We’re all familiar with it: that burning tightness that crops up during one of your long rides. It can appear anywhere from the base of the skull to the base of the neck and even back between the shoulders. It’s one of the most common complaints I hear as a fitter. And as such, my first piece of advice is to make sure that your fit is not exacerbating the issue. If your reach or drop are off, not to mention pad placement and spacing, you don’t stand a chance at mile 80. But even if you do have a good fit, the neck burn can still test your will. So as the big end-of-season IM races loom, I thought I would put down a few tips to help prevent the burn.
1: Stop craning your neck! Seems obvious, but it is easy to forget. You do not need to have your head up above your shoulders, neck bent 90 degrees, face forward, all the time. Remember to maintain a neutral neck position, in line with your spine, as much as possible. This even applies to those times when you are on the base bars. Learn to roll your eyes up instead of bending your neck like the vulture on Looney Tunes. Not only will this help your neck, it’ll make you more aero!
2: Stop drafting! Yup, if you are too close to the guy in front of you (of course I am assuming this is a training ride as no one would dare do this in an actual race) you will have to crank your neck up to keep an eye on him and make sure you don’t do a face-plant in his bum when he hits the brakes. If you must draft, hit the base bars or ride the roadie. Otherwise, stay draft legal and let your neck chill.
3: Stop pulling up and away from your bars and pads. Learn to lay into those suckers! Learn to just collapse right down onto them and release all muscular tension from your upper body. Keep pedaling though! And don’t fall over… If you can’t do this it might be time to have your fit checked.
4: Look from your belly! Sure you’ve heard that it is best to breath from your belly. Well next time you do need to lift the head and look way up the road, don’t bend your neck, push your belly down to your thighs. Your field of vision will miraculously expand upwards with no neck stress. This is meant to be an occasional tactic, not full time.
5: Get the right glasses. This is key – whatever shades you use must NOT slide down your face, and the frame must not obscure your view while aero. This will force you to crank your neck all day long to see over or under the frame. Check out frameless adjustable models like Tifosi Vogels if this is an issue for you (it is for me). And if the glasses get covered with sweat, gel or some other gack, you might just have to do without them.
6: Slide back. This is good for those long training rides where you’ve spent a fair time in the base bars and you did a big swim workout the day before – your shoulders are just toast. So move back on the saddle. Yup – slide back off the tail when cruising and sitting up. Moving back shifts more weight to your butt and takes some of the burden off you shoulders. Once again, this an occasional tactic.
7: Trim your eyebrows. This surely won’t apply to everyone, but those of us with simian-esque foreheads and/or Einstein eyebrows will do themselves a great favor by keeping those suckers in check. Just sayin…
8: Do the turtle. Let your neck settle down between your shoulders, and rest the back of your skull on your shoulders. Relax. Once again if this isn’t an option for you, it may be bike fit time.
9: Pump some iron. Or something…. Let’s face it – in a good aero position your big melon just hangs out there on the end of your neck like one of those bobble-head puppies on the back window deck of a 1972 Ford LTD. No matter what, you DO need some conditioning to stay that way for hours. Bike time helps. But so does some supplementary strength training. Do some flys (W’s, T’s etc) on the Swiss ball with some dumbbells. No not your teammates, but actual weights.
10: Get loose. Work on shoulder flexibility – it’ll help your swimming too.
Hopefully you’ll find a few useful tips in there. I use them all and they really work. Except that Ape/Einstein/brow thing. Not sure where I got that one…