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How to Choose a Bike Seat for Good Posture (Part 2)

September, 2017

In our part 1 blog post on the topic of bikes, we went over how to find the right frame for you. The next important step is to find the right seat for your body and your bike, since without a decent seat you may be uncomfortable, or may find it challenging to have healthy posture. Your seat should distribute your weight across regions comfortably; it should have padding, but not so much that it lacks support and stability; it should be set at an angle that allows your pelvis to antevert (that is, tip forward relative to the angle of your spine.) A good seat is crucial whether you prefer to be upright and stacksit, or if you prefer a racing style with a hiphinge. Here’s what you need to know about bike seats to find the right one for you:


Seat shape and angle: On most bike seats, it’s possible to change not just the height, but the horizontal position and the tilt of the seat. Make these adjustments carefully on any bike you plan to ride regularly. A small difference in the seat position can have a big difference on your posture as well as your comfort.

The angle of your bike seat—because it makes anteversion uncomfortable or because it tilts you too far forward or backward—may be causing you to tilt your pelvis in a direction that doesn’t allow for good back positioning. Many people prefer bike seats that carry most of their weight on their sitz bones (further back) rather than on the tissues under the pubic bone (further forward), because there are fewer sensitive nerves endings around your sitz bones. So if the front of your seat is tilted too far up (as in the image above left), this can encourage you to tuck your pelvis in an effort to relieve pressure on the pubic bone. And if the seat is really tilted too far up, it forces you into a tuck because of the backward slope of the seat—picture this as the opposite of the wedge you would use to facilitate stacksitting. If you try to sit on your bike with an anteverted pelvis (more angled than the angle of the hiphinge you need to reach your handlebars), and your seat causes you discomfort, you may need to angle the front of the seat downward.

Too much downward tilt is also problematic. If your seat makes you feel as though you are slipping forward off it when you antevert your pelvis, you will need to tip it back more so that you stay comfortably in place without having to brace all your weight against your handlebars. If your seat is tilted forward so that it doesn’t sufficiently ‘cradle’ your pelvis at the right angle, you may also be tucking in an effort to get your bottom further back on the seat.

It is possible that after playing with your seat to find a comfortable middle-ground, you will discover you need a new seat altogether. You should look for one that accommodates the shape and size of your sitz bones and carries your weight in the least-sensitive areas when you are properly hiphinging on your bike. Some seats are wider and may cause chafing against your thigh; you may need a cutout in your seat to relieve pressure under your public bone. To find a seat that matches your body, you may need to do a lot of testing!

Note that many newer “comfort” seats have a huge amount of padding and can amount to sitting on a small mound, rather than distributing your weight and ‘cradling’ your bottom. This extreme amount of padding can actually make it harder to comfortably antevert your pelvis:


Because these seats fall away from a padded peak, your weight is not well distributed; to find a comfortable spot for the pressure to land, you may end up tucking your pelvis so your sitz bones take all the force.

Older “saddle” style bike seats may appear too firm, but they can cradle your pelvis, distribute your weight comfortably, and promote stacking.


The slightly bowl-shaped curve of these seats provides lift in the back like a wedge, but catches your from sliding forward with the projection in the front.

Firmness and fabric covering on the seat will also make a difference in your riding experience. A slippery fabric may cause you to always be sliding around; a squishy seat may feel most comfortable at first, but end up chafing or lacking support. Finding the ideal seat is best accomplished through a lot of testing and laps around the block, so we recommend you find a very patient bike shop attendant to help you with this selection. You may need to purchase several seats so you can test them out on longer rides over several days before returning the rejects.

In addition to the more standard styles found in most bike shops, there are also many kinds of specialty seats available online which may work best for your needs and preferences:


Both of these seats provide a nice bowl shape that can support anteversion and comfortably distribute weight. Personal preference will dictate whether these fit your body, and enable a proper range of movement and a stable seat while on your bicycle.

Getting moving: When it’s time to actually get on your bike, how should you do it? The most gentle way to mount your bike will be to start by straddling the frame in front of the seat. Try doing this next to a railing or wall where you can brace yourself for balance, and move slowly while engaging your inner corset.


This young girl shows the ideal way to start your ride—straddle the frame and tallstand to align your pelvis and spine.

If you are not adept at swinging one leg through the air, or your balance isn’t what it used to be, a bike frame that dips very low in front (like comfort bikes) may be necessary to make getting on and off your bicycle easy. Make sure you can easily step over your frame without hurting your back or losing balance.

