This is a must read for all you avid cyclists!
Having previously talked about the importance of the gluteal (bum) muscles. Now I’m going to look at this from the aspect of cycling, during the initial phase of cycling (12-4 o’clock) the glutes were an important muscle group for generating power, and by improving one’s ability to deliberately activate these muscles and improve their strength/power, one could reduce quadriceps (thigh) fatigue and improve cycling power output and performance. Frustratingly having looked extensively over the past week for some body of QUALITY research that would back up these ideas, I have found it a fruitless task.
Anecdotally, I see a lot of people here in the clinic of which cycling is their main sport/hobby. Of this cohort, many are recreational but serious about cycling. Their most common complaints are of lateral knee pain and lower back pain. Very frequently these patients will have a significant inability to activate (squeeze) one or both of their glute muscles when lying flat on their stomach. If you’re sitting down now, try squeezing just one glute (bum cheek), can you do it? was it easy? A lot of people I see cannot do that. A lot of cyclists I see have difficulty recruiting their glutes and commonly allow their lower back and thigh muscles to take over tasks.
When cycling, people are in varying positions on the bike, have different styles, cycle over different terrain, change position when cycling and so different muscles will work in different ways for different people. By having better ‘conscious’ glute activation during cycling will it make your power output greater? Perhaps. Will it make you a more efficient cyclist? Who knows. Will it take some of the workload from the thigh muscles? Potentially.
All in all, there have been no (that I could find) studies looking at glute activation (using EMG), glute power output and cycling performance which gives us the definite answer. I have come across plenty of blogs and posts from respected cyclist and triathlete coaches that swear by the improved performance that glute strengthening programs have on their cyclists – but no hard reliable evidence.
So what can be said then?
Your glutes are partly responsible for extension of the hip (thigh). This is essentially the 12-4 o’clock initial phase during cycling. Stronger muscles will generally produce more power, although the terrain and positioning of oneself on a bike can cause this to vary. If a glute muscle becomes stronger, there is still no guarantee that this extra power can be translated to the pedal – although I think this is highly likely. IF extra power can be created, it is no guarantee that this will make you cycling style more efficient and indeed perhaps your thighs are better off doing all the work.
Where do I stand now?
I believe that for injury risk reduction it is important to have strong glute muscles (we don’t live on our bikes – most of us). Weak glutes are reported to be a contributing factor to lower leg pain and other lower limb injuries. I think that have stronger muscles which contribute to an action will increase the power output of that action and allow less workload to be burdened to the thigh muscles.
Gary Delahunt BSc MSc (Sports Medicine)