Today, we’re going to be looking at body positioning. It’s the core skill that ties all other skills together, which means if you’re doing this wrong, everything else will be wrong. Body positioning is the most important thing to get right. Nailing it unlocks control, grip, and speed levels that aren’t consistently possible with poor form.
The flip side of that coin is that poor body positioning gets you into so much trouble without you even realizing it. Getting bucked out of control, washing out the front end, going over the bars and the drop, even just to an off lane, the cause, more often than not, is terrible body positioning.
No great riders have precisely the same body position, which is why, with experience, you can always recognize riders by the way they look on the bike regardless of the kit they’re wearing. That means many variations of body position work well, but there are a few key things that all great riders do. Right, let’s get one thing out of the way.
First, there is no one physical body position for me to teach you. You don’t just assume attack position and then squid your way down the trail like a mannequin with a death wish. Attack position! You may laugh, but I have genuinely seen people doing this.
Body positioning is fluid and dynamic, constantly changing depending on what you are riding, making it difficult to put into words. We’ll try, though. I’m sure most of you are well-versed in the traditional tips of eyes up, elbows out, knees bent, heels down, weight centered that are commonly used.
These are all great and remain relevant for beginners through to advanced riders. I like to go through these points to ensure that we’re all on the same page and discard a few misconceptions.
Keeping your eyes up refers to looking ahead to read the terrain before your knee-deep in action. It’s essential as you have to give your brain time to process what it’s seeing so you can make decisions on where you’re going and what you’re doing. How far ahead is related to speed.
Elbows out is attractive as a beginner encourages riders to lower the center of gravity and bring their weight centered. There are arguments that there’s also a biomechanical advantage for strength and manipulating the bike, but I know some excellent riders who have their elbows in, and it doesn’t seem to hold them back.
Let your elbows sit where they feel comfortable and worry more about the essential things. How much bend depends on the situation and the terrain. As a default, I use just a bit of a curve and then go farther when I’m more aggressive or trying to be aerodynamic or dodging branches because they’re my big long unit.
Knees slightly bent allows you to absorb any bumps and maintain efficiency easily. I see so many people with really angled legs hovering over the back wheel with what must be an unhealthy amount of lactic acid in their thighs. It’s like running your suspension at 50% sags.
What waste. Don’t do that.
The straighter your legs are, the more efficient they are. Running them straighter more often will save you a lot of energy. The critical thing is only to bend them when you need to. Like when the track is steeper or you’re absorbing features.
Fully locking them out is a good trick to give the pens a rest mid descent but only do that when it’s safe to do so. I do it a lot and but maybe I don’t recommend you do it all the time.
I’ve heard some people mentioning that they purposefully bow their legs out. Don’t do that.
You’re just putting your legs into a weaker position for no real benefit. And equally, don’t hug your knees into your seat and top tube. Please keep them in line with your feet by default and move them in or out to balance or allow the bike to move as needed.
Heels down is an important one for flat pedal riders. It helps keep the feet planted on the pedals through the rough ground by keeping the forces acting on your foot perpendicular to the pedal. Nothing is worse than the dreaded foot bones or pedal flip and then duck foot in your way down the next section of track in your heels.
Dropping the heels benefits all pedal types by getting a bit of suspension from the pivot of your ankle, helping to smooth things out. I see many people stressing about this tip biomechanically; they physically can’t move their heels lower than the tools once they’re in an excellent central body position without feeling like the hamstrings are just going to snap like an elastic band.
Don’t worry. If you look closely, most riders’ back feet don’t have the heel bent. The critical thing here is that your calf is relaxed, allowing your ankle to pivot to absorb bumps and keep your heels planted on the pedals. I’m a bit of a unicorn with mega Flexi calves. You have to be good at something.
Weight-centered is a trickier one to define but the reasons why are simple. The tires on your bike grip thanks to weight going down through the bike and into your rubber of choice. When your weight is centered between them, the grip is evenly spread between the two wheels, suitable for cornering and braking.
Due to the way our bodies and bikes are shaped, it’s rare for people to have their center of gravity forward of center, but it’s widespread for people to have it too far back. When you lean back and put your center of gravity behind the bottom bracket, you have to grip on tight to the bars to stop you from falling off the back.
If you never get back to that magical center position, you can never relax that grip. The trick I use is to find a center position is focusing on finding a gentle way in my palms. I loosen my grip on the bars and slowly creep forward until I feel my palms pressing lightly down into the holds. That means my center of gravity is in front of the bottom bracket, which is around the center.
