Last year, I ran a highly unscientific study at recreational cycling events: I asked random cyclists to ride with their hands in their handlebar drops. Most of them could ride neither comfortably nor powerfully for longer than a minute in that position.
The fact is, it's a good idea to get acquainted with the drops. A lower body position reduces the amount of drag you must overcome, so you save more energy, and can ride faster and longer. (Besides, there's no point in buying aero wheels if you're going to sit up and catch wind like a kite.) It can also give you more traction in wet or gravelly conditions and tight corners. Here's the lowdown on getting low. But first, find out if you're Fit to Ride with these DIY fitness tests.
Check Bike Fit
To ride effectively in the drops you need to roll your hips forward, keeping the hip angle (between torso and thigh) open. If you're getting into the drops only by bending at the waist or arching your back, your hip angle is closing, which means you'll produce less power. Talk to a certified fitter at a bike shop, a saddle adjustment or swap could help. To adjust it yourself, watch our video on Making Your Bike Fit.
Practice in Position
To develop more power in the drops, twice a week, do three or four 6- to 8-minute intervals with your hands in the drops on an uphill grade of 1 to 3 percent. Start at a moderate intensity (perceived exertion level of 6 on a 1 to 10 scale); after two or three weeks, progress to an effort at or just slightly below lactate threshold (7 or 8). Or, use the drops whenever you do intervals on an indoor trainer, especially if you're prepping for a race.
If bike fit isn't the problem, the culprit is likely your range of motion. Reaching the drops simply by straightening your arms may make you less aerodynamic. To cut drag, you need to lower your head and shoulders, which requires greater hip and lower-back flexibility.
Lie on your back. Bend your left knee and place your left ankle just above your right knee. Slowly raise your right knee to bring your left ankle toward your torso, keeping your left knee even with your left ankle, so that you feel a stretch in your left glute. Hold for 10 seconds, three times on each leg.
Step forward into a lunge position and drop your back knee to the floor. Then reach toward the ceiling as you push forward with your hips. You'll feel the stretch through your torso, the front of your hip, and your quad. Hold for 10 seconds, three times on each leg.
Need more? These Stretches For Cyclists will help you fully loosen up before a ride.Search for a cycling event.
Chris Carmichael is the CEO of Carmichael Training Systems (trainright.com) and the author of The Time-Crunched Triathlete.