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All,

I've been riding on the road for 20 years, mostly without much discomfort. But for the past 2 years I've ridden only MTB. I recently had a professional road fit done where my position was analyzed. The fitter told me I should not stick my elbows out (which I do). He said my arms should be a little flexed at the elbows but in a straight line when viewed from the top (ie not sticking out). He also said I should be gripping the hoods with my hands pretty strongly and pulling rather than pushing on them, which uses abdominal muscles more than shoulders. He said that neck pain can be caused by pushing on the bars which hunches my shoulders up.

He was convinced that he set me up with the correct top tube length, stack/reach, correct bar width, stem length, height and angle as well as saddle position. So basically he thinks I need to work on riding using the form he described. But when I tried keeping my elbows in it was very uncomfortable. Gripping the hoods and pulling back didn't feel right either.

So I'm wondering if anyone has read expert opinions that either agree with him or conflict with his suggestions. I wasn't able to find much on Google about this.

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    Re neck pain - do you have a visor on your helmet? Try unclipping it if possible, this stops you having to lift the head more to see forward, plus it opens the forehead area for wind cooling. – Criggie Feb 24 '16 at 6:43
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Ultimately all road bike positions are a compromise between comfort, power and aerodynamics. The balance between each component depends on your goals, experience, flexibility and any underlying injuries or physical dysfunctions. If you find a position that works for you, that is outside the "typical" road positioning, then you should consider it as valid as more typical positions. A good fitter should be able to accommodate unique personal characteristics. That said, you must also be careful in that non-stand positions may also lead to other unintended problems over time if you do not have a good awareness of how your body operates biomechanically.

What follows are some answers to some of your explicit in-text questions.

Elbows in or out

The fitter told me I should not stick my elbows out (which I do). He said my arms should be a little flexed at the elbows but in a straight line when viewed from the top (ie not sticking out).

A lot of road positioning is about reducing frontal area. Keeping your elbows in reduces your frontal area thereby reducing the amount of new turbulence created as you move through the air. Reducing your frontal area allows for greater speeds to be attained for the same level of effort.

While critical for racing, a recreational rider may benefit from comfort over aerodynamics. I recently shifted to much wider road bars (44 cm instead of 42) with an additional flare in the drops (which adds another 4 cm). This sticks my elbow out relative to more standard road bars. I know I am less aerodynamic with this setup, but I am also a lot more comfortable. It opens up my breathing, and makes the bike easier to handle on mixed terrain (i.e., gravel and dirt). For me this compromise is worth the loss of efficiency (for this bike).

Pulling or pushing on the hoods

He also said I should be gripping the hoods with my hands pretty strongly and pulling rather than pushing on them, which uses abdominal muscles more than shoulders.

I am suspicious your fitter is really only considering performance fits. If you are racing or doing large efforts (e.g., 250+ watts sustained effort) you need a way to resist the force generated by your legs. In this case a low body position and pulling back on the hoods works well. If you are riding in a more relaxed pace (e.g., under 175 watts), this body position makes little sense as you have less force to resist. This is why touring and endurance positions typically have shorter reach and more upright (higher stack) as you do not need as closed of a body angle to resist the force generated by your legs.

If your cockpit is setup too long and low for the type of riding you do (e.g., performance fit cockpit given to an endurance or recreational rider), then you will feel you need to consistently push against the hoods to keep yourself upright as you are not generating enough force from your legs to fully support your upper body weight with your core muscles (i.e., your core muscle do not have enough force to resist against to keep you upright so you rely on your arms).

Neck Pain

He said that neck pain can be caused by pushing on the bars which hunches my shoulders up.

While it is true that neck and back pain can be caused by hunching up the shoulders there are multiple possible sources that can cause you to hunch your shoulders (not just the one pushing on the bars). For example, a cockpit that has a reach that is too short and a stack that is too low can also cause you to hunch your shoulders. Even how your pelvis is rotated on the saddle can affect your spinal alignment leading to hunching and neck and back pain (personal experience).

Ultimately, fit is a tricky subject, often depends on an individuals goals, underlying flexibility and pre-existing injuries. It is also a bit of a moving target that can change day to day especially if you have unresolved injuries or flexibility issues.

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    There is a balance between acclimated usage (habit) and "best practice" usage. A good example is cleat placement and foot position. One may be acclimated to placing their feet in one particular position, based on their life history and any plethora of life events which would be too numerous to mention here. Whereas, if the habit were changed, the rider might suddenly find themselves pedaling much more efficiently and pain-free! This can be a difficult balance, and many professional riders do not know exactly where they are on this. Best usage ultimately considers personal physiology. – Corvus B Feb 24 '16 at 3:34
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    @CorvusB - Habit changing can be quite difficult as it often requires reprogramming control pathways in the brain. If you have ever tried alter a control pathway it can take a lot of determination, effort, and consistency (e.g., it has taken almost a year to reprogram some bad postural habits I developed in my youth - and I would say I am only 80% of the way there). Many casual riders may not be sufficiently motivated to keep with habit changes. – Rider_X Feb 24 '16 at 17:17
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    @NorthKrimsly - For endurance fits I personally like high stack and long reach. If you have the proper hip flexibility you roll your hips forward and straighten out your back (which lengths your reach). This worked well for me, your mileage may vary! – Rider_X Feb 25 '16 at 17:25
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    I agree with Rider_X, actually, that habits can be difficult to change, but I wasn't addressing that difficulty. What I might add, today, though, is that, back when I raced, I used yoga to increase my flexibility, which increased my ability to maintain positions that were otherwise difficult. Like staying fully down on the drops in a TT. Rider_X has provided a good answer, for the bicycle, technical side of the question. I don't see that he addresses your part in the equation. I wanted to increase the value of Rider_X's answer, adding a bit more about adapting the body. – Corvus B Feb 25 '16 at 19:27
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    @NorthKrimsly - I meant stackexchange is not the best forum because no one else cannot directly observe you. Getting different opinions from different experts is not uncommon, especially for bio-mechanical issues. I personally made the best progress integrating information across three physio therapists, each had a unique perspective, but no one had the complete picture on their own. Unfortunately, it can be hard to fully understand what is going on in a hour or two session. We often need to be our own best advocate by continually compiling and re-assessing information from all sources. – Rider_X Feb 25 '16 at 21:46

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