Cycling position

The best position for untrained cyclists

The near horizontal ‘aero position’ adopted by competitive cyclists to combat the effects of wind resistance may put untrained cyclists at a disadvantage, according to a new study from Canada.

 The small-scale study was set up to compare cardiovascular and ventilatory variables in upright and aero cycle ergometers at submaximal and maximal exercise intensities in untrained cyclists.

Ten physically active young men who were unfamiliar with aerobars underwent maximal exercise testing and steady-state cycling – at 50, 100 and 150W – in both upright and aero positions while a number of cardiorespiratory variables were measured.

During maximal exercise – one minute of incremental exercise testing – participants were found to have a significantly higher VO2max, maximum heart rate and minute ventilation and to achieve a greater workload in the upright position.

During steady state exercise at the three different work outputs, cyclists again showed higher VO2 and also greater percentage gross mechanical efficiency in the upright position than the aero position.

Does this mean that competitive cyclists are misguided in their efforts to lower their spines into an almost horizontal position? Probably not; as the authors point out, their study was novel in that all the participants were unfamiliar with cycling and therefore with the use of aerobars. ‘Training’, they explain, ‘may develop adaptations to the near horizontal position. In previous studies of trained cyclists… time to fatigue was found to be shorter in riders in the aero position.’

Additionally, wind resistance, which is supposed to be reduced by the aero position, was not measured in the current study.

The researchers conclude that untrained cyclists cannot assume that their cardiorespiratory function will improve on adopting the aero position, and it may be that a period of training and adaptation is necessary to optimise performance using aerobars.

Br J Sports Med 2003;37:441-444

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