I race a lot of time trials and do long distance triathlons. What do you recommend regarding strengthening neck muscles in order to stay in the aero position, keep your eyes looking forward, without hyperextension of the cervical vertebrae?
I just finished fitting a friend to a new bike, modifying it for some overuse injury in his neck and right shoulder. You don't site problems yet, so it is great that you are seeking preventative exercises. Also, since you are asking for exercises, I'll assume that you have already:
Had a bike fitting to find the best aerodynamic position that considers your neck.
Selected a helmet and wheels for their contribution to your neck and wind-defying efforts.
Gradually increased the time you spend in the aerobars and continue to vary your arm position options throughout your rides.
Regularly stretch and strengthen leg and arm muscles.
Ensured your work environment maintains good posture.
Now onto the preventative exercises. The neck is a very sensitive body part, so my approach is to gently build the support system. I have two favorite exercises to suggest:
The first is called "Wall Angels.” Here is a link for a video showing you good form: http://youtu.be/FfcvMXuT8ac
It is basically getting your spine flat against a wall and raising your arms. Sounds easy, right? I'm here to tell you Peter, as a long-time cyclist, this exercise nails our weaknesses. It took me almost half a year to be able to do a set of 24 reps correctly. It works on core, back muscles, and spine alignment.
Next, for more core strength and practice holding your aero position, do the plank position, but with your arms on a Fitball or foam roller. Because the surface your forearm rests is able to move, you can work on your back muscles and keep your neck in line by tucking your chin. Push the roller or ball with your forearms back and forth, or even in a circular motion. This really simulates the aero bike position and engages your core. When you are on the bike, your body remembers these exercises and again engages your core to hold you up and in line. Train to hold the plank for one minute with 3 movements - push-up style, pushing forearms fore and aft, or in circles.
You can explore more exercises after these. I've been impressed by the good ideas available on-line from sites like these two links:
More information can be found in a previous Voler.com article, "Avoiding Cyclist's Posture".
We’ve teamed up with Marilyn Trout, certified USA Cycling Elite Coach to answer Voler Newsletter List members’ training questions. You can view her coach profile at http://www.linkedin.com/in/mountainpedalscoaching80903 Send your cycling inquiries to Marilyn, and for a limited time, if yours is selected to be answered in our Training column, Voler will send you a $20 gift certificate that can be used towards any purchase from the Voler Store at http://www.voler.com. To submit your inquiry, e-mail her at Marilyn@MountainPedals.net, and type “Voler Training Question” in the subject line of the e-mail.
Photo: Michael Dorausch, "Neck X-Rays Loss of Curve" via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution.