The effect of saddle position on maximal power output and moment generating capacity of lower limb muscles during isokinetic cycling.
ABSTRACT Saddle position affects mechanical variables during submaximal cycling, but little is known about its effect on mechanical performance during maximal cycling. Therefore, this study relates saddle position to experimentally obtained maximal power output and theoretically calculated moment generating capacity of hip, knee and ankle muscles during isokinetic cycling. Ten subjects performed maximal cycling efforts (5 s at 100 rpm) at different saddle positions varying ± 2 cm around the in literature suggested optimal saddle position (109% of inner leg length), during which crank torque and maximal power output were determined. In a subgroup of 5 subjects, lower limb kinematics were additionally recorded during submaximal cycling at the different saddle positions. A decrease in maximal power output was found for lower saddle positions. Recorded changes in knee kinematics resulted in a decrease in moment generating capacity of biceps femoris, rectus femoris and vastus intermedius at the knee. No differences in muscle moment generating capacity were found at hip and ankle. Based on these results we conclude that lower saddle positions are less optimal to generate maximal power output, as it mainly affects knee joint kinematics, compromising mechanical performance of major muscle groups acting at the knee.
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ABSTRACT: Currently a substantial amount of cycling research and training is conducted in sports science laboratories utilising cycle ergometers and/or turbo trainers. These devices have been widely used within cycling research, however, they have been found to be difficult to set-up and adjust, particularly whilst in use as well as to replicate a force profile similar to that experienced when competing. This study details the development of a novel cycle ergometer that incorporates automatic bike set-up and adjustment. The ergometer was designed in accordance with a design specification developed through the use of needs analysis of elite cyclists and performance scientists. The user analysis identified a need for increased adjustability (seat height (SH), seat set back (SS), handlebar drop (HD) and handlebar reach (HBR)) and positioning accuracy, whilst maximising the stability and stiffness of the frame when conducting maximal effort trials particularly at the bottom bracket. The novel ergometer incorporates two lifting columns to provide HD adjustment from 411mm to 868mm and SH adjustment from 568mm to 928mm. The two lifting columns were mounted on two linear rails to provide horizontal adjustment of the handlebars relative to the seat, and seat relative to the bottom bracket. The motors on both the lifting columns and linear rails were fitted with HTL encoders, increasing the positioning accuracy to+/- 0.1mm. An anti-coast brake was also fitted to prevent the lifting columns or linear rails from slipping whilst in use. When comparing existing set up time, adjusting from the largest to smallest set-up, current ergometers can take up to 30minutes, whereas the new ergometer takes 8seconds. To minimise twisting of the frame during maximal effort cycling, the bottom bracket has been mounted on a 65mm x 65mm square column. Finite element analysis of the structure identified that it would remain stable whilst subjected to up to 800Nm of torque. In conclusion the development of the novel ergometer allows for greater adjustability, speed of set-up and maximise frame stability during use.Procedia Engineering 01/2011; 13:69-74.
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Jeroen Vrints, Erwin Koninckx, Marc Van Leemputte, and Ilse Jonkers are with the Department of Biomedical Kinesiology, Faculty of Kinesiology
and Rehabilitation Sciences, K. U. Leuven, Leuven, Belgium.
Vrints et al.
Effects of Saddle Position in Isokinetic Cycling
The Effect of Saddle Position on Maximal Power Output and
Moment Generating Capacity of Lower Limb Muscles During
Jeroen Vrints, Erwin Koninckx, Marc Van Leemputte, and Ilse Jonkers
Saddle position affects mechanical variables during submaximal cycling, but little is known about its effect on mechanical
performance during maximal cycling. Therefore, this study relates saddle position to experimentally obtained maximal
power output and theoretically calculated moment generating capacity of hip, knee and ankle muscles during isokinetic
cycling. Ten subjects performed maximal cycling efforts (5 s at 100 rpm) at different saddle positions varying ± 2 cm around
the in literature suggested optimal saddle position (109% of inner leg length), during which crank torque and maximal power
output were determined. In a subgroup of 5 subjects, lower limb kinematics were additionally recorded during submaximal
cycling at the different saddle positions. A decrease in maximal power output was found for lower saddle positions.
Recorded changes in knee kinematics resulted in a decrease in moment generating capacity of biceps femoris, rectus femoris
and vastus intermedius at the knee. No differences in muscle moment generating capacity were found at hip and ankle.
