By Menachem Brodie
With the delayed Tour de France 2020 finally in progress as the summer days wane, many cyclists find themselves looking forward to getting some longer rides in once the temperature begins to cool.
While the fall can be an extremely enjoyable time of year to ride long — due in part to the fitness you’ve gained over the summer months — it’s also a time of frustration for many, as their hips and backs begin to scream. Let’s take a look at four simple (but not easy) exercises that you can add into your pre and post-ride routine to help keep your back and hips moving well, and happy.
While most, or pretty much all of, the information one can find on back and hip pain for cyclists will talk about piriformis syndrome or simply getting a bike fit to address the issue, these are not the only two reasons for achiness in your hips, or that dull ache in your back on the second half of a longer ride.
Many riders write off the aches in the hips and back in these instances to “long hours in the saddle,” but their causes may actually be relatively simple to correct, or at least improve, through some easy to do at home pre- or post-ride exercises.
As you can see, the Piriformis is just one of six muscles that are the deep hip rotators. These muscles help to keep the ball and socket joint of the femur sitting properly (centered), as well as help to hold the pelvis and spine up when we walk or stand.
If you think about your riding position, this puts some of these muscles into a stretched position for long periods of time, while others are working to keep us whizzing down the road. This can lead to imbalances in strength and length, which in turn means other muscles around (i.e. above and below) the hip are working overtime.
These are some of the reasons that your low back or hips ache as mentioned above. But, with these four relatively simple pre or post ride exercises, we can help you move and ride better.
Activate and reconnect to your glutes
1. For many cyclists, firing the glutes by themselves poses quite the challenge. Up until recently many riders didn’t give much thought or attention to their glutes, as the quads tended to be the muscle of focus for cyclists. From compliments on how big or lean they were, to the cleanliness of the tan lines, the quads got all the attention while the derriere was, well, the last thing we thought about.
Thankfully the times have changed, and the glutes are beginning to get the attention they deserve for the important work they do of helping to hold the head of the femur in the center of the hip joint, stabilizing the knee as we push on the pedals, especially when standing, and most importantly, their support to help us have a strong stable core. (Core being everything between your neck, elbows, and knees).
Reconnect with your glutes for 2-3 minutes a day, by performing 1 set of 5 repetitions holding for 10-20 seconds each repetition. Aim is to fire only the glutes.
Prone Glute Activation
Next, Activating Your Lower Core
2. While the front plank is often butchered and usually leaves much to be desired when it comes to core strength and better functionality for cyclists, the reverse plank is perhaps one of the better exercises to help activate the lower core (from your neck down to your knees) on the backside.
Reverse planks have been a fan favorite here at HVTraining the last few months, especially for after long gravel rides. Reverse planks help to weed out overactive hamstrings and underactive glutes, while also firing up the muscles along the spine (spinal erectors) that spend much of our ride time in an elongated/stretched position.
Start off with short, manageable lengths of time, aiming to keep a straight line from your ankles, to your knees and hips, to your mid-back. Don’t arch your back though! Keep that midsection appropriately braced.
A good starting point is 3-4 sets of 15-20 seconds each, with equal rest in between. Keep your toes pulled up towards your shins for maximum effect.
Reverse Planks, feet on Bench
Activating the inner and outer thigh muscles
3. Now that we have the glutes, hamstrings, and lower erector spinae firing better, it’s time to get the inner and outer thigh muscles wake up and relax a little so that we can be fast and loose. This is an aspect that tends to fly under the radar, as the inner thigh (adductors) tend to get very tight, along with the deep hip rotator muscles.
This “Isn’t a problem until it’s a problem.” But when it does finally rear its head, it’s usually in the form of lower back or hip pain that can derail your riding for two or three weeks.
For this time of year (fall / long ride season) we don’t want to tinker with your body too much, as it’s often in a fine balance where less is more. To help you keep your saddle time up, and pain/discomfort down, we’ll do two dynamic warmups that are done with a similar hip and knee position to how you’d look at bottom dead-center of your pedal stroke.
The key for these is that you do them with great posture, and keeping yourself stable on the balancing leg. Feel the entire bottom of your foot interacting with the floor as you do these. Ideally you should be barefoot/ shoeless. Do not do these in cycling shoes. Perform 2 sets of 8-12 quick touches each side (finish one side then move to the other), keeping within the range of motion that feels good to you that day. No weights or resistance on this exercise.
Quarter Squat Side toe Touch
The same principles here, except we want you to rotate around the hip joint. Feel the entire bottom of your foot on the floor, and think about moving from the ball and socket hip joint as you go through these. Perform 2 sets of 8-10 each side, but not too quick. No weights or resistance on this exercise.
Quarter Squat Rotate
The fall can be a great way to end a fantastic season of riding, thus allowing you to cement your fitness gains or improvements. Performing this simple routine two to four days a week before or after your rides can help you maintain better function and movement in through your hips, allowing you to ride stronger, longer, and for many more years to come.
Menachem Brodie is a USA Cycling Expert Level Coach and Certified Strength & Conditioning coach with over 15 years experience working with cyclists & triathletes. He has presented internationally on the topic of Strength Training for Cycling Performance, and is the author of the most comprehensive and in-depth book on the topic “The Vortex Method: The New Rules for Ultimate Strength & Performance in Cycling”.