and he doesn't appear to be significantly bent-forward or anything. Any suggestions for fit, or can I conclude that he's in fairly normal road bike positioning?
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Old 05-25-13, 10:52 AM
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I'm actually more comfy the lower and flatter I go. I also do a lot on neck/shoulder stretching and exercises for the TT position.

What are those things on his feet??
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Old 05-25-13, 10:52 AM
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Originally Posted by TallRider View Post
Any suggestions for fit, or can I conclude that he's in fairly normal road bike positioning?
Yep - normal position for a Fred.
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Old 05-25-13, 10:55 AM
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His bike is too small. His saddle is too low, ....

Your friend needs to go get a bike fit.

Also, riding with running shoes is not the best idea. If he does not want to use road pedals, he can at least use an MTB style shoe without the cleats. Shimano M088 is a good cheap shoe and it comes in wide sizes too.
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Old 05-25-13, 11:02 AM
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He needs a haircut.
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Old 05-25-13, 11:10 AM
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Originally Posted by fstshrk View Post
His bike is too small. His saddle is too low, ....
Yep - that too. Prob one size too small.

And see that top tube? When he's in the drops the top of his back is supposed to be parallel with it.
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Old 05-25-13, 11:14 AM
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I replaced frame on my previous bike because the head tube wasn't tall enough. I didn't know at the time that I could have just gone with a steering tube extender for less money but I do like the new bike better. After a ride on my previous bike, I needed to put heat on my neck the pain sucked. I raised my bars about 1.5" and that solved the problem. No more neck pain. I don't use the drop much either.
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Old 05-25-13, 11:22 AM
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yeah, it would be ideal for him to be on a larger bike, except that a longer top tube would leave him more horizontally stretched-out than he is now.
He's *less* comfortable the flatter he goes (his upper back and neck tighten up more), so I don't think a larger bike would actually do anything to solve his problem. I've moved his saddle higher since the pictures were taken, but of course this also puts him further away from the bars and leads to more discomfort.
I haven't been able to notice anything in positioning that would lead to his upper back tightening up so much (and it gets worse as he gets more aero, so he spends most of his time with his hands on the tops). I figure it's some biomechanical deficiency. But I told him he should go to a shop for more proper fitting.

Originally Posted by kenji666 View Post
He needs a haircut.
His hair is his pride. It is thicker and richer than commercials aimed at 45-year-old men.

Originally Posted by CrankAndYank View Post
What are those things on his feet??
Originally Posted by fstshrk View Post
Also, riding with running shoes is not the best idea. If he does not want to use road pedals, he can at least use an MTB style shoe without the cleats. Shimano M088 is a good cheap shoe and it comes in wide sizes too.
Yeah, running shoes are entirely un-ideal for cycling. The cushioning is counterproductive both for the thicker shoe and the degree of compression, along with the more obvious benefits of cycling shoes. Cycling isn't too high on his list of athletic activities though, so I think he should just wear his (lower-profile soled) Adidas indoor soccer shoes.
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Old 05-25-13, 11:25 AM
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Originally Posted by CrankAndYank View Post
I'm actually more comfy the lower and flatter I go. I also do a lot on neck/shoulder stretching and exercises for the TT position.
What exercises/stretches do you do? I think this is probably more usefully his solution than anything else fit-related. Maybe if his neck and scapular muscles adjust, he'll actually be able to move to a larger bike and a more horizontally-extended position.
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Old 05-25-13, 11:59 AM
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Originally Posted by TallRider View Post
What exercises/stretches do you do? I think this is probably more usefully his solution than anything else fit-related. Maybe if his neck and scapular muscles adjust, he'll actually be able to move to a larger bike and a more horizontally-extended position.
Shoulder shrugging and the neck stretches where you use your hands for resistance:








The most beneficial exercises I do involve a neck harness:





I have mine hooked to an elastic training band.
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Old 05-25-13, 12:10 PM
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Goodness! Agree that he might be benefit from professional fitting, but he also needs to work on his posture. He's locking his elbows (making his shoulders tense), his wrists look awfully overextended (in both pics) and his grip on the handlebar is too strong. The posture on these pics is typical of people who complain of neck/shoulder pain.

He will need to carefully work on:

1. Relaxing shoulders
2. Having elbows a LOT more bent. BTW, this doesn't mean bent outwards, but bent downwards (elbows facing the ground.) He should get accustomed in riding 70-80% of the time on the hoods. He should use the tops on long climbs or for a few minutes just to change hand positions a little. Drops for descending, overtaking or during windy conditions.
3. Hands and forearm should always follow a straight line (look at how his wrists have almost a 90° bend -- ouch!)

Your friend might look fit from going to the gym, lifting some weights and doing cardio routines, but he might suffer from stiff muscles -- lack of flexibility. So there will be a learning curve and discomfort in achieving a correct posture on the bike. Again, he needs to work on this diligently. You can help him correct his posture when you ride with him. He needs, however, to make a conscious effort to improve it little by little which could take a few weeks or even a few months (depending how often he rides.) He will also benefit from core strength exercises and stretching routines.

As far as the bike goes, a professional fitter will be able to make adjustments or flat out tell him if he needs to start all over again (i.e., buy a different bike with more relaxed geometry.)

EDIT: For core strength exercises specific for cycling, there are lots of youtube videos. I also recommend this book.