Based on these results we conclude that lower saddle positions are less optimal to generate maximal power output, as it
mainly affects knee joint kinematics, compromising mechanical performance of major muscle groups acting at the knee.
Keywords: saddle height, maximal performance, musculoskeletal modeling
In cycling, the ability to produce high power during
a short period of time is critical to success (Jeukendrup et
al. 2000; Tanaka et al. 1993). Although it is well
established that maximal power output largely depends on
the cycling cadence (Baron et al., 1999; Martin and
Spirduso, 2001; McCartney et al., 1985), information
about other factors affecting the short-term power output
profile of elite cyclists is limited. Previous studies indicate
that the seating position on the bicycle affects cycling
movement as reflected in the joint kinematics, and
therefore the power generating capabilities (Too, 1990;
Yoshihuku and Herzog, 1990). However, to our
knowledge, little is known on the specific effect of saddle
position on maximal power output during short-term
maximal efforts in seated position.
Previous research focused on the effect of saddle
height during submaximal cycling efforts. Hereby, a
saddle height of 109% inner leg length is suggested as
optimal, i.e., the height with the lowest oxygen uptake
during submaximal cycling (Nordeen-Snyder (1977),
Shennum and Devries (1976)). This is in line with the
findings of Hamley and Thomas (1967), who defined the
saddle height as optimal when the least time was required
to complete a preset load. Concerning maximal cycling
efforts, the effect of saddle position on maximal power is
Saddle position clearly affects the lower limb
kinematics during cycling, as it alters the relative position
of the contact points within the bicycle-rider setup.
Sanderson and Black (2003) report lower limb kinematics
during cycling with extension of the hip and knee joint
from 0° till 180° crank angle (0° crank angle corresponds
to the top dead center) whereas the ankle changes from
maximal dorsal flexion at crank angle of 95° to maximal
plantar flexion at crank angle of 310°. With increasing
saddle height the knee flexion-extension amplitude as well
as hip extension increases (Nordeen-Snyder, 1977; Price
and Donne, 1997) with the largest changes occurring at
the knee joint.
Based on known kinematics, musculoskeletal
modeling techniques can be used to investigate the effects
of kinematics on muscle geometry and more specific the
muscle moment generating capacity. Using a Hill muscle
model (Zajac, 1989), the muscle tendon force production
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corresponding to the particular muscle tendon length can
be calculated assuming
combination with the muscle moment arm data, the
theoretical moment generating capacity can be calculated
i.e., the joint moment generated by a specific muscle
when the muscle would be maximally activated. The
potential of this method toward the analysis of cycling
was already explored for analyzing the factors
determining pedaling cadence in short term maximal
cycling (Van Soest and Casius, 2000) and it was found
that apart from Hill’s power-velocity relationship
activation dynamics have a large contribution in
determining optimal pedaling rate.
This study describes the effect of saddle position on
the maximal power output during short maximal cycling
efforts. Using recorded lower limb kinematics and
musculoskeletal modeling, the moment generating
capacity of the major lower limb muscles (m. gluteus
maximus (GMax), m. biceps femoris (BF), m. rectus
femoris (RF), m. vastus
Gastrocnemius (GAS), m. soleus (SOL) and m. tibialis
anterior (TA)) was compared for the different seating
positions. We hypothesize a reduced maximal power
output due to the reduction in the maximal moment
generating capacity of the major lower limb muscles as
the seating position is mechanically less favorable as it
shifts muscle lengths and moment arms away from their
maximal activation. In
intermedius (VI), m.
Ten trained males (age: 23.4 ± 6.6 years; body mass: 70.3
± 6.8 kg; height: 177.1 ± 6.3 cm) participated in this
study. All participants had a minimum of 2 years
experience in cycling and had an average training
background of 8.2 ± 2.7 hr per week. Participants were
fully informed on the procedures of the study and agreed
to participate by signing the informed consent. The Local
Ethics Committee approved the methods used in this
All tests were performed using the participant’s personal
racing bike, which was mounted on a custom-made
isokinetic ergometer (Koninckx et al., 2008). The latter
allows us to impose a preset motor-controlled cadence.
