The Gluteals and Cycling – By Lucas Owen – Part Two
As discussed in The Gluteals and Cycling Part One, the hip extensors are the main force producers during cycling. However, if the hip extensors have not been functioning optimally it is common that other muscles in the gluteal region, those that control hip and pelvic alignment, will also be weakened or imbalanced. This article discusses this further.
These gluteal muscles are the hip abductors gluteus medius and gluteus minimus and a group of muscles commonly referred to as the deep hip rotators piriformis, the gemelli, the obturators and quadratus femoris.
The most common indicators of hip abductor and /or hip rotator weakness or imbalance are:
- Poor balance when standing on one leg, often combined with the pelvis being lower on the side that has been lifted off the ground
- One foot is turned out more than the other when standing, walking or cycling
- Inconsistent alignment of the hip, knee and ankle during pedalling
- Consistent misalignment of the hip, knee and ankle during pedalling, generally with the knee being closer to the centre-line of the bike than the hip and ankle, and exaggerated at higher intensities
Obviously the last two points can be the result of a poor bike fit, especially incorrect cleat positioning and alignment. If these elements have been addressed though, then it is likely that you need to improve the function of the hip abductors and the deep hip rotators, which are often neglected during rehabilitation of the gluteal region.
Many exercises recommended for strengthening these muscles are in a lying or side-lying position, but in my clinical experience it is essential to work these muscles in a functional position such as standing, where the relative alignment of the hip, knee and ankle joints is being retrained simultaneously.
Standing hip abduction is an effective exercise to progress from basic right through to advanced versions.
It is essential to keep the toes pointing forwards, and to minimise leaning the torso to the opposite side.
The deep hip rotators are also generally strengthened best in standing, but due to anatomical and postural variations it is difficult to recommend one exercise that is suitable for everyone.
So, if you have had your riding position and bike fit correctly adjusted, diligent and precise practice of exercises for these often forgotten gluteal muscles can enable you to generate more power and to maintain more optimal leg alignment throughout the pedal cycle, and increase your comfort whilst cycling.
Lucas Owen is a physiotherapist that specialises in treating cyclists and is based in Melbourne.