The Importance of the Gluteal Muscles for Cycling Performance
By: Christian Lizarazo
For Cyclists, when discussing the muscles involved in performance, the quads, hamstrings, and calves, most often take over the discussion. Although these muscles are important and should be a focus for any cyclist, the Glutes are often overlooked, underdeveloped and in the worst cases dormant.
Dormant glute muscles can be an extremely frustrating thing to have as an athlete because even when training certain exercises that are designed to target the area, having this problem will cause the glutes to not fire or fire inefficiently. This leads to compensation, which ultimately leads to injury.
Dormant glute syndrome has seen a rise in late, which may be due to the sedentary lifestyle that most people engage in on a day to day basis, leading to tight hip flexors which shut off the glutes. This issue is exacerbated further by cyclists as the positioning that they are forced to be in on the bike also leads to extremely tight hip flexors. Before we discuss why the dormancy of the Glute muscles is such a detriment to performance, let’s discuss what exactly the glute muscle does.
Anatomy and Function
The gluteus muscle is actually comprised of three different muscles: the gluteus maximus, medius, and minimus and each performing a specific task.
The primary function of the glute max is hip-extension, or bringing the leg down and back. It is the largest muscle of the three as well as in our entire body. This is the power generating muscle that translating into cycling is when you are pedaling from the 12 o clock position to roughly the 6 o clock position.
Glute Medius and minimus
The main function of the glute medius is abduction, as well as with the help of the glute minimus in providing stability for the hip and knee. Weakness here, leads to internal rotation and adduction during the down stroke or power phase of the pedal stroke. This ultimately leads to compensation which leads to knee and lower back pain as well as a loss of power.
How to Awaken and Strengthen
The first steps to improving your strength is by developing a mind muscle connection with the glute muscles and learn to feel when they are firing properly. Another important tip is to stretch out the hip flexors prior to any glute strengthening to prevent the body from compensating and limiting the glutes from firing. A simple lunge and lean forward while keeping the torso straight and shoulders back will lengthen the hip flexor and give it a great stretch.
Glute Maximus Exercises
Hip Bridges: While lying face up on the floor with the knees bent and feet planted firmly, push off the heels of your feet while raising the hips up and keeping the body completely aligned. Hold the top position for about 2-5 seconds and lower slowly. Repeat 10 to 15 times, for 2-3 sets.
Step ups: Grab a step or a platform that is roughly knee high, step on the platform and drive up with the opposite leg. Hold and squeeze the glutes at the top position of the leg on the platform. Lower, switch leg and repeat.
Glute Medius Exercises
Side-lying clams: Lying on your right side, knees bent to 60 degrees, feet together. Open your legs like a clam. Go as far as you can without your low back rotating back. Perform 2 sets of 30 reps (done slowly), and then switch sides. KEYS: Do not let your low back roll back: you are trying to dissociate hip and low back movement. The form is very important.