Is More Aero Better?
To take advantage of an aero time trial or triathlon specific bike, one must spend as much time in that position. Countless training hours in the correct position will allow you to adapt physically, metabolically and mentally. Adaptation is crucial for injury prevention and to be physically prepared to ride in aero position. However, if you are only able to stay in that position for 50% of the time, then why ride that specific bike?
A question that is often proposed is "how aero should I go?". The answer is not always as much as possible. If the aero position is too aggressive, you many encounter issues such as upper body discomfort, loss of power or digestive issues. To look at this very question in depth, I worked with local triathlete Patrick Johnson and his triathlon aero position for Ironman Wisconsin.
At the beginning of this year, Patrick completed a dynamic bike fit to find the best position for him to race IMWI 2017. Together we found a position he was happy with, which allowed him to train through the winter and into spring. Once summer arrived his ride volume went up. He started having discomfort in the saddle which consisted of saddle pressure, stomach cramps, lower back pain and a lot of squirming around. Initially I was attributing the stomach cramps to him squirming around on the saddle. For the next two months he tried 6 different saddles. Each saddle was giving a little more relief, however not solving the problem.
During one fit session near the end of this summer, I thought that maybe his good aero position was not really that good. Maybe being a little less aggressive would take the pressure off the saddle. After choosing the saddle he liked best, I raised his aero pads 10mm. I sent him out on the IMWI bike course loop of 38 miles. For reference, 10mm is half the width of a dime.
After his ride, Patrick walked in with the biggest grin on his face. He had no stomach issues or cramping. The front saddle pressure had gone away almost 100%. His bike loop time dropped by 10 minutes by producing the same power output as he had in previous rides.
To put more proof in the pudding, I set Patrick up on the motion analysis Type-R device. After riding in his old aero position for 5 minutes, he was already having front saddle pressure, back pain and his stomach was starting to hurt. In the first image below, you can see his motion capture from being in his old aero position.
The circles represent his DSS (Dead Spot Score). You can visually see blue "noise" at the bottom of his pedal stroke. I attribute this to him rocking in the saddle and trying to find a good position to be in. The next line shows his score, 2.6 and 2.3, for left and right respectively. This shows where he is loosing smoothness and velocity in his pedal stroke. In the grand scheme of things, 2.6 and 2.3 are very low DSS scores, however when you compare it to his new aero position being 10mm LESS aggressive, you will see how this improvement yielded high gains.
The second image below represents his DSS in the new aero position (10mm less aggressive on his arm pads). The blue "noise" on the DSS visual lessens and his score drops to only .9 on each leg. With both scores being the same he is using both legs and hips equally, which is an ideal training foundation for performance gains.
By proving that a less aggressive position produced more comfort and more speed with the same power, our next goal is improving his pedaling print. This testing protocol will show such things as asymmetries and patterns in his cycling motion in real-time. Results from this test will be shared next week in my second of three installments of testing with Patrick.
- Patrick is coached by SBR Coach Bill Martin