If your butt muscles are not sore after a hard bike ride, you're not doing it right.
Super-triathlete Kristian Blummenfelt, made an interesting comment during a post-race video recently. He mentioned that his quads were blowing up during the bike leg of the race, and that he will move his saddle back to activate his hamstrings more. This touches on a number of important bike fit considerations for the triathlete and cyclist in general:
- Studies have confirmed riding in the aerobars tends to activate the quads and gluteus maximus more than upright cycling.
- Other studies suggest that a more forward position on the bicycle shifts activation from the hamstrings to the quads.
A common issue I see with athletes I fit is not quad-dominance in the pedal stroke, it is a lack of glute activation during the all-important downstroke phase. Many athletes never feel their glutes engage while pedaling. If you're not activating your glutes appropriately during the downstroke, you're asking a lot of your quads.
Consider this: if your butt muscles are not sore after a hard bike ride, you're not doing it right.
Another issue I see is an over-emphasis on the upstroke. When you push down on the pedals during the downstroke, you are activating approximately nine major muscles, all working in harmony, to drive power to the pedals. When lifting your foot through the upstroke, you are activating two (tibialis anterior and adductor longus).
The best cyclists in the world are not pulling up much, they're simply pushing down harder than you or me.
Ultimately, the goal of pedaling a bicycle well is not to simply shift the load from one muscle group to another, it is to balance the forces acting upon your muscles based on their ability to generate force. The good news is we often do this intuitively, i.e. when shifting forward or back on the saddle when transitioning from flat terrain to a climb.
Finally, remember that riding fast on a bike requires balancing a variety of factors. A more forward and low position may allow you to ride in a more aerodynamic tuck, and the tradeoff in favor of a more quad-dominant pedal stroke may be worth it. Just be sure you give yourself time to adapt to the new position, and don't forget to activate your glutes.
- Antonio Gonzalez