Unlocking the Potential of Your Glutes for Cycling Success

By Megan Flottorp

Whether you’re new to cycling, want to up your training, or are looking to avoid or overcome common injuries associated with the sport — learning how different parts of the body support your pedalling power can seriously improve your progress. As a yoga teacher and cyclist, I have come to appreciate first-hand how a strong and flexible body can help me excel on the bike. Your body operates as a unified mechanism when cycling, with every muscle and joint working synergistically to optimise performance.

In the coming months, we will launch into a series of discussions about the integral role of various muscles and muscle groups in supporting our cycling. To kickstart this exploration, let’s focus on an often underestimated yet vital muscle group—the glutes.

In the following articles, we will share practical tips and insights on strengthening, stretching, and mobilising key muscle groups and emphasise the importance of cultivating balance, flexibility, and resilience in your entire body. As you progress through this series, you’ll appreciate how each muscle group contributes to your cycling experience and can give you more power on the bike.

Understanding the glutes’ role in cycling

Before we dive into strengthening and stretching exercises, let’s understand why the glutes are crucial for cycling. Your gluteal muscles, consisting of the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus, play a pivotal role in powering your pedal strokes, stabilising your hips, and maintaining a stable core position on the bike. Here’s how the glutes support your cycling:

Generating power: The gluteus maximus, the largest muscle in the gluteal group, is responsible for generating power during the downstroke of your pedal stroke. Strong glutes enable you to produce more force, increasing speed and efficiency.

Stabilising the hips: The role of active glutes extends beyond mere propulsion, though. The gluteus medius and minimus help stabilise your pelvis while cycling. These muscles work to keep your hips level, preventing excessive rocking or tilting that can lead to discomfort, inefficiency, and even injury.

Protect the knees: While pedalling predominantly involves a single-plane movement, with the quads and hamstrings in the spotlight, the glutes play a pivotal role in maintaining knee stability and health. When your glutes aren’t actively engaged in the pedal stroke, your body resorts to a compensatory mechanism. It assigns the stability tasks your glutes typically handle to your quads and hamstrings. This means that not only are your quads pushing the pedals, but they are also burdened with the added responsibility of stabilising the knee joint.

Maintaining core stability: Your glutes and core work synergistically to support your spine — protecting the lower back and allowing you to maintain core stability. A stable core is essential for balance and power transfer through your legs to the pedals.

Strengthening the glutes

Now that we’ve established the importance of the glutes — let’s delve into practical ways to strengthen, stretch, and improve mobility in these muscles.

Squats: Squats are a fantastic exercise to target the gluteus maximus. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, keeping your chest up and your back straight. Lower your body by bending your knees and pushing your hips back, as if you were sitting in a chair. Aim for three sets of 10-15 reps, gradually increasing weight as your strength improves.

Bridges: Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor, hip-width apart. Lift your hips toward the ceiling while squeezing your glutes at the top. Hold for a few seconds and lower back down. Repeat for three sets of 12-15 reps.

Lateral leg raises: To engage the gluteus medius, stand with your feet hip-width apart and raise one leg out to the side, keeping it straight. Lower it back down and repeat on the other side. Aim for three sets of 12-15 reps on each leg.

Clamshells: Lie on your side with your legs bent at a 90-degree angle. Keeping your feet together, lift your top knee as high as possible without moving your pelvis. Lower it back down and repeat for three sets of 12-15 reps on each side.

Stretching the glutes

Activities that lengthen and stretch the glute muscles can help prevent injuries associated with strain, back pain, and muscle inflammation.

Pigeon pose: This yoga pose is excellent for stretching the glutes. Start in a tabletop position, then bring one knee forward and place it behind your wrist. Extend the other leg straight back behind you. Slowly lower your chest toward the ground, feeling a stretch in the buttock of the extended leg. Hold for 30 seconds to 1 minute on each side.

Seated forward fold: Sit on the floor with your legs extended in front of you. Hinge at your hips and reach forward toward your toes. This stretch not only targets the hamstrings but also engages the glutes. Hold for 30 seconds to 1 minute.

Butterfly stretch: Sit with your feet together and knees bent outward, resembling a butterfly’s wings. Gently press your knees toward the ground while keeping your back straight. Hold for 30 seconds to 1 minute.

Improving glute mobility

Greater mobility gives you a foundation to build better strength and superior athleticism while insulating yourself from injury and discomfort on and off the bike.

Hip circles: Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Slowly circle your hips in a clockwise direction, then switch to counterclockwise. This exercise helps improve hip mobility, essential for efficient pedal strokes.

Yoga hip openers: Incorporating yoga poses like Lizard Pose, Half Pigeon, and Happy Baby into your routine can greatly enhance hip and glute mobility. These poses work on opening up the hips and stretching the glutes simultaneously.

Make changes slowly and find a routine you can stick with

Of course, you don’t have to do all these exercises to see results. Remembering that your glutes are your cycling powerhouse and setting aside a little time to show them some love — your efforts can go a long way.

Make these exercises and stretches a regular part of your fitness routine, and you’ll be well on your way to unlocking the full potential of your glutes for cycling success. Whether you’re a casual rider or a dedicated cyclist, strong and mobile glutes will help you pedal safely with power, stability, and confidence on every ride.