Cycling and running are exercises in planar movement. In the case of cycling, you make circles with your feet clipped into pedals and that action propels you forward. You move through space but in only one plane, the sagittal plane. In order to move forward (or tip over), you repeat two directions of movement, flexion-extension-flexion-extension, over and over again, in the hip and knee joint. Here is the quick anatomy of a pedal stroke, clockwise from the top:
1. Gluteus Maximus initiates extension in the hip joint,
2. The quads (rectus femoris; the Vastus twins, Medialis and Lateralis; and cousin vastus intermedius ) extend the knee to create the power push,
3. Gastrocnemius and Soleus create dorsiflexion at the ankle,
4. Tibialis Anterior starts plantar flexion to pull the leg up,
5. The hamstrings begin to flex the knee and,
6. The hip flexors, including iliacus and psoas finish the stroke off.
I haven’t listed all the muscles of flexion and extension, just the major ones. What muscles you DON’T see listed above are external rotators, abductors and adductors. That’s because side to side movement or lateral rotation at the hip joint while cycling, or running, is bad. Yes, judgment rendered, it’s bad. Recruiting the abductors or adductors takes the knee joint out of alignment with the hip and ankle. That action stresses connective tissues at the knee joint while in motion.
As a result, if you are a cyclist (or runner or swimmer for that matter), the muscle groups of the coronal plane (lateral and medial movement) can be ignored and weakened (possibly causing a totally different set of problems). Here’s the thing, just because you don’t need those muscle as the primary source of movement for your chosen form of exercise doesn’t mean you don’t need them in daily life. lt’s all about achieving overall body balance. I talked about Prasarita Lunges in a previous article which is a dynamic adductor/abductor strengthener. I also highly, highly recommend Adductor Slides. It works to strengthen up the ADductors at the inner thigh, and if you control the counter movement (abduction) you will also tone the ABductors, the ‘wingnut’ muscles of the outer hip.
I am no video vixen but will illustrate with my best graphic designer stick figure illustrations. Here’s how you do it:
1. Begin in Prasarita (wide legged pose) with a straight spine. If you can’t reach the floor with a straight spine, place bricks under the hands. Bring the floor to you!
2. Line the knees up with the ankles, and the hips with the knees. Joint stacking please!.
3. Keep your weight over the heels, the tendency might be to lean forward.
4. As you exhale, ADduct the legs towards each other and squish the blanket between your feet. On inhale, slowly ABduct the feet apart and slide the blanket open, working the outside of the thighs and legs.
Read more posts about the benefits of Prasarita Lunges:
Can Yoga Really Help Back Pain?
This Dynamic Stretch Wins the Gold
I agree that total body workout is important and I always suggest doing different versions of every move, and changing movement up, cause it will allow other muscles to come into play or even just rest when they are constantly worked.
Adductor Slides and Prasarita Lunges are THE BOMB! Love them! It’s amazing how much work they are (especially the slides) but they pay dividends in keeping these important joints mobilized and muscles toned! Love the graphic too!
Hi Heidi! Wonderful article (and love your pictures)! I’ve been practicing and teaching yoga for about a decade and always went to cycling classes but in the last year started road biking quite extensively. I’ve noticed that while in some areas I’ve really seen a positive change in strengthening some muscles (like quads, gluteus maximus, hamstrings, etc) I have also started to get pain and discomfort around my left knee (where I’ve had multiple patellar ligament reconstruction surgeries – which is on the lateral plane). Your blog made me consider that this focus while good in some areas needs to be countered with strengthening of the adductors and abductors through Yoga Tune Up Aductor slides and Aductor dynamic and static lifts to better round out my physical practice and support my knee and other areas. Thanks for sharing I love reading about intersection of cycling and yoga!
Thanks for all the great comments! Rocking all the DOM’s to keep a body healthy is key!
thank you Heidi, I am a runner and bike a little but I never thought about all the motion on the sagittal plane. No wonder I can’t do adductor slides without rocking my buttocks to and fro.
I absolutely LOVE the drawings! For our YTU level 1 training last week we had to do drawings, wish I could have paid you to do mine. 😉 Cross training really is a must to have a healthy approach to movement. These exercises actually help me most while I garden for hours. I am not a runner or a cyclist but I have numerous friends who are and I plan to forward this article on to them. Thanks!
Your article clearly demonstrates why cross training is so important. We need to be moving in all directions to keep challenging our muscles. Clearly if we do not our joints will be compromised and eventually pain will set in.
Yup, I’m a cyclist and will be adding these to my regular routine to keep things balanced out. (I will introduce them to my runner friends too!) Thanks for the clear explanation and drawings!
Great tip! In a past life, I used to love to run and bike, more then I do now, but I did shy away from it due to dull pains in my hips and knees. I gave this a try, and I could really feel that adduction, and that tells me I should definitely be doing it more often! Thanks!
I’m a runner and almost every yogi and yoga teacher I talk to always says running is so horrible for you, but no one has ever been able to tell me why (aside from the stress it puts on the joints). This article definitely makes it clear that, running isn’t necessarily BAD for you, but it can be if you aren’t strengthening the other areas of the body to help compensate for the repetitive motion of running. The drawings were perfect too- made the exercise very clear!!
I love adductor slides! Not because they feel good (I have really weak adductors), but because I need it and doing the slides makes me realize that I need it. Always a good tool to put in my box for cross training. Thank you for the great article!
Thanks for the kind words Lynda! These YTU movements are near and dear to my heart (actually, my thighs), and my students who are cyclists or triathletes do them as part of cross training.
Hi Heidi! A great article – well said. I’ve been including the Adductor Slides and Prasarita Lunges in my practice for the last few months to strengthen my adductors and abductors and I’ve really been impressed with their effectiveness. I have a good friend who is a triathlete and trains all year long, and your blog has me thinking I ought to introduce him to both the Adductor Slides and the Prasarita Lunges. I’ll be seeing him this week, and now because of your article, I’ll be turning him on to “tuning up”! Ha Ha! I already have him rolling on the Yoga Tune Up balls which he loves, so I’m sure he’ll trust me on this one too. Thanks. And by the way – love your illustrations!