Learn to pedal with your butt

October 22, 2019 5 min read

Learn to pedal with your butt

There is more to worry about than just how good your butt looks in lycra, specifically, are you using those big backside muscles to pedal? 

I’m not being rude when I tell you your butt muscles are big, it’s just a fact of life that the gluteus maximus is the largest muscle in the human body. It needs to be strong because it has the incredible task of keeping our torso upright, no mean feat for an animal with such a large and heavy head! 

As well as the maximus, the gluteus medius and gluteus minimus also help stabilise and control muscle contractions. These muscles don’t necessarily have to be switched on when we ride, but if we can engage them and actively use them when we cycle we can put more energy and drive behind our pedal power. 

The trick is in great muscle maintenance and management. If you work in an office-based environment with a prominently desk-based job, chances are your behind power is weak. Sedentary lifestyles as well as poor posture and even overtraining can lead to under performance of these key power muscles because they are not being used consistently enough to handle strength and endurance tasks, like cycling. 

When you are seated it’s your back and core that’s mostly responsible for your upright position. Typically, working at a desk our posture is poor, back muscles aren’t especially strong and your core muscles aren’t designed to be engaged constantly. This leads to slouching, overworked hamstrings, fatigued lower back muscles and failure to properly support and align hip and knee joints 

The result of that for cycling enthusiasts is ineffective power on the bike, knee pain and possibly injury when you go to put the power down. 

How to use your butt muscles to pedal

Training your glute is going to take some time, practice and patience so be ready to commit to the long run rather than expecting those magical overnight transformations. Take it slow and build up gradually to avoid strain or pain that will set you backwards in your fitness and training.

1. Move and stretch every 20 minutes

You may think it’s okay to be seated most of the work day if you active other times, say are cycling in the morning and going to the gym at night, but actually that’s a really bad scenario for your butt because you are jumping from one extreme to the other. 

Your poor muscles have no idea what’s expected of them or how to respond. After a day of being lazy you are then asking a lot from them all at once before climbing into bed and having more time off. 

To fix this you need to be consistent with your muscle activation right through the day and make sure you get plenty of quality rest at night. 

Even if you are active outside work hours you need to keep moving during the day to remind those muscles that there is work to do. That translates to standing up and moving around every 20 minutes. If you have an option to use a stand-up desk, switch between standing and sitting during the day, starting out with 15 minutes of standing every hour and building up to alternating 30 minutes of standing and 30 minutes of sitting right through your workday. 

Sitting on a gym ball can help remind you to maintain good posture, just be careful not to over-tax your core muscles, they’ll need a rest every now and again.

2. Be careful not to push too hard

As well as weakened glute muscles another issue cyclists need to be careful of is fatigued muscles due to overtraining. Tired glutes will usually respond in the exact same way as weak ones, so it’s up to you to be honest about your training schedule to know if your power issues stem from under used glute muscles or training fatigue. Factor in your training load, how much activity you are doing outside the office and how much rest you get to determine if you are overtraining and not getting the best use from your muscles. 

3. Stretch and massage

If you have muscle fatigue causing your glues to run out of power the best thing to do is stretch them out. Look for exercises that open up the hip and stabilise the pelvis like knee hugs, hip openers, pigeon stretch.

A foam roller is a great way to relieve stress and tension in the connective tissue and muscles. Targeting trigger points in the glues can also be effective with a spikey massage ball or tennis ball. Be careful not to put too much body weight on the ball or you may bruise and further injure the sore muscles.

4. Remember them on your ride

The biggest thing you can do to strengthen your glute muscles for riding is to remember to use them when you are cycling. Sit deep in the saddle, drop your heel and think about engaging your seat muscles. Reminding yourself to use new muscles or a slightly different position will take a bit of time and consistency. Standing up on the pedals, using a bigger gear and hill reps will naturally engage your butt muscles as well.

To start with you might only remember a few times during a ride but if you keep at it you will eventually train yourself to incorporate glute muscle activation and a stronger core in training, which can then translate to using those power muscle groups during events.

If you are having trouble engaging your glutes when you ride make sure you have the correct bike set up and the correct cycling gear. Your saddle height and position can make a difference as can your cleats. 

Exercises to help recruit your glute 

You won’t need to switch the muscles on before a long ride but if your event is only short then you might want to look at doing some exercises before your ride to get your glute muscles warm and ready for a time trial or criterium. 

  • High step that mimics the cycling action
  • Bridge (plank)
  • Bodyweight squats
  • Dynamic lunges
  • Bulgarian split squats 

When possible check your exercises in a mirror to see your glutes in action (clenching) and make sure they are being activated evenly. 

See a professional

If you want a professional report on your rear power status you can book an appointment with a qualified healthcare professional such as physiotherapist or osteopath. Even a qualified and experienced bike trainer or coach will be able to assess the recruit speed of your glutes and see if they are activating evenly and well. 

Using your butt for more than just sitting? That’s freedom!


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