Many cyclists think it’s all about your legs, whilst your legs, hips and glutes do produce the majority of your power, your lower body is stabilised by the muscles in your upper body, core and back. To deliver maximum power through the pedals your whole body must work harmoniously together.
There are five points of contact between you and the bike, most major muscle groups are working to keep you riding forward. Your cranks extend 180 degrees in the opposite direction, which means whilst one of your legs is extended the other is flexed. This means the flexor muscles in one leg are working whilst the extensors in the other are firing at the same time, with each pedal stroke your legs will cycle through all the various muscle groups. This is what makes a pedal stroke so efficient and why its important to work on your whole leg so that you don’t become quad dominant and forget about the vital role your hamstrings etc are doing.
How your muscles work in a pedal stroke:
If you have good form when pedalling, you should have a slight bend at the knee when your leg gets to the bottom of the pedal stroke, this stretches out your hamstrings to optimal length and prepares them for firing during the upwards stroke. The opposite leg at the same time is at 12 o’clock, causing your thigh to be almost parallel with the ground. This optimises your glute max for maximal power output during the downward stroke and the quads for a strong kick back as your foot rounds the top of your pedal stroke.
As you rotate through the pedal stroke your ankle allows your foot to smoothly transition from flexed to extended at the knee. The flexors and extensors in your upper leg alternate as you pedal in circles. The calf and lower leg muscles stabilise your foot and ankle. Your back muscles (erector spinae, latissimus dorsi and trapezius) support your spine as you lean forward on the bike. Your core muscles (rectus abdominis, internal / external obliques and transversus abdominis) provide anterior and lateral support to the torso.
Your arms are in contact with the bike for control but also to help with power delivery. Each elbow should be slightly bent, as you pedal the flexors and extensor in your arms alternate working. Your shoulder is under a lot of pressure when cycling, your rhomboids, rotator cuff and deltoids help you maintain your cycling position.
So as you can see it’s a whole team effort from the muscles in your body to produce an efficient pedal stroke, which is why it is important to work your body as a whole and not just your legs.
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