I thought it would be useful to explain the muscles we use when we are cycling and how to avoid injuries so you can continue enjoying the buzz of fresh air filling the lungs on 2 wheels!
As cycling is not a weight bearing activity injuries don’t tend to “just happen”, they generally occur due to overuse/overtraining or perhaps not having the right set up on your bike.
Firstly let’s think about the main muscles used. The primary muscles for power and speed for a cyclist are in the hips and legs.
When road cycling and while sat on the saddle most of the power is generated from the downward pedal stroke (between the 12’o’clock and 5 o’clock position of the pedal) and hip flexion along with hip and knee extension are the primary movements, so the primary muscles used are as follows:
- -pushing down on the pedal from the top (at 12 o’clock) are the hip extensors, our bottom and back of the thigh muscles (gluteus maximus and medius and the hamstrings)
- - to straighten the leg in the push down are our knee extensors, at the front of the thigh (quadriceps (quads))
- - pushing down the foot are our calf muscles (gastrocnemius and soles)
- - and as we drop the heal slightly to complete the downward phase our ankle dorsiflexors are working (tibialis anterior) and this muscle also then helps the start of the up stroke, pulling the foot backwards
- - bending the knee upwards are our knee flexors, which are our hamstrings, some inner thigh muscles and our superficial calf muscle (gastrocnemius)
- - and then the hip flexors, at the front of the thigh and hip (rectus femoris, the main quadriceps muscle and iliopsoas muscles) bring the leg up and back to the 12 o’clock position ready to start the downward stroke again.
It is important to remember that the greater downward force of the opposite leg is helping the momentum of the up stroke.
As mentioned above the hip and knee extensors, so the gluteals, hamstrings and quadriceps are used a lot. Therefore, cyclists can suffer from stiff sore thigh muscles (quads) as they are in great demand, or the larger hip flexor muscles can become stiff and shortened, particularly because of the body’s position when sitting in the saddle. Picture the trunk bent over slightly and the pelvis tipped forward so this naturally puts the hip flexor muscles in a shortened position. In addition this might be compounded by a similar sitting position if you are desk bound all day. A shortened muscle cannot perform well. Sitting a lot could also lengthen the buttock (gluteal muscles), which creates a weakness, and strong gluteal muscles are key to the downward stroke.
The hamstrings, gluteals and calf muscles (all at the back of the leg) are used extensively to push down, so strains can occur here, especially if you are not pushing down equally on either side of the pedal itself, or if you are over stretching, perhaps because your seat is to high, or you are using one leg more than the other? This could be due to postural issues or could be an imbalance that has built up over time?
So the lower body is obviously important, however, we must not forget the upper body: the lower back, neck, shoulders and arms can really suffer from long hours on the bike and being hunched over the handle bars. The lower back muscles can be used to compensate the gluteals or hamstrings if they are weak. The forward reach to the handlebars and weight of the body in the arms, or even holding onto the handlebars can all create tension.
Sports Massage has many physiological and psychological benefits. You could consider it like a MOT for your body. It is not just a general body and muscle relaxation, it is soft tissue therapy, and with a good understanding of the cycling muscles and movement required specific muscle groups are targeted. Any treatment is specific to you, the Client, and alongside listening to any problematic areas highlighted by you, an assessment and then hands-on massage treatment will help identify any other areas of concern or tightness. Plus, exercises or stretches can be discussed for self-care. Sports Massage treatment will help you and your body’s soft tissues reach their optimal performance and keep you turning those cogs!
If you click on the following link you will see a useful diagram of the legs and the muscles used in the pedal stroke
Pedal stroke and muscles
Pedal stroke and muscles