We hear about 'beach bodies' and 'toned bums' all the time - at TWC we know all you need to do to obtain a 'bikini body' is put a bikini on your body - but it turns out a strong bum could make a very big difference to your cycling.
We spoke to Kerry Bircher, Head Coach at Revolution Cycling for women, to find out more about the importance of strength training, and specifically, of having a stronger bum.
“Without a doubt, the legs, hips and buttocks are the driving force of cycling, and these areas should be the primary focus if you are thinking about developing a strength training programme to supplement your cycling," Kerry told us.
Your bum is actually made up of a group of muscles – collectively known as the ‘Gluteals’ – and Kerry explained that this area in the cycling kinetic chain is often overlooked by riders focusing on hamstrings and calves.
When do you use these muscles?
Ok – so we understand these muscles are big and important, but when exactly do we use them?
“The Gluteus Maximus is the primary hip extensor and it gives cyclists serious downward power during the pedal stroke. The two other gluteal muscles – the Gluteus Medius and Gluteus Minimus – act as rotational and lateral movers of the leg and are critical to stabilizing the hips in order to create a strong platform to generate power."
Strengthening these muscles will make a difference to all aspects of riding, particularly in climbing, riding into the wind, and sprinting, as Kerry explained: “The Gluteals are used in all aspects of cycling. If you are looking at the muscle activation during the pedal stroke, the Gluteal muscles play a particular role in the downward stroke, as your rotate over the top your pedalling motion and start pushing down, your Gluteus Maximus fires to move your hip into extension.
“Thus it makes sense that by strengthening your Glutes you will be able to generate more power on the downward stroke and your improved strength will be noticeable when hill climbing, riding into a headwind or during explosive actions such as sprinting."
Can a stronger bum prevent injury?
Stronger muscles are faster muscles, but they are also more resilient muscles - helpful in reducing injury.
Many cyclists aiming to reduce injury incorporate exercises such as squats and lunges, which target the bigger Gluteus Maximus muscle. These are useful, but Kerry pointed out that the smaller muscles need care and attention, too: “From my experience, it is the smaller stabilizers of Gluteus Medius and Gluteus Minimus that are overlooked and are key to preventing injury.
“As mentioned these two muscles stabilize the hips and thigh bone, preventing unwanted rotational and lateral movements. If you can strengthen these muscles you can prevent hip flexor tightness, lower back pain, ITB syndrome and related hip and knee pain."
What exercises are recommended?
There are many exercises you can use to strengthen your Gluteals – but Kerry has her favourites, which she shared with us – saying: “If you want to become a stronger cyclist and reach your peak performance, all your systems must be operating as a single coordinated unit.
“Yes, your legs, hips and buttocks do generate the majority of your cycling power, but to stabilize the lower half of your body, you need to have a strong abdomen, back and upper body. My favourite exercises activate the Glutes but still condition the rest of the body in unison."
Stiff Leg Deadlifts
These focus on the whole posterior chain – which means you strengthen more than just targeted muscles. Both exercises also replicate the movement of your legs when you are bent forward in your handlebar drops or aero bars.
This mimics the downstroke of your pedalling motion – to maximise the benefit, stand with your feet mimicking their position on the pedals.
Bulgarian Split Squat
This is similar to the reverse lunge but one leg is placed on a raised object, with more weight going through the leg in front, as pictured below. This trains each leg individually and stretches your hip flexors at the same time. Check out this video for a demonstration.
Band Lateral Walks
A popular exercise to exercise the smaller Gluteal muscles – these can look funny but are very useful. Begin by lopping an exercise band (or an old inner tube!) around your ankles, or just above your knee joint – then do small side steps, keeping the tension on the elastic band for approx. 5 metres in one direction before returning to the start point. Build up to 10 metres as you progress.
We hope these exercises help you to be stronger, faster, and more robust for the coming summer season - but don't forget to keep stretching, as this will always help keep injury at bay!
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