While big quads and cyclists go hand in hand, the gluteal muscles are responsible for putting power into your pedal stroke. Unfortunately, a common problem for cyclists is activating these muscles, which can hurt performance and overwork weaker muscles groups.
Whether it’s a lack of strength in the glutes or a sedentary day job, let’s take a look at why it can be difficult to activate the glutes on the bike and what you can do to fix it.
If you work in an office or other job that forces you to spend large portions of the day sitting in a chair, your glutes are essentially shut off for the majority of the day. While these muscles are asleep, it’s common for your posture to suffer, placing more strain and stress on your lower back.
When it’s time to hop on the bike after work, it can be hard to wake up the gluteal muscles. This forces other muscle groups, like the lower back and hamstrings, to overwork, and when they become fatigued during a ride, it can lead to injuries such as lower back or knee pain.
This same problem can occur from muscular imbalance or weakness in the gluteal muscles. Like being sedentary, if the gluteal muscles are weak, you’ll overuse the hamstrings and back, causing tightness and overuse in these smaller muscle groups that can eventually lead to injury.
There are several things you can do throughout the day to make sure your glutes remain engaged. Try substituting your office chair for a stability ball, or set an alarm to remind you to stand up and walk around the office every hour. You can also inconspicuously do glute contractions at your desk. Better yet, set aside time to do glute strengthening exercises like squats, box jumps, stepups and lunges. Finally, before and after your ride, set aside time for foam rolling and light stretching to help open your hips and get blood flowing.
While stretching, strengthening and doing as much as you can do to keep the glute muscles turned on during the day certainly helps, you’ll need to make sure the glutes are firing correctly on the bike to maximize power output and prevent injury.
Give these basic tips a try to get more from your glutes while you ride:
- Get a bike fit: Having your hips in the right position forces you to activate your core and helps you to generate more power through the hips and glutes so you don’t put too much stress on the hamstrings.
- Have a comfortable saddle: When your seat is uncomfortable, you’re more likely to rotate your hips backward, turning off a portion of the glutes.
- Warmup: After riding easy for a few minutes, hop off the bike and do a few squats or stretches. This helps get the glutes engaged and reminds them to fire when you pedal.
- Scoot back: Scooting back on the saddle recruits more from the glutes and makes it easier for you to drop your heel at the bottom of the pedal stroke.
- Change gears: If you’re having a hard time getting your glutes activated, ride in a larger gear every once in a while. The lower cadence and more difficult gearing slows things down and makes you fire the glutes more for power.
- Stand up: Instead of becoming stagnate, change positions on the bike frequently. Standing up is a great way to give your other leg muscles a break and get the glutes going.