Another Reason NOT to Ride Aero In a Spinning Class

Riding in the aero position is a touchy subject in indoor cycling circles. In general it is a contraindicated position due to the fact that it is almost impossible to set a rider up in a position that is safe and effective, in which they can ride without discomfort or without reducing power output.

Because an indoor stationary bicycle does not flex or bend underneath the rider, the shoulders are locked down to the handlebars via the elbows. As the pelvis moves with the pedaling motion, this creates a shearing action at the vertebrae of the low back. (Note: This is minimized with the RealRyder bikes, which do move side to side. I wrote a review of the RealRyders here, including a discussion of riding aero.)

Riding aero also compresses the trunk, in a sense “squishing” the diaphragm and making it very difficult to breathe properly. You’ll see below that this challenge with breathing is not as pronounced on a bike specifically designed for riding aero (a triathlon or time trial bike, which have an entirely different geometry than a road bike). Suffice it to say, an indoor bike is not designed to ride aero.

Nevertheless, some instructors love riding in this position, and use it regularly in their classes. Some riders haplessly follow, not sure why they are so uncomfortable. Others are attracted to it. Perhaps they feel they are mimicking expert cyclists?

It also does provide a temporary reprieve from sitting upright. It’s probably that some people lean on their forearms because they have weak shoulders, and believe it gives them a break.

This article in Bicycling magazine called How Aero is Too Aero? gives undeniable proof that you should NOT be riding in the aero position in your indoor cycling classes. I strongly urge you to read the Bicycling article in full.

Here is an excerpt of the article that is important to indoor cycling instructors and riders (emphasis mine):

Aero is everything…until it’s not. On a flat road, aerodynamic drag is your biggest obstacle. You use about 80 percent of your power output to overcome wind resistance when you’re hammering down the road. Using aerobars and dropping your torso toward your top tube shrinks your frontal surface area, making it easier to slip through the wind and go faster. But as a new study points out, there’s a point of diminishing returns, because it’s harder to take full deep breaths and to push the pedals to produce maximum power when you’re all hunched over.

To show how dramatic an impact extreme aero positions can have on power output, a team of British researchers had 19 trained cyclists perform a series of power tests, starting at a 24-degree torso angle and dropping incrementally to zero (or as close as possible; not everyone could get that low). Every performance parameter tested, including efficiency, heart rate, cadence, V02 max, and peak power output worsened as the torso angle dropped. Power output fell 14 percent—51 watts—from the highest position to the lowest. Of course, the cyclists’ frontal area was also reduced (by up to 14 percent) as they got lower. So the riders would be more aero in real-world conditions. However, the researchers concluded the lowest position hindered performance so much that it should be avoided even by trained competitive cyclists. For the other positions, it’s a trade-off between how many watts you lose to impaired performance versus how many you gain in aerodynamic advantage.

Let me repeat that last highlighted line (this time bolded AND italicized and larger font for maximum emphasis!)…

Every performance parameter test, including efficiency, heart rate, cadence, VO2 max, and peak power output worsened as the torso angle dropped.

Did you get that? When you ride aero, and you aren’t getting any positive benefits back in return (like faster speeds that you might get if you were outside), then it only serves to reduce your effectiveness in every single way! There is no tradeoff indoors; you don’t get anything back for the performance you’ve lost by riding on your elbows.

These are elite riders they are testing. Riders who are fit and efficient, and likely more flexible than the average fitness enthusiast in a standard indoor cycling class. These riders can comfortably ride with their torso dropped pretty low (and even then they described how some were unable to get as low as others).

Now let’s go inside to a typical cycling or Spinning class. Imagine the reduction in power output, and the negative influence on these other metrics with our typical audience! They are going to be negatively affected by a much greater percentage than elite riders. By having (or allowing) your students ride aero, you are assuring that they produce less power than they would if they were not crunched over the tops of their bikes. And as you should realize by now, producing less power means burning fewer calories per class, and taking longer to reach weight loss or performance goals.

