04 Apr Getting Comfortable Riding Aero (and why you should work on it!)
By Nicole Van Beurden
At speeds over 15km/h, a rider’s body is the dominant force of resistance. By the time you hit about 45km/h, 90 percent of your power goes into overcoming air resistance (known as drag). Drag increases exponentially with speed. So, let’s say you work super hard over the winter at TTrain and raise your FTP by 20 or 30W; That’s a huge gain that should relate to big speed in your upcoming races, right? The downside to that hard work is that the faster you go on the bike, the more aerodynamic drag you face. What that means is more of those 20-30W of fitness are put into overcoming that drag. It’s kind of like how the longer you amortize a mortgage, the higher the percentage of your monthly payment goes to interest rather than principle.
The best way to let your fitness gains and hard work show in a race split is to get rid of as many things as possible that are slowing you down (and drag is at the top of that list!). The bike makes up 20-25% of your overall resistance while your body accounts for 75-80%. That makes body position a low-hanging-fruit for immediate speed gains. The most aerodynamic bike on the planet will not make any discernible difference if the rider position is not addressed, so before you think of equipment upgrades, think of position changes.
Don’t think of it as making things faster, think of it as making things easier!
This is especially true if you are training for long course (anything over an hour on the bike). When you train your body to be comfortable in the aero position, you are training it to become relaxed in the aero position. Speed comes only from a state of relaxation (always!). This is why world class athletes make it look so effortless – because they actually are relaxed (even when working hard). Training in the aerobars allows your body to become relaxed and powerful in that position. It also lets you naturally learn how to recruit, train, and take advantage of the powerful upper body muscles of the back, lats, and core. This can only happen when those muscles are relaxed and therefore responsive. Tension is a killer. Imagine a baseball or golf swing, or the snap of a whip, a kink in any of those would lead to a massive loss of power transfer. The same is true for cycling. When you relax your shoulders, neck, and lower back, you become better capable of transferring power from your larger more powerful trunk muscles. You can then leverage that power through your body and into the pedals.
Teach your body to embrace aero!
Producing a powerful pedal stroke comes down to simple motor patterning. Kids are great at developing these because in their world, everything is new and different. Adults don’t tend to love different because it feels a little out of control or foreign – be ok with that. You need to embrace the mindset of a beginner – be child-like in your learning and your body will respond favourably.
Specific training is no joke!
Lastly, if any of the above reasons have you convinced and you hope to race in the aerobars this summer, you need to train that way in order to see your power numbers translate on race day. Study after study (a few listed below) show that cyclists trained in the upright position will reach their maximum VO2, ventilatory rate, heart rate and power output in that position (and not in the aero position). Cyclists trained in the aero position will see those same results only when in the aero position (and not in the upright position). Train specifically so that you unleash your months of hard work in training shine on the race course!
Ashe MC, Scroop GC, Frisken PI, Amery CA, Wilkins MA, Khan KM. Body position affects performance in untrained cyclists. Br J Sports Med. 2003;37(5):441-4. doi: 10.1136/bjsm.37.5.441. PMID: 14514538; PMCID: PMC1751358.
Bishop, Phil & Smith, J & Richardson, M. (2004). Effects of training in an aero position on anaerobic power output. Journal of Exercise Physiology Online. 7.