Saturday, 25 April 2020

Cycling, the muscles involved in turning those cogs!

Cycling has brought joy, sunshine and freedom to many of us over these few weeks, the East Mascalls Lane (past Great Walstead school) is becoming a cycling highway! It is great to see so many people out.

So for all you now hooked cyclists 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 (probably too much too soon at the moment) or perhaps not having the right set up on your bike.

Main Muscles for Cycling

The primary muscles for power and speed for cyclists are in the hips and legs.

When we are 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). For this movement a little hip flexion along with the downward movement of hip and knee extension are the primary movements, but there are also other muscles used as we move the pedal round.

The primary muscles used are:
- 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/medius and the hamstrings)
- Straightening the leg in the push down phase we use our knee extensors, at the front of the thigh (quadriceps (quads)). Plus pushing down through the foot in this phase we use our calf muscles (gastrocnemius and soleus)
- Dropping the heal slightly to complete the downward phase (at 6 o’clock) our ankle dorsiflexors are working on the top of the foot/front of calf (tibialis anterior) and these muscles then help the start of the up stroke, pulling the foot backwards and up
- Bending the knee and pulling upwards are our knee flexors, which are our hamstrings and some inner thigh muscles and also our superficial calf muscle (the bulky gastrocnemius)
- Continuing to pull the leg up to the top (to 12 o’clock) are the hip flexors, at the front of the thigh and hip (the rectus femoris our main quadriceps muscle and iliopsoas, at the hip).

And then we start the pedal cycle again….

It is important to remember that the greater downward force of the opposite leg is helping the momentum of the up stroke.

Gluteals, hamstrings and quadriceps are used a lot.
Therefore, cyclists can suffer from stiff sore thigh muscles as they are in great demand and 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.

Upper Body Muscles Used:

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, you might be over stretching to reach the handlebars and weight of the body in the arms, or even holding onto the handlebars can all create tension.

So there is a lot of the body working to keep turning those cogs!

Enjoy being out on your bike, as always be mindful of how the body feels, don’t increase your mileage too much too soon.

Sadly I can’t be there to treat and advise you face to face, but if you have any questions please feel free to EMAIL me and I am using ONLINE VIDEO CONSULTATIONS  (30 mins for a small donation to the Mid Sussex Foodbank) if you would like to discuss any problematic niggles that are holding you back and stopping you from enjoying your rides even more!

With the Video Consultations I can listen, see and advise on self-care and rehabilitative exercises.

Nicky Holbrook, Sports Massage & Remedial Therapist
April 2020