Originally posted on active.com
Mashing up and down instead of pedaling in smooth circles is common for beginner cyclists. It’s an error that often leads to injury. Tightness or pain in the quads, knees and hip flexors are often caused by inefficiencies in the pedaling motion.
The good news is, with a little practice you can fix your pedal stroke pretty easily. By improving your upstroke, you’ll not only prevent injury, you’ll also increase your power.
The two major muscle groups responsible for developing a solid upstroke are the hamstrings and the gluteals. The hamstrings are actually made up of three different muscles: the semimembranosus, semitendinosus and the biceps femoris. The gluteals are made up of the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius and gluteus minimus.
When functioning correctly, these six muscles work together to generate power and endurance. They also ensure a smooth, circular pattern to your pedal stroke. If these muscles aren’t firing on all cylinders, the efficiency of your stroke is reduced and the other muscles of the hips and legs are forced to pick up the slack. This can lead to muscular imbalances and potential injury.
Do these four exercises 3 to 4 times per week to strengthen the muscles needed to boost the power and efficiency of your upstroke. Start with 1 to 2 sets of 10 to 12 repetitions and rest for 30 seconds between each set.
1. Lay on your back with your knees bent and your feet on the ground 6 to 8 inches from your glutes. Your arms should be relaxed on the ground at your sides.
2. Pull your right knee in toward your chest (if you have the flexibility to hold onto your knee with your hands, do it).
3. Keeping your right foot off the ground, push down through the heel of your left foot and lift your hips as high as possible. Squeeze your glutes the entire time.
4. Slowly lower your hips back down to the ground and repeat this 10 to 12 times. Switch legs and repeat 10 to 12 times with your right foot on the ground.
1. Start in the same position as the Single Leg Hip Bridge but keep both feet on the ground.
2. Squeeze your glutes, tuck your tailbone, and lift your hips off the ground.
3. Keeping your hips high, slide your left foot away from your body until your left leg is completely straight, then bring it back in.
4. Repeat this sliding motion with the right foot. Keep your hips off the ground the entire time (glutes should be engaged).
Alternate sliding your feet in and out until you’ve completed 10 to 12 repetitions with each leg.
2. Place your hands on your hips and lift your right foot 6 to 8 inches off the ground.
3. Shift your weight onto the heel of your left foot and begin to push your hips back.
4. Bend your left knee and lower into a squat position (as if you’re trying to touch a chair that is a little too far behind you).
5. Lower your body as far as you can go without your upper body leaning forward.
6. Squeeze your glutes on the stabilizing leg as your stand back up to starting position.
7. Complete 10 to 12 reps on this leg, then switch. Remember to keep all the weight on the heel of the standing leg.
Even though this requires access to a seated hamstring curl machine, I had to include it because it’s such a great option for building strength.
1. Using a seated hamstring curl (not a prone hamstring curl, which requires you to lie face down), adjust the seat and leg settings as if you were going to do a regular double-leg curl.
2. Put both feet on top of the leg pad. Keep your left leg straight and pull down with the right leg.
3. The eccentric part of the movement: slowly extend your right leg back out to the starting position to a count of four seconds.
4. Pull the pad back down quickly, then extend your leg back out slowly to a count of four.
5. Repeat this 10 to 12 times on the right leg, then switch sides. This movement is extremely taxing on the hamstrings, so I recommend starting with light weight, such as 10 pounds.