As cyclists we're often proud of our massive quads and sculpted calves, but there's another muscle group that's bigger, stronger, and more powerful, but is often overlooked. That's right, recruiting the muscles in your butt will help deliver power and efficiency straight to your pedals.
One of the key differences between the best cyclists and those who are less proficient is that the best cyclists activate their gluteal muscles more during pedaling, while weaker cyclists rely more on their quads. But simply willing your butt to work harder won't help you ride any better - you have to increase the capacity of your glutes to contribute to your pedal stroke with resistance exercises that specifically challenge these muscles.
That often means not just strengthening the glutes, but mastering the task of activating them. Because we spend a big portion of our lives sitting down on chairs (our ancestors squatted, maintaining a good level of strength and flexibility) our glutes are often lazy and far more inactive than they were ever designed to be, so you actively need to work on exercises that will re-engage them. This is especially relevant to people in office jobs (sitting down for extended periods) or if you suffer from tight quads, calves, and/or hamstrings after training with no glute discomfort. This would signal inactive glute muscles.
You don't need to take out a gym membership or buy any equipment to fire up that booty - following is a list of basic strengthening exercises that you can do at home in about 5 minutes per day, and will have those glutes powering you along in no time!
1. Single-leg box jump
This plyometric exercise develops glute activation and balance in an explosive fashion. Balance on your left foot facing a sturdy platform (such as an exercise step) that's 10-18 inches high. Leap up onto the platform, landing on your left foot, then immediately leap back down to the floor. Do 12 repetitions and then switch to the right foot.
2. Bridge and 1-legged bridge
As well as working the glutes, the bridge works your abs, hamstrings, and lower back, too, when done correctly.
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the mat, both arms straight by your sides.
- Lift up your hips as high as you can by squeezing your glutes. Let your shoulders and feet take the weight.
- Aim to have your feet directly below your knees and a straight diagonal line from your shoulders to your knees.
- Hold for 10 seconds and relax.
- Repeat 5 times.
- Progress by holding it for longer each time, aiming to build up to holding for 1 minute.
- Once this is manageable, take 1 foot off the floor, and keeping hips stable and parallel, do the same exercise.
3. Single-leg squats
This exercise only needs to be done with bodyweight. It's also great for knee alignment and balance.
- Stand straight with your body weight supported on your right foot, which should be flat on the floor. Tuck your left heel up behind you, with your lower leg roughly parallel to the ground and your left knee aligned with the right.
- Look straight ahead and don't arch or curve your back but maintain neutral spine position.
- Keep arms by your sides.
- Sit back and down, to the point where it becomes difficult to maintain your balance, pause and then return to the start position. Make sure you do this in a controlled fashion.
- To prevent knee injury ensure that your knee position stays straight: do it in front of a mirror to check this.
- Make sure your knee does not travel beyond your toes when lowering and raising.
- Start with 3 x 8 repetitions (2 seconds up, 2 seconds down).
4. Speed Skater
Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent. Shift your weight onto your right leg, bending it about 120 degrees (about halfway into a full squat) while sweeping your left leg behind you. In one smooth motion, sweep your left leg back to the left and jump from your right leg to your left, immediately bending into a half squat with your left leg as you sweep your right behind you. As well as being fantastic for your glutes, the Speed Skater is also great for your balance and gets your heart-rate sky high!
To tap into the full power of your magnificent glutes, go through these 4 exercises 2-3 times per week. You'll ride faster for longer, you'll feel less knee and back pain, and your butt will look spectacular in lycra!