Last edited by Chris Pringle; 05-25-13 at 12:24 PM.
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Old 05-25-13, 02:58 PM
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What everyone else said, plus see how his lower back angle doesn't change from his upright to drops position? He just gets a hump in his back. He needs to roll his pelvis forward and straighten his back. That will also make his butt more comfortable if he has a reasonable saddle. That's the usual thing with people who complain about neck pain. If he didn't have that hump in his back, his neck would be better aligned with it.
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Old 05-25-13, 04:45 PM
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This reminds me of Fernwoods own W.D. Budd Prize.

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Old 05-25-13, 08:57 PM
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The discomfort is probably from the turtling. It's a bad habit... tell him to relax his shoulders. Whenever you see him doing it remind him not to.
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Old 05-25-13, 10:23 PM
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Originally Posted by sfrider View Post
The discomfort is probably from the turtling. It's a bad habit... tell him to relax his shoulders. Whenever you see him doing it remind him not to.
and
the bike's way too small, so with that stem, when he bends his arms, he prolly feels he's going to pitch over the front. SO he locks his arms so he doesn't go over the bars... or so he thinks.
likely, he prolly too far forward with his saddle, so further pressure on his shoulders and neck.
it's all wrong... but fairly typical of a lot of people I see on road bikes...
he has relaticvly short legs to a longer torso - so a compact frame with a bit of TT and ample stem will give him some space and also give him some Headtube, so that he doesn;t need that funky stem.
he's riding a road bike, positioned as if he was on an Opa Fiets...
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Old 05-26-13, 05:49 AM
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As usual, Zen is spot on. Yes, fitness helps, but it isn't the root of your friend's issue OP...its his bike fit. When a handlebar is too close to the saddle, the arms act as pillars holding up a porch...they are in compression. This compression goes up the arms, into the shoulders and traps and into the base of the neck. His torso wants to lean forward, especially for spirited riding but nowhere to go which puts pressure on the arms. As it turns out, this is an area of great study for me, because this issue is my Achilles heel and I ride long distances routinely, so my fit has to be spot on for the kind of riding I do with the body I have been dealt. I am a fan after countless experimentation of Out and Up riding position. In other words, it doesn't matter if you are a pro racer or a slow guy, you need the right distance between the saddle tip and handlebar center. The big difference between average guy and a pro is...drop. Drop works if you have very good flexibility and is awful if you don't. But the stretched out argument is flawed for most that ride a road bike. If you can't stretch out, you will suffer and may times it will be pain and speed. Other element that Zen mentioned is saddle setback. This is as important as distance to the handlebars because it determines rider position on the bike relative to the cranks. The cranks are basically a platform to stabilize the body because that is where your feet push off of. So the fore/aft weight balance of the body relative to crank centerline is critical for weight on the hands. No, riding too far in the back seat is no good for cadence and pedal stroke and closes the hip angle to get aero, but conversely riding with saddle too far forward is awful for pressure on the hands. So the fore/aft position of the rider relative to the crank center is very important to comfort and speed as well.

Last edited by Campag4life; 05-26-13 at 08:11 AM.
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Old 05-26-13, 07:01 AM
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I just want to reiterate what's been said about his form; learning to cycle requires practice and training, and what feels unnatural or uncomfortable to him now may not feel so later if he develops good habits and practices. The locked elbows and wrist flexion are an excellent example of this.

Also, the bike is clearly too short for him, as many have mentioned. A longer stem and sliding the saddle back a bit to induce a little pelvic rolling are probably in order; I find a little less rise in the stem helps to rotate the hips, too.
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Old 05-26-13, 07:44 AM
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Originally Posted by chaadster View Post
I just want to reiterate what's been said about his form; learning to cycle requires practice and training, and what feels unnatural or uncomfortable to him now may not feel so later if he develops good habits and practices. The locked elbows and wrist flexion are an excellent example of this.

Also, the bike is clearly too short for him, as many have mentioned. A longer stem and sliding the saddle back a bit to induce a little pelvic rolling are probably in order; I find a little less rise in the stem helps to rotate the hips, too.
I am sure you guys experience the same...my non cycling friends are pretty incredulous about how far and fast I ride...not that I am an accomplished rider by any means. After all, if you look at pictures of the great Eddy Merckx, he looks like the guy next door...no bulging muscles or freakish proportions. Of course what was below the skin and between the ears of Eddie was very special. But your point about practice and training is undeniable. Position on the bike is so important. Let's say that 70% of those that ride, do it wrong or less right than they could. They are leaving performance on the table. Lets take a century ride. If the OP were to ride a century...or say me to ride a century in his position...it would be excruciating because his fit and form are so bad. Same guy + bad form = poor poor performance. This I believe is what the public and a fair amount of poor riders don't get. They could get way more performance out of their bodies being in a better position....and be much more comfortable on the bike in the process. Many quit road biking because they can't get comfortable. I have an athletic nephew who did this in fact...and he is a smart young man. I didn't have a chance to work with him on his fit. He bought both a road bike and mtb and said that the road bike hurt to ride. He is relatively fit. He kept his mtb 29er because it was more comfortable. We talked about it later and I am almost 3x's his age. I explained to him he 'quit before he got good' which btw is not an uncommon theme.

Last edited by Campag4life; 05-26-13 at 08:09 AM.
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