We’ve covered some of the troublesome tight spots in the hips, legs and back in earlier articles in this series. Now it’s time to turn our attention to their counterparts and focus on the weaker areas of the ‘core’ that often need specific attention.
The ‘flexion dominance’ experienced by cyclists, by way of being bent over the bike for hours often leaves the back of the body weak and underused. Weakened ‘posterior’ muscles can contribute to poor posture on and off the bike, as well as poor performance.
The first of our three key ‘core’ exercises works these muscles along the back of the body, notably the gluts (or buttock) muscles, together with the upper hamstrings and back. Targeting them in a focussed and relatively isolated way can ensure the development of strength to balance for the tightness in related areas. To achieve the biggest benefit from this exercise you should ‘pre-stretch’/mobilise the areas that tend to be tight/stiff (the lower hamstrings, piriformis and thoracic spine in this series). This can help prevent tightness from restricting your range of movement and accessing the areas you are trying to strengthen.
From a cycling stand point weakness in the gluts is probably the single most limiting factor in terms of muscle strength connected to power output, particularly when you start to work harder and push towards and above your threshold. As prime movers at the hips on the down stroke, they come into play particularly with sprints and accelerations, or for ‘time-trial’ type efforts along the flat where the pelvis naturally tips forward to help engage the gluts. For many cyclists the gluts need activating, so exercise off the bike is essential in reminding them how to work and get stronger.
Hip extension exercises are great for strengthening the gluts and back, but I have chosen this Swiss Ball version because there is room for progression towards a tougher exercise as you get stronger, and because the instability of the ball helps to ‘wake up’ sleepy gluts.
Preparation and movement
Lay with your legs on the ball (see top picture) and your arms outstretched at your sides. To start with keep the ball close. Push down with your legs and lift your hips and chest as high as you can, drawing your tummy in as you go and squeezing your bum at the top. Hold the top position (aiming for your shoulder, hip, knee and ankle to be in one straight line) for 5-10 seconds before returning your hips to the floor with control. Repeat 10-12 times for 2 to 3 sets with a 30 sec rest in between. To progress the exercise start with the ball a little further away from you (ensuring that your hips don’t drop), or cross your arms over your chest for added instability/difficulty.
Once you are achieving a strong high position with the ball at its farthest away from you, progress by lifting the hips further again whilst at the same time bending your knees and pulling the ball towards you. Your hips must lift higher as you do this. Repeat 8-10 times for 2-3 sets with a minutes rest in between.
Video versions of this exercise can be seen here.