One of the first points of discussion during many of my precision bicycle fittings, focus on the muscles involved in the pedalling motion of cycling, most people think of quadriceps and hamstrings. While these muscles certainly play an important role, the many muscles of the hip also deserve attention, and specific exercises are the perfect way to keep them functioning properly.
Before discussing different strength and mobility exercises, we should first look at activation exercises for your Gluteus Maximus (referred to as the glutes) muscles. The reason for needing to activate your glutes is simple—as a population, we spend way too much time sitting, and as a result, what happens is your glute muscles can “go to sleep” and not function properly.
A key indicator of weakness is the single leg squat test that i always have the client perform during the initial assessment, highlighted by a tendency to rotate forward over the knee with excessive inward movement of the knee (knee valgus), a drop on the opposite hip, arching or ‘clawing’ of the foot and poor overall balance.
When your glutes aren’t functioning properly, other muscles (hamstrings and lumbar extensors) are called in to do the job of the glutes, mainly hip extension. Think of hip extension as the downward action of pedalling.
The problem is that these muscles aren’t designed to be prime movers—they’re designed to support the action of the glutes. An inability to activate the glutes can result in low back pain (low back muscles compensating),Hip flexor strain (overactive hip flexors) hamstring strains (overacting hamstrings), hip pain (resulting from hamstring-dominant hip extension) and knee pain (poor glute medius strength). These are some of the most common and prevailing complaints and issues I hear when assessing clients prior to a bike fit.
Many clients have already sought relief from other practitioners or fitters and often have orthotics, wedges and shims applied to their shoes, and while i don’t tend to agree with this practice, it can in some cases be a ‘quick fix’ giving an initially positive effect, but doesn’t address the key issues at the heart of the problem.
…up next, Hip Strength Specific Exercises.