Maximal power output was determined after a 10-min
warming-up (100 W at 100 rpm). Participants performed a
5-s maximal isokinetic cycling effort in a seated position
at 100 rpm in six different saddle positions: ‘109%-
position’ (109% of inner leg length—taken as a reference
position for all participants), High position (‘109% +2
cm’), High and Forward (‘109% +2 cm and 0.6 cm
forward’), Low position (‘109% –2 cm’), Low and
Backward (‘109% –2 cm and 0.6 cm backward’) (see
Figure 1). Hereby, inner leg length was defined as the
distance from os pubis to the ground and saddle position
was measured from the center of the pedal spindle to the
saddle, with the crank in the direction of the seat tube. The
forward/backward movement of the saddle for the low and
high position accounted for the extra offset of the saddle
with respect to the crank and pedal axis due to the seat
tube angle. This forward/backward movement therefore
slightly corrected the seat tube angle. A 7-min adaptation
period (100 W at 100 rpm) after changing the saddle
position and a 10-min cooling-down period after the test
was performed by the participants. During the kinematic
data collection, a subgroup of 5 participants performed a
second test in which they cycled, after a 10-min warming-
up (100 W at 100 rpm), at 3 W/kg body weight and 100
rpm during one minute at the different-saddle positions. A
7-min adaptation period was given between changes in
\ insert Figure 1 \
Materials and Data Analysis
Maximal Power Output
Crank torque (N·m) was measured continuously (1 kHz)
during the maximal cycling
revolutions at the start and at the end of each effort were
omitted from the analyses. The mean torque (N·m) per full
revolution was multiplied by cadence to obtain mean
power output per revolution. Mean maximal power output
was calculated based on the revolutions yielding a mean
power output of at least 95% of the highest power per
Kinematic data were measured at 100 Hz using a Krypton
3D motion measurement system (Metris, Leuven,
Belgium). Infrared-emitting diode clusters (LEDs) were
attached to the pelvis, thigh and shank, whereas
anatomical LEDs were placed on the right toe, heel,
lateral foot ankle and spina iliaca superior anterior (ASIS).
The position of the LED cluster was calibrated to the leg
anatomy by referring to anatomical landmarks (most
prominent aspect of the lateral and medial malleolus, most
prominent aspect of lateral and medial epicondylus, right
and left ASIS). Kinematic data were recorded during the
last 10 s of the 1-min cycling bout of the second test. To
allow synchronization of kinematics and torque
measurements with the crank angle, crank arm position
was monitored using a switch detector.
Inverse kinematics were performed in OpenSim
(Simbios, Stanford, USA). A generic musculoskeletal
model based on Delp et al. (1990) was defined consisting
of 7 segments (right leg and pelvis) and containing 11
degrees of freedom. The degrees of freedom in the model
are (1) six DOF defining the translation and rotation of
pelvis with repect to ground—pelvis_tx,_ty_tz and
pelvis_tilt, these DOFs were not further analyzed in this
paper, (2) three DOF defining the rotation between pelvis
and thigh: hip flexion/extension, hip ab/adduction, hip
exo/endorotation, (3) one DOF defining the rotation
Page 3 of 11
between femur and tibia: knee flexion/extension and (4)
one DOF defining the rotation between tibia and foot:
ankle plantar/dorsal flexion. The generic musculoskeletal
model was linearly scaled for each participant using the
marker positions collected during the static calibration.
The individual segments were isotropically scaled based
on an optimal fit between experimentally recorded marker
positions on the test subject and defined markers positions
in the musculoskeletal model. Hereafter, kinematics of
pelvis, hip, knee and ankle were calculated using an
inverse kinematics procedure. This procedure minimizes
at each time instance the distance between the measured
marker coordinates of all technical and anatomical
markers on the individual
corresponding marker locations in the segment axis frame
of the scaled musculoskeletal model by adjusting the
generalized coordinates of the relevant degrees of
freedom. The average hip, knee and ankle angle profiles
were calculated over the entire cycle for the different
saddle positions (for definition of hip, knee and ankle
angle, see Figure 2) and included for further analysis.
\ insert Figure 2 \
segments and their
Moment Generating Capacity
The musculoskeletal model contains a definition of the
muscle geometry. Each muscle is represented as a line
actuator with defined origin and insertion, therefore
determining its moment arm with respect to the joint’s
degree of freedom. Furthermore, actuator specific muscle-
tendon parameters are defined to allow the calculation of
muscle force depending on muscle length using a Hill
muscle model (Zajac, 1989). In the model, twenty muscle-
tendon actuators are included, yet in the further analysis
only those with a main function in the sagittal plane will
be further discussed: m. gluteus maximus (GMax), m.
