Misguided Aero Positions On The Bike

I've got a mate and professional colleague, David Darbyshire, who lives in Hawaii, and works with mostly golfers on the US mainland and triathletes in Hawaii.

His approach, like mine, is to work with the athlete's body so it can move and produce the required forces of the chosen activity more efficiently.


The Approach

Typically this approach in training and performance isn't really appreciated because:

  • it's often subtle work - not obvious

  • it needs a skilled practitioner

  • people don't understand how the body works

  • it's a whole approach, not a conveniently partial one

  • it requires people to become powerful observers and learners rather than just “hard workers”

  • and so on

With an efficiency based approach, the results someone gets are only as good as their body awareness during training and performance. It requires a coach who understands how this all fits into their athlete's bigger sporting performance picture, and how to effectively facilitate it in the people they work with.

It doesn't work if someone wants a quick fix, to be told what to do, to just go off and mindlessly punch out reps and sets, or is after child-like guarantees from the coach. No, it's a shared responsibility and development approach. But the upside, if you needed more, is that you get deeper and more sustainable improvements.

The benefits of improved movement efficiency are pretty obvious:

  1. more output from less effort – more energy efficient

  2. far less chance of injury

  3. more attentional space for other elements of the sport / performance

  4. better and more satisfying performances


The Situation

David knows I'm working with cyclists (mostly road and triathletes), and sent me this photo the other day.

Ergo session

If you want to develop yourself; before reading on, what do you see?


The Problem

What I see is typical in that setting. A group of what appear to be triathletes, motivated (you gotta be to do wind-trainer-type sessions), working “hard”.

How do I know they're working hard? The positions they're in. We've all been in situations where we're going all out, require a lot of effort and we do whatever it takes to produces the force and movement required. I definitely know this position on the bike.

The problem is, despite their efforts, they aren't getting the most out of their bodies and minds. Here's just a few problems:

  • That head down, super curved spine shape on the bike is a postural disaster and shuts down efficient force available from the body, and through the legs, to turn the pedals.

  • Space for lungs to expand and breathe is greatly reduced

  • The spine can't stabilise efficiently to link with the arms to provide a stable base for the legs to pedal

  • The powerhouse muscle in the Tri / TT position, the glute max, gets shuts down due to poor mechanical and neurological advantage

  • The neck has to work and tighten more than necessary affecting general and shoulder function, but also swimming (if you're a triathlete)

  • Hip flexors and the overall anterior sling (critical for running) tighten and weaken more than necessary

  • More permanent negative postural adaptations occur which further reduce power, efficiency, ease of movement, increasing the metabolic load to produce the same output, and injury risk

  • Mindsets and thinking with this position go from mindful, strategic and aspirational to survival, desperation, lock down and wanting to be somewhere else.

  • Tactical options are shut down and pure grunt mentality takes over. Of course there are times when this is required, but we want it as a last resort, and to stay away from it as much as possible

  • Consider the accumulative cost of these positions across weeks, a season, and a career.....


In this position the mind and body are definitely disconnected and not integrating for best performance output. It doesn't take a genius, or even an expert, to look at these positions and know they're not right.


The Solution

As much as possible on the bike, even allowing for aerodynamics, the spine wants to be long (not round) and the head position an extension of the spine (not hanging low).

The ultimate challenge in physical pursuits where we want maximal (or optimal) output through our body, is to be aware of our whole body, how easily we are moving, and maintain this “zone” while intensity increases.

This is the art of training and preparing.

When we're competing, racing or even participating in targeted important events, we need to just go with what we've got. Don't think of anything except our intention. Just do it. And get it done.

But everything else?

We want to be training the highest of our quality and ensuring movement efficiency, while over time, raising key indicators such as speed and volume.

Cycling and Triathlon have explored a ton of understanding from a metabolic physiology perspective which develops the “engine”. And there's a big emotional attachment to this. It's now time for these athletes and coaches to incorporate the “chassis” to maximise potential through effective force transfer to the bike.


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