TOOLBOX: Spine stability and hip mobility are key factors for strong cyclists to generate the most power, strength and speed. Use these simple exercises to connect your glutes and increase range of motion to improve your road and gravel cycling.
In part one of this series, we spoke about improving your performances and the importance of upper body movements and the ability to make your spine stiff. Here we add on the next step with improving hip mobility.
Strength, speed, and power from Peter Sagan
The spine is absolutely critical as the base for movement, so please go back and refresh yourself on the first article and the exercises there. After doing this, we can now layer on the next step, gaining strength through range of motion at the hip.
Let’s take a look as to how most cyclists should go about gaining strength through range of motion at the hip, in order to allow them to stay healthy and unlock power they already possess, but can’t quite access.
Hint: It doesn’t involve squats or deadlifts!
When we think about heading into the gym and doing some strength training, many of us tend to think about squats, deadlifts, and pushing ourselves to be able to add more weight to the bar. While there is certainly a time and a place for this, many cyclists (and triathletes as well) are actually skipping right over a few simple, but not easy, steps to improve their strength and performance which offer huge gains should you take the time to learn, purposefully practice, and engrain them.
Locking Torso & Hip While Getting Movement
Squats and deadlifts certainly can be rewarding exercises for cyclists, but they carry with them relatively high risk, and even physical penalties, due in large part to our sport not requiring any significant excess weight to be borne by the body.
In part due to this fact, and in larger part owed to the fact that many cyclists have glutes that just won’t fire properly, we do in fact need to begin with a little work there.
Step 1: Connect with the Glutes!
Yes, the glutes are an important part of the game plan to help you move better and produce more power. However, many don’t take the time to look if you’re in fact able to fire the glutes alone, not using any other muscles to cheat!
Cheating with the hamstrings, for instance, causes the ball of the upper leg bone, to move forward in the hip socket, which over time can lead to a number of issues, including bone growth (Femoral Acetabular Impingement), labral tears, and even early onset of arthritis, and even back pain.
Take the time to ensure that you’re connected with and able to fire the glutes alone, before jumping ahead to fancier exercises
Prone Glute Activation
This exercise looks simple, but it is NOT easy, by any means!
Most find that they’re either using their lower back, hamstrings, or even quadriceps and hip flexors to get this movement to happen.
Take your time and start with 3 sets of 3-5 holds, each lasting 5-8 seconds. Rest for 10-12 seconds in between repetitions
Step 2: Gain Better Range of Motion with Control
The next challenge, now that we have your glutes fired up and working better, is to learn how to control the rest of the body, ahem upper torso, while getting movement at the hip from all the muscles, not just the glutes.
The Balancing Hip CAR is a great tool, as it quickly exposes any movement biases, poor movement patterns, and poor motor control patterns you may have.
Balancing Hip CAR
Give it a shot, although it won’t feel hard, the challenge is in fact very high, as your aim is to get all the movement from this hip alone.
2 sets of 5-6 repetitions a side.
Straight Leg kickbacks
Tying in some of the work we did in part 1 of this series, the Straight Leg Kickback (shown here with a slider) is a significant core-control and mind-glute connection challenge. Not only do you need to activate the glute of the working side, but you also need to maintain great posture, keep the shoulder blades pushed down and forward, and maintain just enough of a 360 degree brace at the midsection to keep your ribs + hips locked together.
Start off as shown, either with your toe on the ground on a sliding surface, or with a slider, and only go through whatever range of motion you can get, keeping great core control, and not using anything but the glute to get the movement.
3*3-5 each side, take your time!
Step 3: Introduce Lateral Challenges
There are quite a few exercises we could choose from here, but I’ve found next to none beat the benefits of learning and executing a quality Quadruped Hip Circle- specifically for cyclists the up-out-back-down variation.
This exercise looks pretty benign, but WOOOOOWEEEEEE! Do you wind up working your butt on! (See what I did there?)
Just when you’re feeling like the bees knees, we add a little lateral movement challenge, in a position that you should be super strong as it is very similar to how you ride all day. Yet more often than not sets will stop after just 2-3 repetitions, either due to a cramp, or because holding the rest of the body still and in great alignment is such a hard task.
Quadruped Hip Circles
This is a phenomenal exercise for road cyclists, and a must which every gravel rider should aspire to.
Start slow and small, 2-3 sets of 3-5 repetitions each side, with impeccable form!
Van der Poel showing his hip mobility on an Amstel climb
When it comes to gaining strength, speed, and power, it will always prove more fruitful to harvest the lower hanging and easy fruit, that so often is missed or skipped, due to how “easy” it looks. Simple does not denote easy, and ego does not dictate success – especially when it comes to strength training for performance. Little hinges swing big doors. Master these basics, and watch how the doors to better performance swing more easily for you as a reward.
If you’re a gravel rider looking to make 2021 a strong, healthy season, grab a copy of my 12 week Gravel Rider Strength Training Base Program to set the foundation for a year of strong, power, riding.
If you’d like to hang out and learn more about strength training for cycling, join my new free facebook group, and connect with like minded riders from around the globe.