Assume nothing, test everything.
The most common assumption is that pedaling a bicycle is natural, everybody can do it. The end result of this assumption is that cycling performance is all about fitness and effort. If you buy into that, there are plenty of on-line coaching programs that will give you a workout plan based on power numbers. If you don’t buy that (and you shouldn’t), we have some work to do.
Let’s start with a clean sheet of paper and figure out how you should pedal. Your body is made up of bones and joints and muscles which allow you to move any limb in most directions. What we need to do now is to figure out which muscles move which pivots to turn the crank at any point within the pedal stroke.
90% of what I teach is the effective use of these two muscles because they are by far the largest muscles used. I will identify other muscles that allow the body to produce force in the right direction at other parts of the pedal stroke, but the efficiency of the muscle decreases as the size decreases. I can produce 150 pounds of force with my glutes all day long (it’s called standing), if I lift 25 pounds with my hip flexor, I’m in pain in under 2 minutes…
Hip flexors are the muscles that lift the leg from the hip. Unlike the glutes which fight gravity and support body weight all day, the hip flexors only lift your foot. Their range of motion is also somewhat limited in normal day to day life. In pedaling a bike, the hip flexor is asked to work at it’s end range of motion. Using muscles at or beyond end range of motion is where injury happens.
Hamstrings retract the lower leg from the knee. This is the longest muscle group in the body and used in walking and running a lot. The bicycle is a geared system which requires more torque (if the gear is greater than 1:1 it requires more force to move the pedal than it would to move the body). Long, thin muscles become a danger for cramping or injury.
Timing is everything…
The two images above show that glutes push down and quads push forward. We know this because the glutes extend the leg down from the hip and the quads extend the lower leg out from the knee. That also means that the glutes can only push down and the quads can only push forward. It is as important to not use muscles where they’re not effective as it is to use them when they are.
That’s it folks!
Most of my coaching program is about teaching people how to use two large muscle groups only at very specific points in the pedal stroke. It seems so simple…