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Activation and strengthening of the glutes for cycling

Strong and functioning glutes are essential to develop power on the bike.

Activation and strengthening of the glutes for cycling 04/04 2014 by Pieter Van Pietersen

Huge power can be generated by the glutes. Keeping them strong and firing is the key to being strong in race winning efforts.

Too much time sitting at a desk, a crash or movement imbalance can cause the glutes to stop working. Find out how to get them firing and strong to make you faster on the bike.

Lifting too much weight or lifting with the wrong technique can cause serious injury. Start with light weights and ask a professional gym instructor for assistance with your form. Get into good habits from the start, including warming up. Do not attempt to lift when you are too tired.

If you experience abnormal pain then stop working out immediately and seek advice from a trained professional. Weights quoted below are for male cyclists weighing 130 - 180lb / 60 - 80kg

The glutes are the buttock muscles, made up of the gluteus maximus, medius and minimus. The maximus is one of the largest and strongest muscles in the body and is the driving force behind hip movement.

The glutes can easily become deactivated by long periods of not using them. For example spending the day sitting or lying down. Other muscles, such as the quadriceps take over the work of the glutes and so this massively powerful muscle set becomes atrophied and unused.

For cyclists and sportsmen in general, this is a disaster, as so much power can be generated from the glutes. Other muscles will tire sooner as a result of overcompensating for the glutes. This will result in poor performance (e.g. cramps or strains in the quads) and injury, such as back ache.

The power of the glutes should also be harnessed in sprints, as these muscles will drive your legs through the pedals. Most races will end in a sprint, so a powerful leg action driven by the glutes is essential.

We can use several techniques to get the glutes activated.

Think about your buttocks
Stop staring at other people's buttocks and start thinking about your own. When you walk up stairs, put your hands on your buttocks and try to tense them as you move. Tense them when you are sitting and cycling. You are reminding yourself that they are there and need to be utilized through daily life.

Stretch your glutes
Stretching your glutes will help to keep them from tightening up and will keep them supple. When warm after a workout, lie on your back and bring your right knee close to your chest. With your left hand, pull your right toes close to your body, twisting your foot. You should feel the stretch of your buttock.

Exercise your glutes
Gym strength work has its advocates and detractors. The detractors say that pressing a pedal does not require much strength, so there's no point. My view is that gym work is useful. Better core strength means more power is transmitted to the pedals, you can even out strength discrepancies, it will improve your sprint power and it makes activities in normal life easier to do, e.g. lifting a suitcase.

To wake up, strengthen and balance your glutes, try squats and lunges, as described below.

I recommend twice a week during the off season and once a week for 'maintenance' during the season.

Start with a very light weight and concentrate on your form. Serious back injury can occur if you allow your spine to curve forwards (i.e. ruptured disk). Young athletes are more at risk than older athletes as their disks are easier to displace. Ask a qualified gym instructor about correct technique if you are not sure. Don't use a bar that slides on rails as the motion is unnatural.

Keep your heels down to work the glutes. Raising the heels will work the quads more, which is not what you want.

For a similar reason, keep the bar behind your head rather than in front. Holding the bar behind works the quads more.

Concentrate on driving upwards with the glutes rather than the quads. Pushing off the heel rather than the ball of the foot helps.

Ensure that you take your femurs (thigh bones) down to a horizontal position. This is the position that will really work the glutes. There is no need to take it lower, although if you can then this will work the glutes more. There is increased risk of knee damage with lower squats and flexible ankles are required.

Do 3 sets of 10
20kg is enough to start with to check your form.
You should build to around 100kg for men, 60kg for women. Note: it is vital to maintain good form during this exercise. If you are unable to maintain form then use a lighter weight.

To activate the glutes you will need to perform deep lunges rather than the shallow kind.

Stand facing a mirror, initially with no weights as this requires some balance. Feet should be pedal width apart. Take a long step forward, perhaps a meter. Bend this knee until your shin is vertical. Don't go further than that or this may damage your knees. Roll forward onto the toes of your rear leg and that rear knee will be bent.

Shallow lunges are performed by taking a shorted step, and this works the quads more, which is what we don't want here.

Focus on using the glutes and not the quads to drive yourself back to a standing position. If your quads are already strong, then your body will want to use the quads as the leg straightening muscles.

Drive off the heel of the front foot to utilize the quads. Driving off the toes will use the quads more. Again, focus on the glutes when performing this exercise.

Once your balance is in place, add weights by holding dumbbells, holding a weight to your chest or a bar behind your neck.

Do 3 sets of 10 on each leg.

10kg is enough to start with. Build to around 40kg for men and 20kg for women.

When you've done lunges correctly you will feel some aching in your buttocks the next day until you are used to the exercise.

You can also do some lunges with no weights as part of your warm up to activate the muscle prior to riding.

Lunges are also good as they work each leg in isolation, which will reduce strength imbalances.

Other glute exercises
There are plenty more exercises that can be done for the glutes, but these two cover most of the bases so I don't think it is necessary to do more. It is better spend the time and effort out riding.

If you have some huge comprehensive set of leg exercises to do, then you might not end up doing them at all.

Position on bike to utilize the glutes (dorsiflexed)
Saddle height could play a role in activating the powerful glutes, although this has not been proven. It is thought that dorsiflexed feet, i.e. toes pulling up to shins is a better position to activate the glutes than a plantar flexed position i.e. toes pointing down.

This can be felt by lying on your back with your toes pointing away from your head (pointy toes). If the back is now arched so that your buttocks are off the floor, the strain can be felt in the hamstrings and your glutes will feel soft. If you now repeat the exercise with the toes pointing to the ceiling, then you should be able to feel your glutes firming and lifting you off the ground and the weaker hamstrings and back muscles are spared. The position feels much more solid and strong.

A lower saddle height, combined with a foot which is horizontal at the bottom of the pedal stroke (heels down) will utilize the glutes and calf muscles more. This is the position adopted by riders such as Vinokorouv (see 2012 Olympics, gold in road race). However Lance Armstrong had a heels up pedaling action, so you will need to experiment for yourself.

I personally have lowered by saddle over the years, and pedal with a heels down action, which also fits with the LeMond seat height formula. It feels more powerful. I don't have knee problems and don't get saddle sores from being too high up and rolling left and right.

The glutes are powerful muscles which will stabalize your pedal stroke and generate extreme power for sprinting. Strengthening and activating those glutes will help to prevent injury and will make you a faster cyclist. Spending a little bit of time in the gym is well worth it.

The Plague of The Mediocre Athlete "No Glutes Equals No Results"

Glute Exercises To Make You A Faster Cyclist

How to Fix Glute Imbalances

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