What you don’t let your knees bend and creep forward as you’re doing this, make sure you keep them just with a small amount of bend and hinge forward at the hips. Other riders use sticking their elbows out and getting ahead over the bars to achieve this. Whatever works for you. I’ve heard some people see to get your hips over the bottom bracket. If you can successfully tell where your hips are concerning your BB when riding, then congratulations.
Advanced Weight Distribution
Weight distribution is so important, and this post has just been an elaborate setup to talk about it. So being centered in the bike is simply trying to put your center of gravity right in the middle of the two wheels. You 100% do not want to do this all of the time.
This should be your default position which you start and then just depending on what’s happening on the trail you’re riding. When you set off down a track, you should be there. When you need the front tire to grip, you should be there. When you recover from a steep section, do you know where you’re recovered to? That’s right, slap, bang, in the middle.
I describe this as a tennis player, always returning to the center core after each shot, so they are ready for whatever the opponent hits next. Being an egotistical YouTube weapon, I had to develop a name for this way of thinking about body position for your consideration, The Boss Stance.
So hopefully, this default position is starting to not only come together in your head but make absolute sense. Alright, one more thing to this pile of stuff I’ve already mentioned, once you’ve got into this position and you got it dialed, relax, loosen the grip on the bars, switch off those stiff muscles and get comfy and centered.
Sure, when stuff gets real, you need to hold on tight, shift your body weight and do what needs to be done but always, always come back to this default position and chill. So many riders don’t; they stay pants and rigid and end up diamond-hard, massive fatigue, and cramping muscles at the bottom. The boss stance works an absolute treat on flatter trails, and although things will always be dynamically moving and changing this technique for corners, breaking, lumps, and bumps are applied, the core aspects are still there.
Looking ahead, slight bend in the knees, calves relaxed, light pressure in the palms, stay loose. Seriously, advanced versions of most techniques are just doing the same basic but faster and a gnarlier terrain. There’s no magic technique here.
The hardest thing is just doing the basic techniques even when your brain says, “Screw that.” Let’s quickly mention the main situations where you don’t need your weight centered. Nasty holes, really rough straights, square edges, drops, and jumps are all situations where you want your front end unweighted to varying degrees.
I’m not going to go into detail about these situations. Otherwise, we’re going to be here all day. They probably are going to be held here all day, anyway. Don’t worry; future vids will cover these things. I’m going to go ahead and assume everybody knows that when you ride steep sections of trail, you shift your weight back. I’m pretty sure everyone’s heard that, “Yeah, lean back.”
Yeah, we all know that? Wrong. When riding a steeper section of the trail, you pitch your bike down by straightening your arms and bending your legs, but your weight should still be pretty close to centered over the bike. If you are breaking on this steep section, you will have to shift your weight back a bit for that break and forces.
The most common mistake I see with body positioning is people creeping into a seemingly safe, comfortable, defensive position, the bum behind the seat, and the hands just tugging on the bar, just a little bit. It’s not their fault. At some point, they’ve gone over the bars, and the brain has gone, “Well, screw that. Ain’t going to do that again, time to lean back.” I call this defensive position passenger mode because you’re just along for the ride once you’re in it.
This is where there is a strong correlation between confidence and body position. I know when I’m not feeling confident, I can feel my weight creeping back, and I’ve got to battle with myself to keep things centered. You’ll know when it’s happening because it feels like the bike is just running away from you, and it’s hard to stay on lane.
The issue is usually not because of your arms pushing you back, and it’s actually because your legs are bending too much. I have to consciously straighten them to get back into that center position and feel that light pound pressure. I think that’s it. I did warn you at the start; this was going to be detailed.
So to recap, here are the main points. Use the boss stance as your default position. Focus on that slight bend in the legs, light pressure in the hands, and relaxing. Let the bike move underneath you to fluidly follow the terrain and shift back only when it’s required. Always try to return to this position whenever the track allows.
Watch out for those passenger moments when the weight creeps back, and the bike feels like it’s getting away from you. And finally, be a boss.
Hopefully, you learned something today, and if you did, I’d appreciate every sneaky thumb up, let the bosses know I’m doing my job. If you’ve any questions, I will be hanging around in the comments after this goes live, and I’ll try and answer them all.