 


This comfort cruiser is ideal for maintaining a relaxed upright posture, and has a low bar in the front that makes getting on and off the bike a breeze!

Before you get up your seat, perform a shoulder roll and slowly reach your arms to your handlebars, to make sure you maintain good shoulder positioning with your elbows close to your sides, and no slump in the upper back. Keeping your shoulders in position may deepen the amount of bend you need to sit with, which will dictate how anteverted your pelvis should be.

When you get up onto your seat, you will have to perform an advanced hiphinge/stacksit, one that is done by bringing your hips back and up, rather than your torso down (while moving and balancing!). As you stand up on your pedals, make sure you start with a straight back, engage your rib anchor, and then slowly deepen your hiphinge as you move your hips back and up onto the seat, keeping your sitz bones out behind you.


Start hiphinging as you stand up on your pedals, before moving your bottom onto your seat.

The motion is similar to hiphinging before lowering down onto a chair for stacksitting:


As your lift yourself into your bike seat, you will need to hiphinge to some degree, more or less depending on the style of your bike and how upright it allows you to be.

If you need to adjust while you are on the move, you can make sure you are properly anteverted by lifting your bottom up a little and repositioning your sitz bones even farther behind you.

As you ride, you can lessen the work of your back, shoulder, forearm, and wrist muscles by keeping as much weight in your seat as possible, rather than supporting yourself on your handlebars. If you have experienced wrist or arm pain, you should consider a frame and seat that allows you to stacksit, since being fully upright will save your wrists from unnecessary stress.

Engaging your inner corset as you ride will also protect you from bumps and jostling. Because you will be in motion, manually checking your position or looking in a mirror is likely impossible, so you will have to rely on your proprioception and your body’s comfort levels to judge how well you are maintaining your posture. But like with everything else, practice makes perfect; with some repetition and regular breaks, you can soon master the Gokhale Method on two wheels!

Do you have any experiences to share about bike seats?

 

 

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Comments

What your article does not mention, and should, is the pressure on the prostate gland—a major consideration for men. Prolonged pressure on the perineum can cause erectile dysfunction and prostate problems. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/28/science/28tier.html?mcubz=3

I do not ride often, but when I do I am certain to use my own seat that doesn't press against the prostate. (Most rental services will allow you to change seats as long as you return the bicycle to its original location.)  In your article you picture a seat that supports the sitz bones and buttocks on two separate concaved discs. My own seat is similar but it is connected in the center.

I've always wondered how all the pieces fit for your gender in biking...this is a great addition to our knowledge base - thank you!

Another factor, an important one is seat height, and reach to the handle bars.

When the seat is too high the hips will will sway with the pedal stroke (move up and down) which puts a strain on the lower back.  This can also change the hip angle you mentioned in your article.  The muscle that are important in cycling are glues, quads, and hamstrings (check this out with cycling coaches or trainers).

Extension from the seat to the handle bars is also important in back care. Especially if the person rides a racing style bike with the down handlebars.  Here, the back also needs to be straight with the antiverted hips mentioned in your article.  This would also apply to mountain style bikes where the reach is a factor.

Mountain style bike have become very popular and more people have come back to bicycling.  Everything you mentioned in your article is quite accurate.  It took me a long time and a lot of riding to get this.  It took a lot of experimentation especially with the seat to handlebar extension and be relieved of neck and shoulder pain on longer rides.  Advice from serious riders helped too.  If you're not comfortable on the bike you don'e feel like riding.

Hope this was helpful ---

Gerry

Gerry—excellent addition. Yes, if the seat is too high, dropping the leg all the way can force a sway in the back. This can also happen from habit even when the seat is at an ideal height, but engaging the inner corset and doing a rib anchor will help stabilize the torso against this tendency to sway.
Pushing with the glutes when you pedal, and not just the quads and calves, can also help prevent a sway as you engage tension when your knee is up higher rather than when it is fully extended, and it will give you more power in your pedal.

Yes, reach and handlebar position is a significant factor, which we discuss fully in part 1 of the article. Thank you for reminding us! Getting advice from those who have already taken so much time becoming comfortable on their bike, and are serious riders is definitely a benefit. As you say, it can take a lot of experiementing, so readers, don't be afraid make changes to your setup! There's a good chance you will be able to find a great, healthy position for riding.