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Activating, Engaging & Firing the Glutes When Cycling

By PCG Coach Rick Shultz

Peaks Coaching Group

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Winning With Glutes

Gluteus muscles

These are the muscles under discussion

Your glutes can generate huge power, but only when firing. Off-season, weight room workouts are needed to strengthen this forsaken muscle group when cycling. The glutes are made up of the Gluteus Maximus, Gluteus  Medius (aka Glute-Meds) and the Gluteus Minimus. The Gluteus Maximus is one of the largest and strongest muscles in the body and is used to drive your hip movement.

"I have seen too many cyclists that don’t activate their glutes–and there are 50 watts there!" - PCG founder Hunter Allen

In the gym, you can do basic glute strengthening exercises. Here are 9 great ones that will help strengthen the glutes.

  1. Barbell Squats or Swiss Ball Wall Squat
  2. Stiff-Leg Deadlift
  3. Romanian Deadlift
  4. Walking sideways with PT Bands
  5. Wide-stance Leg Press
  6. Any Kickback Exercise
  7. Bridges (single-leg or two-leg) on Floor or Bridges with Feet on Ball
  8. Lunges
  9. Side-Lying Clam

EXPERIENCING GLUTE ACTIVATION
Before you can activate them, you have to know what they feel like when firing. In addition to doing the exercises above, two simple ways to feel your glutes engaging are:

  1. Stand straight up and march. Using each thumb, poke each glute as you march. Keeping each thumb poking glutes continue marching. You don’t feel anything with your thumbs do you. This is how most cyclists cycle, using quads only. Now, bend forward 45° and stick your but out slightly. Now what do you feel with your thumbs? You should feel the glutes firing as you continue to march. This is one trick you can use when cycling.
  2. A simpler example is to walk up a flight of stairs squeezing your glutes as you move each leg.

Gluteus medius

Gluteus Medius muscle

HOW TO ACTIVATE GLUTES WHEN CYCLING
This part is a little more difficult to explain. For example, several years ago, I asked a pro “how do pro-cyclists pedal differently than the rest of us?” He said, “I pedal with my hips.” It took me about a year of trial and error pedaling to figure it out, but when I did, the pedaling seemed effortless, the power shot up and I was holding more power for longer periods of time. Glute activation is the same thing.

It’s best to practice the tips below and see how you can make them work. You will know when you get it right. Here are the common ways to (re)position yourself to make the glutes fire.

  1. Rotate the hips forward (stick your butt slightly back). Not only does this help flatten your back but  helps to get the glutes to fire … make sure not to move forward in the saddle.
  2. To help you get your pelvis in the right position, grab the drops of the bars instead of the hoods.
  3. If after steps 1, 2, above you feel too much pressure on your perineum, then it might be time for a different/better saddle.
  4. A saddle with a hole or cutout will allow you to rotate your hips forward and into the correct position, a saddle with a solid top won’t.
  5. Engage your core
  6. Instead of cycling with your toes pointed down at the bottom of the pedal stroke, flatten your feet into more of a heels down position and feet horizontal as you pedal from 5 o’clock – 7 o’clock.
  7. Move slightly rearward on the saddle keeping your butt pushed backwards
  8. Get a bike fit to place your cleats in the correct glute-firing position
  9. When you get it right for the first time, you will feel a little ‘pain’ coming from your Glute Meds.

Here’s a bike fit I did for a Triathlete. Half-way through the bike fit, I showed him how to rotate his hips so that he flattened his back and started to engage his glutes. It’s a little hard to see (right foot in AFTER photo), but by rotating his hips correctly, he also was pedaling more flat-footed through the bottom of the pedal stroke.

Triathlete

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