Bike

Critique My Fit: Shoulder Issues and More

Our second edition of “Critique My Fit” digs into another member’s issues: shoulder issues, seat positions, and how to move arm pads and saddles to fix both.

Each month, we’ll be choosing one of our members to get a free virtual fit from expert bike fitter, Jon Blyer, owner of Brooklyn-based ACME Bicycles, a Retul Certified Master Bike Fitter, and teacher at the Guru Academy in Bethel, CT.

Using the member’s email fit feedback and three video angles, Blyer gives his recommendations below, along with suggestions that can apply to other readers’ situations with similar problems. For your chance to get a free virtual fit from one of the top fitters in the country, be sure to sign up for Active Pass or Triathlete Pass.

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Hello Jonathan,

I am from Brazil, but am currently living in Michigan. I’m a 45-year-old male, and I have been racing since 2014. My favorite distance is 70.3, and I am targeting IM Wisconsin in 2021. But I am also planning to do a 70.3 before that as preparation. I am 5-foot-9-inches tall, I have a 32-inch inseam, I ride a 2014 Trek Speed Concept 7.0 in size L (58cm) with an integrated front end. My pedals are Garmin V2s, and the handlebar is the original Trek 7.5.

It has been a while since my last bike fit (2018), and a lot has changed in terms of comfort and power-transfer perception. I have been trying to adjust some points of discomfort:

– I was having a lot of pain in my trapezius, so I have opened the arm pads a little bit by increasing the distance between them and it improved a lot.

– I was feeling an overload on my rectus femoris, so I increased the height of the bike saddle.

Now I’m trying to reduce the pressure I am feeling in my shoulders when I am down in the arm pads. Also, when I am in the arm pads, I have to sit forward on the saddle—which is not comfortable on my soft tissue—and when I try to put my hips back a little bit, my thighs start rubbing in the saddle. It is very hard to hold this position for more than 30 minutes.

– Paulo H.

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Hi Paolo,

Thanks so much for submitting the videos and the detailed description. I am glad to hear that you were able to resolve some of your comfort issues already. Yes, with the seat too low you will feel a lot of fatigue from your quadricep muscles, and you were also robbing yourself of power and endurance. Your seat height does look pretty close to where it should be, but I wonder if maybe it’s just a tiny bit too high now. Many people like to set their arm pads up narrow in order to punch a small hole through the wind, but this can lead to shoulder and neck discomfort. I always think it’s a good idea to start off with a wide elbow stance and to progressively narrow the stance as comfort allows.

Now, to the issues you are currently facing, I have four major points for you to consider to help make your aero position a bit more comfortable.

  1. First, let’s tackle the saddle issues. It sounds like you are having a hard time finding just the right spot to sit on. Part of that issue may be the saddle itself, but the problem could also be tied to where the saddle is located. In the video you’ve submitted, the distance between your hips and elbows (cockpit distance) looks about right to me (based on your shoulder angle), but I can’t help but wonder if you are sitting too far back on the saddle. The Sitero saddle is shaped like a slice of pizza, and if you are sitting too far back on it, your thighs will rub, as you’ve discovered. You may want to try sliding the saddle back a little bit (start with 1 centimeter) so that you sit a little further towards the front of the saddle without actually moving your body. You can also try tilting the saddle nose down a touch or lowering the seat a small amount.  Sometimes a few minor adjustments to saddle position can make all the difference.
  1. If the saddle position adjustments don’t improve your saddle comfort, then a new saddle is definitely in order. Saddle preference is highly individual but the ones my clients tend to like best are the ISM PN3.0, PN1.0, and PS1.0, the JCobb Type 5, and Bontrager Hilo Pro. All of these saddles are similar in principle but have different shapes, densities, and textures. Finding the right saddle can be a bit of trial and error, so you may want to check out your local bike shop to see if they have a saddle demo or trial system in place. Consider that each saddle is unique, and you will, unfortunately, have to position each one in a slightly different place.
  1. I can see why your shoulders might be bothering you, I think you would benefit greatly from angling your aero bars up slightly. It is a little tough to tell from the videos, but yours may be pointing downwards a bit. Tilting the aero bars is a little tricky to do on the Trek Speed Concept, so consult your bicycle user manual or get help from your local shop if you’re unsure of what to do. We are looking to tilt both the arm pad and extension as a unit, so that your forearm becomes slightly inclined.  You may want to experiment with moving the arm pads and extensions further away a little bit once you’ve successfully tilted them. I think if you tilt the aerobars upwards about 5-10 degrees, you will find that your shoulders will be able to relax a whole lot more. With the arm pads tilted up a little bit, they provide a lot more stability for your upper body, reducing the sensation that you are sliding forwards on the bike—allowing you to lay on top of the bars with minimal effort.
  1. Lastly, you may want to consider widening up your aero bars just a touch further and focus on dropping your head and neck in between your shoulder blades. I always encourage my clients to try and pretend they are holding a tennis ball between their chin and sternal notch and to keep their face parallel to the floor as best as possible. This head position will further reduce strain on your neck and shoulders, but it’s also a lot more aerodynamically efficient than holding your head up high.  The one problem this brings up is not being able to see down the road as you ride (not so much a problem indoors), so do your best to use your eyeballs to gaze down the road as much as possible and to keep your face down. In some cases helmets or sunglasses can occlude your vision, causing you to have to raise your head to see, if this is the case, then try and find some headgear that allows a clear view of the road. The Oakley EVZero and Flight Jacket are two great pairs of sunglasses designed to allow for a clear view of the road ahead. Aero helmets with big visors covering the face can also be really helpful.