Also, our typical riders with less-than-perfect form are not going to be able to maintain good position on the bike when in the aero position, aggravating an already negative situation. Too many of them cannot sit properly on the bike while sitting up, much less hyper-flexed forward; their pelvises are often tipped back instead of forward, creating a large amount of stress at the rounded low back. This is exacerbated when they are urged to drop their torsos even more in an aero position. Throw in poor hamstring flexibility (forcing the knees outward) and you’ve got a recipe for potential disaster (or at the very least, a recipe for uncomfortable and ineffective pedaling).

Some of the more experienced riders in your class may decide to ride aero because they feel they need (or want) to get used to the position for their outdoor bikes. Following is some ammunition that you can consider telling them (though admittedly they are not always the easiest and most receptive folks to talk to!).

The geometry of an indoor bike is similar to a road bike, which is a different geometry than triathlon or time trial bikes. The latter is designed for riding in an aero position. These bikes have a steeper seat tube (the tube that the saddle attaches to) than a road bike. This rotates them forward, positioning their hips more over the bottom bracket and closer to the handlebars, allowing them to rest their elbows on the aerobar pads and keep their shoulders directly over the elbow. It also opens up the hip angle, so they are less compressed in the cockpit (the area between the saddle and the handlebars, including their hips, shoulders, and hand position on the bars).

diagram triathlon and road bike geometry

Even if they do not ride a triathlon bike and instead put aero bars on their road bike (not usually recommended, but many do it since buying two different bikes can get really expensive), it’s still not anywhere close to their bike setup outdoors.

famegeo road vs triathlon aero position

In order to prepare to ride aero on their road bikes, they need to ride aero on their road bikes! I once asked Joe Friel about this (the author of The Cyclist’s Training Bible and The Triathlete’s Training Bible) and he was adamant: “I would never permit any of the riders I coach to ride a bike in the aero position that wasn’t their precise setup.”

This Bicycling magazine article confirms that riding aero indoors is not a good idea solely because you are virtually assured that your metrics (power, HR, etc.) will be negatively impacted. But you won’t have any positive gains through increased speed, because you aren’t going anywhere indoors!


  1. This article fails to mention a great deal. Sure, you get less power in the aero position, but in an indoor class you only do it for a few minutes (I do one song max with some aero position included in that song . . so maybe 2-3 minutes total). When you change positions, some muscles groups get a bit of a rest, while other groups (most noticeably your glutes and hamstrings) have to take up the slack.
    The logic dictated by this article seems to insulate that we should all find the one maximum power output position and then maintain it for 60 minutes. That would be boring. More important it would be fatiguing to the point where (once again) you’d lose power and efficiency. Please don’t make indoor cycling more boring that it has to be. That’s a solution that is not helping anyone.

    1. Author

      There is no suggestion—actual or implied—in this article that you should find “one maximum power output position and maintain it for 60 minutes.” I’ve reread it several times and fail to see how you can come away with that conclusion.

      It is also a faulty conclusion to suggest that not riding in an aero position means the class will be boring. And, I disagree that it’s typically only for a few minutes…just read some of the comments below and you will see otherwise. I’ve seen many indoor riders try to maintain it for a long time, and many try to ride aero during periods where they would be much more effective (i.e. put out more power) if they were not on their handlebars. There simply is no plus side.

      Remember that this is taken from a study summarized in BICYCLING MAGAZINE, and that our general population of students are nowhere near as fit as many outdoor cyclists. Riding aero is an advanced position for advanced athletes who need to be aerodynamic OUTDOORS. Their lowered body position may hinder them from a performance standpoint, but they benefit from the aerodynamics more than they are hindered, so it’s worth it for a competitive athlete. This is NOT the case with indoor riding.

      I will also remind the reader of the difference in geometry of an indoor bike vs a specific time trial or triathlon bike—that has huge implications on not only the comfort and safety of our riders, but also on their ability to breathe effectively.

      Finally, I will repeat the important point from this article: “EVERY performance parameter test, including efficiency, heart rate, cadence, VO2 max, and peak power output worsened as the torso angle dropped.”