biceps femoris (BF), m. rectus femoris (RF), m. vastus
intermedius (VI), m. Gastrocnemius (GAS), m. soleus
(SOL) and m. tibialis anterior (TA). Using the Hill muscle
model (Zajac, 1989) and based on the kinematics
trajectory at the relevant joints, muscle-tendon length and
consequent force generating capacity of individual
muscles was calculated. Taking into account the
individual moment arm at the relevant joints, the moment
generating capacity of the muscle throughout the cycle
was calculated for the different saddle positions. For each
muscle, the average moment generating capacity was
calculated for the sections of the pedal cycle for which
muscle activity is described in literature (Dorel et al.,
2008; Hug and Dorel, 2009; Jorge and Hull, 1986)
Differences in short term maximal power output,
kinematics and moment generating capacity were tested
using a one-way repeated-measures analysis of variance in
Statistica 8.0 (Statsoft, Tulsa, USA). In this test, saddle
position was considered as an independent within-subject
factor. For pairwise comparison of two saddle positions,
Tukey’s HSD approach was used as a post hoc test.
Statistical significance was set at p < .05.
The lowest maximal power output values were found for
the lowest saddle positions, with significant differences
with all other positions. There was no difference between
the highest positions or between the highest and 109%-
position (see Figure 3). Accounting for the seat tube angle
at both high and low positions, this did not affect the
maximal power output.
In the kinematics, there was a tendency, yet not
statistically confirmed, for more hip flexion at the lower
positions during the entire crank cycle (see Figure 4). The
same was found for the knee, with more knee flexion
during the entire cycle between the low and the other
saddle positions (see Figure 4). No significant differences
were found between the two high positions or the two low
positions, so changing seat tube angle did not reveal a
significant effect. For the ankle joint, there was a trend to
more plantar flexion with the pedal at the lowest point in
the crank cycle for the high positions and more dorsal
flexion at the beginning of the cycle for the lowest
positions (see Figure 4).
\ insert Figure 3 \
\ insert Figure 4 \
\ insert Figure 5 \
The moment generating capacity of the muscles
with a function at the hip, showed reduced moment
generating capacity in the active period of the muscle for
the lower positions compared with the other positions, yet
these differences were not confirmed statistically. For the
knee joint, the lowest moment generating capacity was
found for different muscles functioning at the knee in the
lowest saddle positions. The lowest saddle positions
induced a decrease in moment generating capacity of BF
and RF, with a significant difference between the lowest
positions and position ‘High and Forward’ (p < .05) (see
Figure 5). For the VI, the highest moment generating
capacity was found for position ‘High and Forward’ (see
Figure 5). Significant differences were observed between
the lowest positions and positions 109% and ‘High’ (p <
.05) and between the lowest positions and ‘High and
Forward’ (p < .01). As for the hip joint, no differences
were statistically confirmed at the ankle joint in muscle
moment generating capacity between the different saddle
In this study, we show that saddle position affects
maximal power output. Furthermore, we indicate that the
associated changes in lower limb kinematics affect the
maximal moment generating capacity of the most
important lower limb muscles.
Page 4 of 11
At a lower saddle position, maximal power output
during a short maximal cycling effort at 100 rpm is
reduced. There are no differences in maximal power
output between the high saddle positions and the 109%
saddle position. This finding conflicts somewhat with
previous submaximal cycling studies that report decreased
efficiency for both lower and higher saddle positions.
However, these studies report oxygen uptake required to
cycle at a constant power output as outcome measure
(Nordeen-Snyder, 1977; Shennum and deVries, 1976).
This contrasts with the short maximal cycling efforts
studied in this study that are merely alactatic and therefore
more dependent on biomechanical than physiological
We studied the effect of saddle height on lower limb
kinematics using 3D motion capture measurements. The
only difference in lower limb kinematics is an increased
knee flexion and reduction of knee extension with
decreasing saddle height. A trend, yet not statistically
confirmed is shown for hip and ankle joints to change in
the same direction. These major adaptations to changing
saddle height to occur at the knee are previously found by
Nordeen-Snyder (1977) and Price and Donne (1997).
