I am new to the Forum and I am sure this has been asked before but my "weak spot" on long rides seems to be pain/stiffness in upper shoulders/neck area. I have a carbon fiber bike (Kestrel) and I believe the pain is coming from the shock the arms take on bumps being transferred to my neck/shoulders. Is there something in the gym I can do to prepare or alleviate this? Are there any equipment solutions.
Massage. Get a ten minute chair massage every once in awhile, or if you have a sympathetic partner, get them to do it. It pays to have one done so you know how it feels during massage, or better yet, have one done for your partner so they can do it right for you!
I have this thing called the Backnobber. It's not bad and works quite well for trigger point therapy. I tried a stick product designed for the same thing though the other day and it works much better. The drawback is you need a partner. The plus side is that it's much easier for your partner to use instead of their hands and fingers.
How are you holding your arms? Try to keep a bent elbow at all times to absorb shock. Don't have a death-grip with your hands. Aim your fingers outwards and rotate the heel of your palms inwards so that when you're on top of your hoods, the bones of your arm is directly inline with the hoods; you won't need to use much muscle force to hold your weight this way. Same thing when you're in the drops of the bars. Rather than holding your hands parallel to the bars (like holding a garden hose), rock the heels of the palms inwards so that weight is on the meaty part outside heel of your palm and carries the weight without you needing to grip very hard.
Also don't hold your head perfectly vertical, this makes your neck muscles constantly work. Keep your face aimed down a bit so that it's inline with the spine (you should be looking only 50-75ft in front of bike anyway). To look up further, use your eyeballs rotated up, so you don't have to strain the neck muscles. On the track, I actually just tilt my head to the side (resting on shoulder) to look up since the G-forces add 15lbs to your head and really strains the neck muscles..
Initially I believed it was lifting my head/helmet that was causing the issue but as I have become more experienced, I think it is the arms being my shock absorbers that is transferring this pain. I will try your suggestions on hand positions - strangely I have found the drops fairly comfortable. I got an off line suggestion of using the ergometer in the gym more to strengthen the specific muscle area, does that sound right? The suggestion was not from a pro.
"I will try your suggestions on hand positions - strangely I have found the drops fairly comfortable."
Most likely that's due to your arms being more vertical. This lets you rest your weight on the arms with using less shoulder muscle. Imagine perfectly vertical arms, like you're doing push-ups, they can support your weight just on compressing the bones vertically, no muscles needed.
Here's some pictures of what I'm talking about with the wrists aimed outwards. The idea is you want to have all your weight supported on the heel of your palms so that the weight-bearing function goes directly into the arm bones. So that you don't even have to grip the bars or hoods to support your weight:
Easy test is to just relax the fingers' grip and see if your hands start to slip to the outside gradually. If they do, rotate the heel of the palm inwards more. This relaxes your forearm and shoulder muscles quite a bit. Another test of whether you're supporting your weight passively is being able to wiggle all your fingers freely.
"I got an off line suggestion of using the ergometer in the gym more to strengthen the specific muscle area, does that sound right? The suggestion was not from a pro."
Good information - thanks. On my rides this weekend I think I identified some of the problem. I recently put aero bars on and the forearm rests stop me from rotating my wrists quite as far. It may just take some time and some of those exercises. I am in the gym regularly anyway so just something to add.