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.
Originally posted on active.com
While serious conditions such as a herniated disc or a strained muscle warrant a break from the bike, most low-level chronic back pain that results from muscular imbalances can be fixed before resulting in injury.
A muscular imbalance occurs when the workload is not being distributed evenly or efficiently, and can cause certain muscles to work either too hard or not enough.
The transversus abdominus, or TVA—the deep abdominal muscles that wrap around the entire core—and the gluteus maximus are two common muscles that can lead to back pain if they aren’t working efficiently. The correlation between weakness in these muscles and low back pain is directly related to the order in which these muscles activate.
If they aren’t firing correctly, and in the right order, these muscles won’t provide the stabilization needed to support the lumbar spine.
In a healthy person, the TVA should activate a fraction of a second before any movement takes place in the limbs. If the TVA doesn’t fire, the pelvis and lumbar spine aren’t properly stabilized during movement and the low back is allowed to move around too much, stressing the muscles of that area and eventually causing chronic pain.
The solution is to follow a core exercise routine that helps strengthen the TVA and gluteus maximus. Stay away from abdominal crunches; the crunch movement only exacerbates the rounded shoulders and tucked pelvis that contributes to low back pain.
Below are four core-strengthening exercises that will help to alleviate chronic low back pain. Start with one set of each exercise and rest 30 seconds between. Increase your repetitions gradually until you can complete 2 to 3 sets of each exercise.
Opposite Arm/Leg Reach
Start on your hands and knees. Keep the back of your neck long and don’t look up or let your chin drop toward the ground. Gently pull your belly button up, being careful not to round your upper back. Keep your hips and shoulders parallel to the ground and lift your right foot and left hand at the same time. Extend your left fingertips forward and squeeze your left gluteus. Hold this extension for 5 seconds before slowly returning to the starting position. Continue alternating sides until you have completed 10 repetitions on each side.
Prone Snow Angels
Lie face down on a mat with your arms extended along your sides (palms down). Gently squeeze your glutes and begin to raise your feet, chest and hands off the ground. Don’t lift your feet more than 6 inches. Create a “snow angel” by sweeping your arms overhead and separating your feet. Without bending your arms, try to bring your hands together above your head. Return to starting position, take a deep breath, and repeat until you have completed 10 to 15 repetitions.
Shoulder Blade Squeeze
Start on your hands and knees. Place your hands directly below your shoulders as if you were going to do a push-up. Keep your arms straight and drop your shoulder blades down, squeezing the lower edges together. Don’t let your low back sway or your chin push forward. Hold the shoulder blade squeeze for 5 seconds and release. Take a breath, then continue to repeat this 5-second hold until you have completed 10 repetitions.
Time Trial Position (Plank Hold)
The TT Hold is performed on your forearms and toes. The exercise is isometric and there should be no movement. Keep your elbows directly beneath your shoulders, and your feet should be 8 to 10 inches apart. Keep the back of your neck long and look down at the floor.
Work to bring your shoulder blades onto your back by squeezing them together slightly. Your lower back should not be excessively rounded, and your neck should be long (don’t look up). Hold this position for 20 to 30 seconds. As you become stronger, extend the hold time.
For additional exercises and routines to help with low back pain, pick up a copy of Tom Danielson’s Core Advantage: Core Strength for Cycling’s Winning Edge.