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: