The Great Chris Boardman

Should people ride in an aero position during indoor cycling classes?  I”™ve been asked this numerous times by instructors and have battled with more than a few riders over the years on this very subject.  My answer, NO.  Here”™s my take on it:

(1) Safely / Biomechanics
This may be the most convincing reason aero positions are not recommended for indoor cycling classes, and the most difficult to articulate.  First, aggressive aero positions require much more specific fitting and postural alignment due to the angles, flexion and forces being applied (pelvis / spine).  Most indoor bikes barely have enough adjustment to get into a proper riding position, so a rider would be hard pressed (or extremely lucky) to find a aero position that was appropriate.  I can find myself spending 2-3 hours performing a bike fitting for an athlete on a actual Triathlon or Time Trial bike to obtain proper posture and alignment.  Many indoor riders don”™t realize that their back (spine) is not in proper alignment when they ride in an indoor class.  The back should be relaxed and relatively flat from the pelvis to the shoulders. Unfortunately, it is common for riders to try and ride in an aero position in class and either (1) collapse their shoulders and sink down, (2) improperly flex at the thoracic (upper) spine and (3) improperly flex at the lumbar (lower) spine. To add insult to injury, some riders also attempt to look UP at the instructor while in this aero position causing the cervical spine to over-extend.  Although some indoor bikes provide this pseudo-aero handlebar position, to date, I”™ve not seen an indoor bike equipped with proper support for the fore-arms in order to use the position.  This introduces more alignment and stability issues.  Before your riders get the smart ideal to bring in support for their forearms, read on.

The second consideration is the fact that most indoor bikes do not move “side-to-side”.  The risk of riding in an aero position (on any bike) is that you are creating another contact point with the bike (elbows/forearm).  With the forearms resting on the handlebars (no elbow joint movement), the shoulder complex is isolated.  This is not as detrimental on the shoulders as it is on the spine.  With the shoulders isolated, the spine is now forced to absorb a greater amount stress due to pedal forces, as well as torsion and flexion caused by the movement of the hips.  Since real bikes move under the rider (side-to-side), these forces on the shoulders, spine and pelvis are greatly reduced.  Consequently, indoor bikes don”™t have lateral movement which places the shoulders, spine and pelvis at risk, particularly under heavier resistance.

(2) Is He/She a Triathlete?
This is a “no-win” argument for the rider.  If they are not a triathlete, there is no reason for them to attempt to develop the functional movement of a triathlete.  Plus, they would not generally have the acquired muscular conditioning and postural alignment (that triathletes do) to ride safely in that position on an indoor bike.  AND, if they were a triathlete, they would know how specific their aero position is and would never attempt to replicate it on an indoor bike.

If you can”™t convince them with the above, try this...

I shame them into getting off their forearms.  I”™ve used a similar tactic to deal with cadence issues in class.  I let everyone know (but intended mostly for the rider RESTING ON THEIR FOREARMS!), that riding with their forearms rested on the handlebars in not safe on indoor bikes. Triathletes know this which is why they don”™t do it indoors. AND it is often a sign that a rider is tired and not able to hold their “proper” riding form.  This way EVERYONE in the class knows that a person riding on their forearms, must be feeling weak and tired.  No one wants EVERYONE “thinking” you may be weak, tired or have bad form.

I really appreciate the instructors who are constantly pursuing deeper knowledge into topics like this (besides the fact that it is one of my favorites).  As instructors, we should be required to know best practices and safety issues of the disciplines we teach.  It is great to see the quality of our industry improving and the integrity of instructors increasing.

Originally posted 2011-03-07 16:07:42.

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