Do you find that your pedal stroke feels too "quad dominant"? Or perhaps you can't feel your hamstrings working whilst cycling? Here are a few tips to help you use your hamstrings more during each pedal stroke.
Not using the hamstrings is a fairly common challenge that faces cyclists because without finessing your pedal stroke and "activating" the correct muscles it's hard to get the posterior chain to work.
Firstly let's understand why the hamstring muscle is so important. The hamstring should be performing the bulk of its work during the upstroke; as soon as you hit 5 o'clock, (when your knee starts to flex, and your foot starts to move back and up), all the way up to 1 o'clock! An experienced cyclist would also use the hamstring during the downstroke to extend the hip, (by dropping the ankle). This is a HUGE amount of the pedal stroke, just under 3/4 to be precise! Far too much to neglect using them. The sheer amount of time the hamstrings are engaged shows just how crucial they are to maximizing the output from each revolution.
Secondly, they allow you to control the power you are producing, specifically the power floor (the minimum Wattage you do not wish to go below during a specific timeframe). This is predominantly due to the power it produces on the upstroke, essentially evening out the power distribution, and stopping any power drops. Although this is a subtle point, many people would think you control the power floor with your downstroke, but the upstroke is important.
Here are a few tips to help activate and keep those hamstrings engaged during your rides;
- Perform a few "activation exercises" before stepping on the bike; this will fire up the hamstrings, get them working and responding to instructions from the brain. My preferred options are Hip Bridges or Heel Slides, both which isolate the hamstrings and get them working. I'd recommend 10 reps only as you're just hoping to wake them up, not put them through extra strain.
- Whilst cycling, consciously think about using your hamstrings, it sounds simple but works wonders. By doing this you are connecting those neuro-muscular pathways and making sure that they are working correctly instead of just going through the motions. The first step towards using a muscle is thinking about using it!
- Dropping your ankle slightly during the downstroke (just after 3 o'clock) to parallel, or just below, will allow the hamstrings to engage. Then try lifting the ankle and point the toes as you start the upstroke to maximize hamstring use.
- Lastly, stretching after riding will keep the necessary flexibility in the hamstrings and prevent injury. There are several hamstring stretches but my favorite is a traditional one, lying on your back and using a soft rubber stretch band under your heel whilst lifting the leg you want to stretch.
I hope these tips help with waking up those hamstrings and getting them working correctly!
This article was written by CINCH Coach Sophie Johnson
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