      So I disagree. This article does not “fail to mention a great deal.” On the contrary, it mentions the most salient points that are important to our indoor cycling audience. It is also targeted at triathletes who falsely believe they will benefit from training aero indoors on a bike that is not their own perfect set up. I don’t know many reputable coaches who will agree that is a good thing, When I asked Joe Friel about it, he expressly stated he would not advise it with any cyclist or triathlete. They need to be on their own TT or try bike to train the aero position.

  2. I am at a new facility which is upper class. There is a diva who rides aero almost the whole hour! Her toes are pointed severely as well. She has made her presence known in class that she is the Alpha. I plan to print this out & present it to her next weekend when I ask her why she chooses to ride aero all the time. Thanks for the scientific information!

  3. Good article and timely. I switched gyms and it seems most everyone teaching here are seasoned triathletes. They teach all the no-nos like using aerobars, doing push-ups and riding over 110 RPMS. All the things I was taught were contraindicated when I was first certified with Mad dog almost 20 years ago. Thanks.

    1. Why shouldn’t triathletes do push ups?

      1. Author

        pushups while riding a bike is what she’s talking about. They don’t do anything to strengthen any part of the body.

    2. It’s so frustrating to see! Classes today don’t follow standards and guidelines for a safe and effective workout.

  4. I really like this article. Lots of good points.

  5. Keiser booklet page 11
    hand position 4 – time trialing

    the elbows and hands are held in a relaxed position

    Elbows and forearms are hovering over the handlebars and not resting on the bars

    if a cyclists has poor form remain in position 3

    but it also goes to tell us

    be cautious of decreased ability that can arise from assuming hand position 4
    it is not appropriate for all cyclists

    1. Hovering without placing elbows or forearms on the bars is NOT time trialing. More like a setup for a strain/injury. Sounds like whoever thought of position 4 and or wrote the Keiser booklet is trying to be creative for an indoor class, but wasn’t a time trialist.

  6. Thanks Jennifer! As always very useful information for us as instructors and as cyclists. What’s frustrating for me is I teach in a facility with Keiser bikes with the “aero bars” on the bikes and that position is in their manual. So we have other instructors teaching it regularly. When I coach I explain why I will not coach them to be on the aero bars and why. Thanks for reinforcing this with this article! This gives me even more to back why I won’t teach it. Will be printing this to have copies in my cycling bag.

  7. It is amazing to me that anyone still does this. However, it isn’t just indoor cyclists who don’t seem to know about the aero position and its limitations. I have passed a number of fitter, lighter cyclists on TT bikes in organized rides who stay down going up a hill, thereby limiting their ultimate power and lung capacity. Pros who ride for the big international teams are mostly incredibly flexible young people, who. for a TT, can get into an aero position and literally have their backs parallel to the ground. Even so, they would not attempt any significant climb while in the aero position.

  8. Thank you so much for this article. I have had a lady storm out my class because i told her to ‘watch her back’ whilst riding aero bars in my spin class! I am always mentioning how contraindicitive riding aero bars in class are,now I have the proof in black and white :-)))))))

  9. Great article. Only thing I would question is the “seat position the same” in the diagram. TT/triathlon frame geometry changes seat position more forward and riders generally sit on the nose of the saddle (even with road frame and clip-on aero bars).

  10. Thanks Jen, this has gone on for long enough. Even last week whilst attending my regular class the instructor gets everyone to drop to TT position for sprinting off the back end of a 90sec flat, to a 30 sec climb. He is allegedly following a certain pre set routine.
    I tend to sit in the back row and just hit my long ride, as I am not yet officially allowed to work as an instructor in this country, even though been teaching back in UK for over 15 years. Ah well, wait until my paper come through.

    1. Paddy, if I go to other instructors classes I usually sit in the back and just ignore the stupidity.
      I see far too much of this, along with press ups, isolationist, and hovers?

  11. Yes, i only offer the aero position as an option. I say “if ot feels comfortable, you could come down to an aero position, but only if your back doesnt mind”. I have only a few regulars who take me up on it, they know their body, ride outdoors and Ive approved of their fit on the bike (im a professional “master” bg bike fitter too). I would never teach aero at all, but a few like the choice. Also its never more than a 5 min interval. So in small doses, if you know what youre doung, im ok w aero, but as a fitter, i have seen SO MANY PEOPLE injure themselves on their tri or tt bikes. Biomechanics are so important yet sometimes undervalued in IC.

