Why strength training can help improve your efficiency

Have you ever thought about improving your cycling efficiency by not spending time on the bike? Ever wondered how you can improve your bike split time through becoming a more efficient rider? In addition to this, improving your cycling efficiency can also have a positive influence on your ability to run off the bike.

The question is, how can I address this to improve my cycling efficiency and my ability to run of the bike in triathlon?

The implementation of regular strength training into your training program can help address this issue by unloading certain muscles that are working overtime, and by increasing the strength and recruitment of other muscles to assist in your pedalling action.  A strength training program for a cyclist should include a detailed analysis of your cycling action to highlight which muscles are applied in placing positive force (power) through the crank arm.

The Pedal Stroke

During each pedal stroke, force is applied in a downward motion through the crank arm. During this part of the pedal stroke, the leg is brought back underneath the body’s centre of mass (see video below). This is where having good glute and hamstring strength is important to increase your ability to place power through the crank arm. Throughout this article, I will talk about the anatomy of the glute, hamstring and quadricep musculature and why improving your glute strength is important in generating power, improving glute and hamstring synchronicity and unloading the quadricep.

Background anatomy

The glutes and hamstring should be used in unison to generate power in a downward motion through the crank arm. However, the glutes should be the muscle group that engage this movement, with the hamstrings kicking in later to assist the glutes in performing this role.  Your glutes are a group of muscles comprised of your gluteus maximus, gluteus medius and gluteus minimus. Their job is to keep the hip stable, allow the knee to track properly during your cycling action and is the main driver during hip extension (big component of your cycling action). Your hamstring muscles, comprised of your bicep femoris, semitendinosus & semimembranosus are responsible for knee flexion (bending your knee) while the bicep femoris has properties that help the glutes extend the hip. Your quadricep muscles, comprised of your rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus medialis and your vastus intermedius are responsible for knee extension (straightening your knee).

Why are my glutes so important?

As mentioned above, when you initiate force on the crank arm, your leg extends and is brought back underneath your centre of mass (hip extension). Based on your anatomy, your glute muscles should drive this movement with the hamstrings then assisting this movement.  By increasing the strength of your glute muscles you can decrease the activity of your hamstrings by allowing the proper musculature to work as it was designed. By altering your muscle recruitment patterns on the bike,  this can result in improved cycling efficiency, greater ability to generate power, greater ability of both muscles to work together and less emphasis on your hamstrings and quadriceps to perform the action of your glute muscles.

Picture the body as a kinetic chain (see picture below) in which, if a certain muscle group and associated joint doesn’t want to perform its specific action, the joint and muscles above and below the chain have to work harder in order to perform the intended action. This may involve a particular muscle group performing an action which it was not designed to do. When this happens, a muscle can become overworked and less efficient as it is performing an action in which it is not designed for. It may also encourage the muscles which are supposed to be engaged to “switch off” and become lazy and underutilised.

*For more information on how to obtain a bike fit to optimise your bike position and efficiency, please refer to Daniel Bain (Accredited Retul Bike Fit Professional) or for more information on how you can implement regular strength training to improve your cycling efficiency, please refer to Adam Luther (Accredited Exercise Physiologist)

See below some examples of Glute strengthening exercises to improve your cycling efficiency

Exercise No.1 – glute activation

 

Exercise No.2 – Increased focus on placing more load through the glutes to enhance strength adaptations

 

Exercise No.3 – Focusing on powerful downward drive

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