The observed changes in maximal power output are
related to the changes in moment generating capacity of
specific lower limb muscles as observed in our
musculoskeletal modeling study. Using experimentally
measured kinematics at different saddle heights, a
musculoskeletal model scaled
anthropometry is used to calculate the effect of saddle
height on the moment generating capacity of the lower
limb muscles. The changes in the moment generating
capacity therefore directly reflect the combined effect of
the changes in the muscle-tendon length and moment arm
length. Using this approach, we assume that the
differences in kinematics between maximal and
submaximal cycling are minimal as the contact points
within the bicycle-rider setup are not changed. Given this
assumption, the changes in the lower limb kinematics
associated with changes in saddle position mainly affect
the muscle moment generating capacity at the knee for
biceps femoris, rectus femoris and vastus intermedius,
with no significant differences found in moment
generating capacity at the hip and ankle joint. The lowest
moment generating capacity at the knee joint is found for
biceps femoris, rectus femoris and vastus intermedius. A
similar trend is shown at the hip. The lowest saddle
positions, independent of forward or backward movement
of the saddle, are therefore less optimal. This is confirmed
experimentally in the reduction of the maximal power
output as well as mathematically in the reduction of the
calculated moment-generating capacity at the knee joint.
The highest moment generating capacity at the knee joint
found for the ‘High and Forward’ saddle positions is not
directly reflected in an increase in power output. The
highest maximal power output resulted from the 109%
position. These findings seem to suggest that power
output depends not only on the muscular moment
generating capacity at the knee joint, which only reflects a
to the subject’s
theoretical maximum. The ability of the cyclist to
appropriately use this mechanical advantage may be
hindered as his coordination pattern will not allow
preferential activation of these muscle groups (BF, vasti,
RF). Especially for high cadences, the cyclist’s ability to
control muscle coordination accordingly may be a more
prominent hindering factor. Future research, should
therefore consider the effect of altered cadence on
moment generating capacity as well as maximal power
In the analysis of the moment generating capacity,
we assume that changes in saddle height do not result in
changes in the underlying muscle activation pattern.
Indeed, as indicated in literature (Dorel et al.,
2007[AUQ1]; Laplaud et al., 2006), a relative stable
muscular activation pattern exists in cycling position.
However, Jorge and Hull (1986) report changes in muscle
activity for quadriceps and hamstrings. In contrast,
Ericson (1986) reports no changes and thus a stable
pattern. Inclusion of surface EMG in the data collection is
therefore considered for future studies on this topic.
In this study, the effect of saddle position on
moment generating capacity of individual muscles at the
different joints of the lower limb is discussed. The
significant differences in moment generating capacity
between different saddle positions are found at the knee
joint. This is particularly important as the knee is, together
with the hip, the joint with the greatest relative
contribution to the total net moment during cycling
(Ericson et al., 1986[AUQ2]; Bini et al., 2008; Martin and
Brown, 2009; Mornieux et al., 2007) and knee extensors
and hip extensors are the main relative energy producers
during submaximal and maximal cycling (Martin and
Brown, 2009). It should be stressed that our results relate
to the theoretical maximal moment generating capacity of
the muscle and do not allow an extrapolation to the effect
of saddle height on the individual joint moments at the hip
and knee as well as the muscle force distribution during
cycling This analysis would require the extension of the
measurement protocol with pedal forces and EMG
measurements. Nevertheless, our findings that the
moment generating capacity at the knee is affected by
saddle height suggest that a major change in total net
moment is to be expected given the relative importance of
From this study, that combines experimentally
measures of power output, lower limb kinematics and
musculoskeletal modeling, it could be concluded that
lower saddle positions are less optimal to generate
maximal power output, as it alters the lower limb
kinematics so that the mechanical performance of the
major muscle groups acting at the knee, decreases.
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and anaerobic power
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Figure 1 — Overview of the different saddle positions. A: 109%-position; B: High and Forward; C: High; D: Low and
Backward; E: Low.
Page 7 of 11
Figure 2 — Conventions used to specify joint angles. (1) hip flexion/extension: angle between long axis of pelvis and thigh
segment; (2) knee flexion/extension: angle between long axis of thigh and shank segment; (3) ankle dorsi/plantar flexion (angle
between the shank and long axis of the foot).
Page 8 of 11
Figure 3 — maximal power output for a short maximal cycling effort at 100 rpm at different saddle positions. ** p < .01; *** p <
Page 9 of 11
Figure 4 — Average kinematics (± SEM for 109% position) for hip, knee and ankle in function of the pedal cycle for different
saddle positions in the test subjects. SEM values were similar to the values of the 109% position for the other positions. TDC:
Top Dead Center; BDC: Bottom Dead Center. 109% High and Forward High Low and Backward Low.
Page 10 of 11
Figure 5 — Muscle moment generating capacity (± SEM) at the knee for biceps femoris, rectus femoris and vastus intermedius.
Positive values indicate knee-extension moment. Negative values indicate knee flexion moment. * p < .05.
Page 11 of 11
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