Get flexible to ride faster

Flexibility can help you achieve more pedal power and better aerodynamics, says Morgan Lloyd. 

The optimal cycling position for triathlon is often described as a balance between sustainability
and aerodynamics. Physiological components such as flexibility, strength and stability are vital, but are often overlooked in the search for a more aggressive riding position.

Ignoring them not only increases your risk of injury, but also potentially limits your performance. Especially when you consider that a muscle generates its peak power in the middle half of its range. So if you can increase the length of a muscle, you also increase its peak power range. There are three key areas where greater flexibility can directly influence your bike position and riding performance.

1.Hamstrings

The further a rider can rotate forward from the pelvis, whilst holding a straight back, the easier it is to maintain high power output and ride in an extreme position without risking injury. This will also reduce your frontal surface area and aerodynamic drag.

The optimal saddle position is one where your knee angle is around 35 degrees at the bottom of the pedal stroke. If you can’t easily extend the knee whilst riding on your aerobars, you’ll be working against your hamstrings as you drive the pedal down. This reduces efficiency and makes achieving a good spinal profile difficult. The bar/pads are often raised to ease stress in the lower
back and back of knee, impacting aerodynamics.

2.Hip Flexors

The hip flexors should not be active on the bike. Using them during pedalling has been found to reduce efficiency without contributing to power output and may increase injury risk. It’s important to have a tri bike position that offloads the hip flexors to save it for its role in run performance.

The hip flexors are often tight due to training load and activities of daily life. It’s important for them to be as flexible as possible as they impact the ability for the knee to move towards the chest. The lower the bar/pads in relation to the saddle the more the hip angle is closed at the top of the pedal stroke. Good hip flexion range of movement is vital in achieving a fast bike position.

3.Shoulders

Reducing your frontal surface area can improve your aerodynamics. Bringing your aerobar arm-pads closer together has some benefits but can only be done if your shoulder muscles (deltoids, trapezius, rhomboids and pectorals) are flexible enough to allow this. If the arm pads are too narrow then the rider can suffer shoulder and upper-back pain, limiting comfort on the aero bars, especially after a hard swim.

In order to create a more aerodynamic spinal profile, techniques such as turtling can be employed to reduce head height and keep the tail of an aero helmet flat against the upper back. This involves shrugging your head into your shoulders, but it’s difficult to maintain over longer rides.

Conclusion

Your body is constantly changing depending on factors such as volume of training and injury. With the right guidance, improvements can be made to help you ride faster for longer. Understanding your body’s strengths and weaknesses, and the way you interact with your bike, can be key to unlocking your potential.

Morgan Lloyd is a physiotherapist and bike fitter at Cyclefit (cyclefit.co.uk)

Team Talk: Speeding Up

“Flexibility isn’t the only factor in your body’s conditioning that will help you stay aero. Have a physio give check your functional strength and recommend exercises to strengthen muscles that aren’t firing properly, so you can use the right, big muscle groups to harness power.”

Phil Mosley, Triathlon Plus Coaching Editor