  12. I’d also mention that the ‘poor’ position caused by the geometry can lead to injury as well. We have the Schwinn bikes, and I tried dropping down and keeping my same pace. The extra pressure from the compression led to a lot of soreness over the past few days from the saddle, something I’ve never experienced on my road bike, even in the drops. Doc says its most likely soft tissue damage… First time ever over 1,000s of miles.

  13. I’ve had an instructor to tell us to “get aerodynamic” and I’m thinking what for? there’s no wind ? And these bikes aren’t set up for an aero. position. At least now I can back up my objections with some data.

    1. And there’s a nice photo of Jens breaking the hour record in the Bicycling Mag. article !

  14. Good article, Jennifer! You have written it with just the right amount of documentation to convenience people that riding aero on an indoor bike is not doing them any good.

    1. Author

      thanks Gary! Keep spreading the word; hopefully we’ll touch enough instructors that need to hear this.

  15. I love that you guys always post the articles right after I have an issue related to the problem described, in my own classes. Now I know how to explain it better. Whether they will accept it is another story.

    1. Author

      Yes, Izabela, it’s a tough one. Sometimes it’s best to just let them read this article, maybe they will see themselves in it and make the decision to discontinue riding aero indoors.

  16. Great article! Thank you …..I taught on Schwinn bikes for 8 years and never rode/taught in aero. We recently switched from Schwinn to Lemonds and Aero position is the only way I can get comfortable on the bike. I miss Schwinn 🙁

    1. Sad to hear Jennifer you cannot get comfortable on the LeMond indoor bike…the bike fit adjustments on the LeMond RevMaster have many more micro-adjustments than the Schwinn models relating to bike fit. Consequently, you should be able to find a much more comfortable, anatomical and proper biomechanical riding position when seated. Perhaps, check out for more detailed suggestions on making those finer adjustments that could help you find a more comfortable riding position.

      With regards to aero-position, I respect the time taken in the article to explain and describe that a specific geometry is vital for each individual to determine their most efficient/proper aerodynamic riding position. Plus, the fact that it really isn’t purposeful indoors. As mentioned, this is not a position needed for indoor cycling nor is it beneficial. Teaching group cycling now for over 20 years, I have never asked a rider to go into an aerodynamic position. It has and always will remain an option for the rider to choose to use if comfortable for a short period of time, etc. It is our responsibility as instructors to share the important information explained in the article of what one would experience if they do choose to ride for long periods in the aero-position. I have found through the years very few people remain in that position long or avoid it altogether. Thanks for caring about the finer details!

      1. Thanks so much! My issue with getting comfortable is with the handlebars and hand placement . I’m sure it has to do with years on a Schwinn and adapting to change. Even when coming up out of the saddle I feel like I can’t find a “natural” position to place my hands.

    2. I have ridden/taught on Lemond indoor bikes for years, and I am a fan of the adjustments/setup! If you can’t get comfortable on an indoor Lemond bike, you probably don’t know how to conduct a proper bike fit or you may have an existing injury/strain. I was an elite level triathlete at the time, and it made sense for me to practice riding in aero form indoors.D I would offer the option for people to try the aero position during recovery segments and let me know how they felt about it. Most of my class used tthe aero position because they could relax, and get in a zone during sprints. I also suggested to avoid being aero during “hill climbs” because, let’s face it, you are just going too slow to get any aero benefit on a hill. I used diaphram ie could breathe just fine when aero! Joan you are right on the money with your comments above. I am a fan! I am now at a different gym using a Schwinn model which does not have a stem adjustment. I really have to play around with the rest of the fit in order to get aero on that bike so I don’t ride aero. I also don’t use the Schwinn “alternate position” where you position hands on the frontward handlebars- who would need this? Over time I can imagine this being taxxing on the back/shoulders and hamstrings, even when positioned and standing correctly.

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