Should I Stay In the Aerobars the Whole Time I’m On the Trainer?

It's an important topic to consider as you take your training indoors this winter.

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Absolutely not. The aero position is taxing on your body, particularly your lumbar spine, cervical spine, and shoulders. Spending too much time in the aero position may predispose an athlete to neck and back pain, which are two of the top-three overuse injuries in cycling.

The aero position was created to decrease the amount of drag with little thought about what happens to an athlete’s body. When “in aero,” prolonged flexion increases the stress and strain on the posterior structures of the spine like the facet joints, ligaments, and muscles while increasing the compressive forces at the anterior structures. Athletes who don’t have enough mobility in the lumbar and thoracic spine—or they have weakness in the cervical and shoulder stabilizers—may become fatigued more quickly, raising their chances of injury.

Instead of increasing the strain on your body by remaining aero the whole time, use your trainer to get stronger: Mix up your position on the handlebars to mimic what you might do in a race; periodically check in with yourself about your head position. Is your chin sticking out? Is the cervical spine in a neutral position? You can even practice wearing your bike helmet on the trainer to get your deep cervical muscles stronger, which helps prevent fatigue when riding outside. Practice keeping your mid-back in a flat position, rather than letting your shoulders roll forward and sink together. By pressing up through your forearms you will activate your serratus anterior muscles and cervical spine stabilizers.

The ability to maintain aero in a race could be the difference between a first or 20th position, but all good things are best in moderation. Spending too much time in aero has the potential to break down your body and take you out of the race completely.

Dr. Edwards is the CEO and founder of Precision Performance & Physical Therapy in Atlanta, Georgia, the author of Racing Heart: A Runner’s Journey of Love, Loss and Perseverance, and a former runner and triathlete.

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