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Cycling is a fantastic way of keeping fit and active, burning calories and having fun in the great outdoors. Chances are you’ve got your bike set up so that it’s fairly comfortable – a cushioned saddle to protect your butt, handlebars about the right height so that you don’t have to stretch too far forward, and the pedals positioned so your legs move through a full range of motion.
Sure, it probably feels pretty comfortable.
A recent study showed that women cyclists who had their handlebars set to a relatively low position had far higher vibratory thresholds in the anterior vagina than those who adopted a higher hand position on the bike. This low handlebar position also correlated with greater pressure in the perineum.
The study was carried out at Yale University and published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine. While it was conducted using competitive female cyclist, all of whom spent many hours riding, and had been competing for years, it still showed some important findings. It may be the case that you only go for the odd ride once or twice a week, or hop on the stationary bike or attend a spinning class at the gym, but you should still take heed of these warnings.
The main issue with both the increased vibratory thresholds and the perennial pressure is that both affect the strength and control of your pelvic floor muscles. These muscles run from the base of your pubis through to your lower back and are vital for controlling your bladder movements.
The study showed that when riding with lower handlebars, female riders had to lean further forward on the saddle, which decreased the internal angle of their hips, and put far greater pressure on the pelvic floor.
The other method of testing was vibration sensation. Riders with the low handlebars had a greater vibratory threshold, which showed decreases sensation in the vaginal area.
This results in a dilemma. Clearly, when riding a bike, particularly in competition and at high level, you want to do everything to maximize performance. This makes your positioning on the bike absolutely vital. A low position with forward lean reduces wide resistance and makes you faster.
By leaning forward, you reduce your body size, which means the wind hits less of your body, and doesn’t slow you down, so you ride quicker. You only have to watch riders at the Tour de France or in the Olympics to see that most competitors adopt a low position, leaning right into the handlebars to reduce wind resistance and optimize performance.
However, this recent study clearly demonstrates that this position may be detrimental to women’s sexual health.