Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Improve Your Aero Positioning With These Five Stretches

Lance Armstrong competes in the individual time trial during Stage 20 of the 2005 Tour de France.AP Photo/Peter Dejong
By Edmund R. Burke, Ph.D. Active.com
Over the past decade it has become increasingly apparent that an efficient aerodynamic riding position when time trialing is crucial to performance, whether you are a road cyclist or a triathlete.
The advent of various types of aero handlebars has been one of the most significant developments in this area, and riders and equipment manufacturers have been flocking to wind tunnel facilities in order to discover the best ways to use this new equipment.
I have observed some of these tests, and it has become obvious that riders using clip-on or other types of aero bars can achieve a much more aerodynamic position by moving their arms closer together, thereby cutting airflow to the chest.
But although such a position is easy to adopt in the static conditions of a wind tunnel test, incorporating it into the real world of competition is another story.
Wind tunnel air-drag data have also shown the need to flatten the back so as not to ride with a mid-back "hump." Jeff Broker, biomechanist at the Olympic Training Center, states that a cyclist can achieve this flat-back position by training to ride with the pelvis rotated more forward, or horizontally, until the hump is eliminated. This technique should also help alleviate any shoulder strain when trying to accomplish a narrow-arm position.
As noted, it can take time to adapt one's body so that it performs well while riding in an efficient aerodynamic position. We know that when time-trialists try to stretch their backs while riding or suffer shoulder tension during time trialing, they lose aerodynamic and pedaling efficiency, and power output goes down.
I am often asked if there are any exercises that can help one achieve an aero riding position more quickly and which will also alleviate the post-ride residual soreness riders often experience while they are trying to adapt to the new position.
The answer is yes. A few years ago while working at the Olympic Training Center I had a chance to work with Lance Armstrong on trying to improve his aero bike position. I invited my riding partner, Bob Anderson, who is also the author of the book Stretching, to give Lance some suggestions on stretches that would help him achieve his new aero position more quickly and also allow him to maintain the correct position longer while time trialing.
Anderson agreed to help, and we developed this series of stretches for Lance. By incorporating this routine into your own training program, you should be able to alleviate most muscle soreness and obtain a more comfortable position while riding with clip-on or aero bars.
It should take about eight to 10 minutes to complete the set of six stretches. I recommend that you complete one set before and after working out on the days you will be spending a lot of time in the aero position.

1. Cat stretch
Kneeling on your knees with your arms stretched out ahead of you and your legs bent under you, let your lower back sink toward the floor, creating a concave arch in the lower back. Next, reverse the curve in your back (think angry cat) while in the same kneeling position.
Also, in order to stretch each side of your lower back, reach forward with one arm and grab the end of the mat and pull back with your arm straight while pressing down slightly with your hand. Do likewise with the other arm. Hold stretch for 20 seconds. Stretch each side. Don't strain. You should feel the stretch in your shoulders, arms, sides, upper back, or even in your lower back.

2. Standing back extension
Standing with knees slightly bent, place your palms against your lower back just above the hips, fingers pointing downward. Gently push your palms forward to create an extension in the lower back. Hold comfortable pressure for 10 to 12 seconds. Repeat twice. Use this stretch after sitting for an extended period of time.
3. Double "Reach for the Sky" stretch
In a standing or sitting position, interlace your fingers above your head. Now, with your palms facing upward, push your arms slightly back and up. Feel the stretch in arms, shoulders and upper back. Hold stretch for 15 seconds. Do not hold your breath. This stretch is good to do anywhere, anytime. Excellent for slumping shoulders.

4. Upper-body stretch
A stretch for the arms, shoulders, and back. Place your arms against a wall, shoulder-width apart, directly in front of you. Slowly begin to move your chest downward while keeping your feet remaining directly under your hips and your knees slightly bent. Hold this stretch 30 seconds. This is a good stretch to do anywhere, at anytime. Remember to always keep your knees bent when coming out of this stretch.

5. Sitting hamstring stretch
Sit on the floor and straighten your right leg. The sole of your left foot will be resting next to the inside of your straightened leg. Lean slightly forward from the hips and stretch the hamstrings of your right leg.
If you can't touch your toes comfortably, use a towel to help you stretch. Hold for 50 seconds. Do not lock your knee. Your right quadriceps should be soft and relaxed during the stretch. Keep your right foot upright with the ankle and toes relaxed. Repeat for the left leg.