Aero, Part II: an Aerodynamic Shrug
In July, I shared an article highlighting a conversation I had with Jesse Frank, Human Performance Engineer at the Specialized Win Tunnel, and shared his Top 8 recommendations to achieve better aerodynamics. This follow-up article goes deep on a simple idea that Jesse and I discussed in further detail. This aero concept will definitely make you faster on the bike—with no new equipment. It’s called “The Shrug”.
Having a super-slammed aero fit on your bike is of no value if you can’t hold the position. And, having a lower front end setup isn’t necessarily more aero. That’s right friends, the glossy photos of tri bikes with raised saddles and lowered bars isn’t always the fastest setup. If you are uncomfortable or can’t actually stay in the aero position on your bike for the duration of your event, you don’t have the best setup.
Jesse shared examples of professional athletes testing faster in the tunnel when they adjusted the fit to raise the front end of the bike. In one case, they raised the bars several centimeters!
The bottom line here is one that gets mentioned over and over—get a professional fit that takes into account BOTH aerodynamics as well as comfort (the ability to produce power in position). And what about that position?
In order to maximize aerodynamics, you want to get your head out of the wind as much as possible. As Jesse noted, and I shared in my last article, heads are not aero. So the more you can do to bring your head down—not looking like a “periscope”—the faster you’ll go.
To accomplish the position, you don’t want to look down—it’s dangerous to take your eyes off the road and if you have an aerohelmet with a tail, it’s less aerodynamic to have that tail up in the wind. Instead, you need to be able to lower your head.
The shrug position, sometimes also called the turtle, is your answer. This is a three-step process.
1. Lower your head
2. Pinch your shoulder blades together.
3. Shrug your shoulders toward your ears
This is not generally a very comfortable position at first, but it’s a position you can train to be able to hold. With practice, your shoulder muscles will get stronger and you’ll feel more comfortable holding this position. You might start with a set of 5-10 x 20” shrugs on a minute or more of “rest” (coming out of position). Build your sessions from there until you can hold the position for a longer continuous period of time.
Think about a bungee cord that is attached to your front hub on one end and your chin on the other.
After my conversation with Jesse, I began practicing the position and I’ll share that the day after my first 10 x 20” session, I was a little sore in my neck. Over time, it became easier to hold the position for longer periods of time so be patient as you make this improvement.
Even if you can’t ultimately hold this position for an entire long course race, you can still use it strategically during racing—employ it going into a headwind or on long straightaways, for example.
Jesse mentioned that some adjustments to fit may help you hold the shrug position. You might increase stack height and/or widen your arm pads. My stack height isn’t super-aggressive so I didn’t adjust there, but I widened by arm pads by about four centimeters. And that extra width allowed me to get into a deeper shrug, while also feeling more comfortable breathing in position.
If you’re flexible enough, you might be able to get into a deep enough shrug that the top of your back can be seen above the top of your helmet from a front view.
Remember that this is not just a race day position—you’ll need to practice in training!
Coach Dave Sheanin believes that becoming “triathlon literate” is key to meeting your goals. Triathlon is indeed a lifestyle and like the other important areas of your life, knowledge is power. I encourage you to explore the nuances of the sport, be open to new ideas and ask questions – of yourself, of fellow swimmers, cyclists and runners, and of your coach.
Coach Dave is both a USA Triathlon and Training Peaks Certified Coach. Learn what his favorite quote is right here.