By Ann Schofield, PT
The following stability exercises for cyclists have been specifically chosen to address the typical muscle imbalances developed by cyclists. The biking position causes certain structures to be elongated, while others are kept in a contracted position. When a muscle is stretched out for prolonged periods of time, (such as gluteus maximus in cycling) it will become long and inefficient in portions of its range. Other muscles, kept in a contracted position will become shortened and overactive. This sort of imbalance found between different muscles or even portions of one muscle, can lead to injury and inefficiency.
Naturally, the muscles used to move the bike forward will be dominant. Without a stable base to work from, these muscles cannot work effectively. The exercises found below will help improve the function of the stability muscles, as well as ensuring that they can work efficiently throughout their range.
1. Neutral Bridge with Single Leg Raise
GOALS OF EXERCISE: To optimize inner range control of gluteus maximus and improve stability function of oblique abdominal muscles.
1. Lie on a firm surface with hands on front of hips to monitor hip position.
2. Lift pelvis using both legs, then raise one leg as shown.
3. Hold this position for 10 seconds, before returning to the start position.
4. Be sure that the pelvis is held level. This is the key. One side may be more difficult to do than the other.
5. Repeat 10 times on each side with a break between every lift.
RELEVANCE TO CYCLISTS: Cyclists tend to have extremely dominant hamstring muscle activity and poor stability function in the gluts. While riding, the gluts do produce power from the middle and outer portions of their range, but fail to stabilize adequately in the inner range, largely due to the mechanical disadvantage placed upon them in the seated, lean forward position. This muscle imbalance can lead to hamstring pulls, hip problems and even IT band friction syndrome at the knee.
2. Clam Shell Exercise
GOALS OF EXERCISE: To strengthen the posterior portion of gluteus medius and gluteus maximus.
1. Lie on side, with hips at 45 degrees and knees at 90 degrees.
2. Keeping pelvis perpendicular to the floor, and heels together, raise the upper knee as high as possible, by turning out at the hip.
3. Hold for 10 seconds, repeat 10 times each side.
4. If the pelvis is not held in the correct position, the wrong muscle will be used to move the leg.
RELEVANCE TO CYCLISTS: Due to bike position and cycling motion, the rider will use the anterior portion of gluteus medius enormously, while the posterior portion will not be recruited much at all. This posterior portion is hugely important to pelvic stability and the prevention of hip, knee and back problems. It will also be needed when climbing out of the saddle.
3. Oblique Abdominal Strengthening
GOALS OF EXERCISE: To improve the stability function of the oblique abdominal musculature.
1. Lie on your back on a firm surface. Monitor position of low back with hands.
2. Raise one leg to 90 degrees, then raise the other to join it.
3. Straighten one leg, then the other, in a cycling motion while maintaining good contact between the low back and the hands.
4. Do this for 10 seconds, rest then repeat 10 times.
RELEVANCE TO CYCLISTS: When torque is applied through pedals, strong rotational forces are produced. The obliques function to decelerate these forces through the trunk and pelvis, so that the energy produced can be used to move the bike forward, rather than turning the body from side to side. When a rider gets tired, form often deteriorates and extraneous motion occurs, reducing efficiency.
4. Prone Inner Range Leg Raise
GOALS OF EXERCISE: To optimize inner range control of Gluteus Maximus.
1. Lie on stomach on firm surface.
2. Bend the knee to 90 degrees.
3. Squeeze gluts on the same side, then raise the leg just 2 inches off the bed.
4. Do not allow the back to hyperextend (arch). Do not roll onto the straight leg to achieve the lift.
5. Hold for 10 seconds, repeat 10 times each side.
RELEVANCE TO CYCLIST: This exercise provides the cyclist the opportunity to work even further into the gluteus maximus inner stability range. Do not underestimate the importance of having strength in a muscle through all portions of its range. Riders who cross train into running in the off-season will need to maintain good hip stability in the upright position if they want to avoid injury.
5. Anterior Hip Stretch
GOALS OF EXERCISE: To lengthen tight tissues at the front of the hip joint.
1. Lie on the edge of a firm table or counter.
2. Pull one leg up to chest and allow the other to hang down, opening up the hip.
3. A weight may be strapped to the ankle to pull down on the leg being stretched if a more aggressive stretch is desired.
4. Hold the position for between 30 seconds and two minutes.
5. Repeat on the other side.
RELEVANCE TO CYCLISTS: Due to posture on the bike, a cyclist will inherently suffer from tight structures in the anterior hip. The following recommended stretch may not be the most convenient to do, but is the best way to make a difference.
6. Tight IT Bands?
GOALS OF EXERCISE: To release myofascial trigger points.
1. Lie over the foam roller as shown, with the top leg crossed in front or behind for support.
2. Roll back and forth to massage tight tissue, or hold pressure on especially tight trigger points to release them.
RELEVANCE TO CYCLISTS Both the bike position and pedaling motion can lead to tightness in the illiotibial band, which is found on the outside of the thigh, starting at the hip and attaching into the side of the knee. A tight IT band can lead to hip or knee problems, as well as a painful condition called IT band friction syndrome. Use of a foam roller can control some of this tightness often found in cyclists.