Chances are you googled how to activate glutes while cycling because you want toned, well-defined glutes. I put together this guide with some of my favorite exercises that will help you achieve just that. With these tips, you can make your cycling workouts even more effective!
What are the glute muscles?
The gluteus maximus, medius, and minimus all make up what most people simply refer to as the glutes. This strong set of muscles controls hip extension and hip stability and also helps to limit thigh rotation.
The glutes have the potential to provide a lot of power throughout the pedal stroke. The hips are also stabilized, which may have positive effects on knee health.
The gluteus maximus muscles are responsible for extending the femur at the hip, so you’re using them every time you move you push your leg down when cycling.
Why do cyclists often have weak glutes?
The main reason for weak glutes is the effects of contemporary living. Gluteal activity has decreased because of technological developments and the rise of desk occupations.
Prolonged sitting has been linked to shortened hip flexors and is being compared to and called the new smoking because it is so bad for you.
So, this isn’t just a problem for cyclists. All of us are affected and even if you aren’t trying to become a pro and win races you would benefit from increasing your glute activation just for daily life.
One of the best ways to reduce your sitting time is a standing desk.
Weak glutes and knee pain from cycling
If you have weak glutes, this can cause your knees to hurt. This is because your glutes are responsible for stabilizing your hips and pelvis, and if they are weak, this can cause your knees to wobble and move around more than they should. This can lead to pain in your knees.
This instability of the knee also leads to the stabilization work being shifted from the glutes to the quadriceps.
The quadriceps being responsible for both pedaling and knee stabilization now can lead to more knee pain from overuse injuries.
4 ways to increase glute engagement when cycling
1. Work on visualizing muscle activation
Muscle activation is the process that causes a muscle fiber to contract. This occurs when an electrical signal is sent from the brain, down the spinal cord, and out to the muscle.
The electrical signal causes the release of a chemical called acetylcholine, which then binds to receptors on the muscle fiber. This interaction causes the fiber to contract, and the muscle to move.
Muscle activation is important for many reasons. First, it allows us to move our bodies in the way that we want to.
Second, it helps to protect our joints and bones by stabilizing them during movement.
Third, it allows us to generate force, which is necessary for going fast on our bikes.
Finally, muscle activation can help to improve our posture and prevent pain.
One of the easiest ways to see how well you are activating your muscles is to put a finger on the muscle and feel it physically contract.
So on your next ride when it is safe to do so, take off one hand of your handlebars and press it into your glutes and feel what a contracted muscle feels like.
2. Do glute activation exercises when you’re not riding your bike
One of the best ways to help your brain get into the habit of properly activating your glutes is by doing exercises on your days off and even immediately before a ride.
This will increase your neuro-muscular connections as explained above and improve your riding abilities.
There are a few different exercises that are great for glute activation. One of the best is the donkey kick. To do this exercise, start on all fours with your hands and knees on the ground. Keep your back straight and engage your core.
Slowly lift one leg up behind you, keeping your foot flexed. Kick back until your leg is in line with your body and then return to the starting position. Repeat on the other side.
Another great exercise for glute activation is the single-leg deadlift. To do this exercise, start by standing with your feet hip-width apart. Holding a weight in one hand, hinge at your hips and lower your torso until it’s parallel to the floor.
Keeping your back flat, extend one leg behind you and reach the weight toward the floor. Return to the starting position and repeat on the other side.
These are just a few of the many exercises you can do to target your glutes. Incorporate them into your workout routine and you’ll see results in no time.
Immediately before a ride, I like to do a brief 5-10 minutes of specific exercises to get my glutes primed for cycling.
- Glute Bridges: A glute bridge is a great way to activate your glutes before a ride. To do a glute bridge, start by lying on your back with your feet flat on the ground and shoulder-width apart. Bend your knees and bring your heels in close to your butt. Drive your heels into the ground, and lift your torso and upper legs into the air, extending your hips until your thighs and torso are in line with each other – hold for two seconds. Slowly lower yourself back to the starting position. Repeat for 10-15 reps.
- Clam Shells: You need a resistance band for this exercise. Loop the band around a sturdy post and lie down on your back with your knees bent. Place the soles of your feet together and pull the band tight. Then, slowly open your legs like a clam shell, making sure to keep your core engaged. Hold for two seconds before closing them back together. Repeat 10-15 times.
- Banded Sideway Walks. Use the same resistance band from the last exercise and put it around your knees. Take a step to the side and focus on squeezing your glutes. Do this 10-15 times for both directions of walking.
These exercises don’t take long at all and you’ll notice a difference while riding your bike right away.
3. Get a professional bike fit
If you have the money, getting a professional bike fit is one of the best investments into your health and riding longevity you can make.
A professional bike fit will give you a custom bike position that is tailored to your unique body and riding style. This will help you to ride more comfortably and efficiently, and will also help to prevent injury.
A professional bike fit is usually done by a certified bike fitter. The process typically takes 1-2 hours and can be done at a local bike shop or a specialized bike fitting studio. During the bike fit, you will be asked to ride your bike on a trainer while the fitter observes and makes adjustments to your position.
Some of the biggest errors leading to less glute engagement that bike fitters see are:
- Cleats too far forward
- Saddle too high
- Handlebars too high
Your torso needs to be 45 degrees forward to properly activate your glutes. This is the same position as when you squat and your back should be straight.
4. Change your seat position
Even if you don’t want to get a bike fit or you’re just a hobby cyclist who doesn’t want to spend crazy amounts of money to ride there’s one simple thing that will make a huge difference.
The position of your body on the bike seat can make a huge difference in glute activation.
Try sitting further back on your saddle on your next ride. When I learned of this and tried it out for the first time I noticed a huge change in how my glutes felt right away.
Think about your hip angle when you’re out of the saddle and move your seat to a position where that angle is replicated when sitting.
What if your glutes don’t fire while cycling?
If the glutes aren’t used, the brain learns to adapt by allocating stability responsibilities normally done by the glutes to the quadriceps and hamstrings throughout the pedal stroke.
This indicates the quads are driving the pedals as well as supporting the knee which can lead to knee pain from overuse injury.
Does cycling build glutes?
Cycling certainly does build and tone your glutes.
But you will be building them a lot better and more efficiently if you follow the 4 steps I outlined above for increasing glute activation.
Does indoor cycling build glutes?
Yes, indoor cycling builds glutes. The same principles as riding a road bike apply though, so make sure your saddle is back enough and you focus on really visualizing your glutes firing.
If you really want to feel your glutes during an indoor bike ride Peloton has you covered. Take this glute body weight class before your Peloton ride and I promise you, your glutes will be burning as you’ve never felt before.
Glute pain when cycling? Try This!
The biggest reason for glute pain while cycling is from a bike that is not the right fit for you.
If you experience pain it would very worthwhile to go to a professional bike shop and get a bike fitting done. You’ll be riding pain-free in no time.
There are even now virtual bike fittings which can be helpful if your city doesn’t have a good bike shop.
Hopefully, this article has helped you understand why focusing on engaging your glutes when cycling is so important.
The glute muscles are responsible for the commencement of the cycling pedal stroke’s downward phase and are worked every time you ride.
As an added benefit working on activating your glutes means they will grow and you will end up with more toned glutes even when you’re not riding.