Let’s just call a spade a spade: yoga isn’t deadlifting. We’re not shooting for swole gains here. Instead, our objectives are to activate the glutes, bring awareness to muscular imbalances in the pelvic area and train better movement patterns. Your glutes tend to disengage if you sit for long periods of time, so it’s important that you activate them, especially before you go for a ride. And as the glutes are involved in both movement and stabilisation, strengthening them will maximise your sprinting power and give you greater control on the bike.
In the process of researching this article, I asked Dr Euan Speritis – an Orthopaedic Surgeon, currently completing his PhD in Orthopaedic Biomechanics at the Golden Jubilee National Hospital and Research Institute – if he would be happy to add some of his own personal and professional insights. As well as racing the 4X Pro Tour and running 4X Wednesdays, Dr Euan works with mountain bikers to optimize their training and reduce injuries. What are the glutes?
The gluteus maximus, medius and minimus make up the butt muscles. They are involved in:
- Hip extension, abduction and rotation.
- Moving from squatting to standing.
- Stabilising the knee (via the IT band).
- Stabilising the hips, pelvis and lower back.Pedal power
Your gluteus maximus, alongside the quadriceps, are your most powerful pedalling muscles. Therefore, for optimal performance, you need them to be strong, balanced and firing effectively. Unfortunately, too much sitting – leading to gluteal amnesia – and an imbalanced exercise program –
mostly riding your bike – can lead to problems.
When your glutes aren’t pulling their weight, the synergistic muscles – the hamstrings, adductors, hip flexors, TFL, quadriceps and lower back – have to work overtime, and this inevitably leads to fatigue. This will not only impede your performance but can result in:
- Lower back pain.
- Knee pain.
- Tight hamstrings and/or IT band.Glute-activating poses
Here are 5 poses to activate and strengthen all 3 gluteal muscles. You can practice them, or some variation of them, before a ride or at any time of day to train your brain not to let your glutes go AWOL. Warrior 3
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart, toes pointing straight ahead. Take a moment to check that your feet don't roll in or out. Try to balance your weight evenly between the balls of your big and little toes and the middle of your heels.
- Carefully shift your weight into your right foot and hug your left knee into your chest.
- Take a deep breath in. Exhale, lean forward, press your left foot back into Warrior 3 and bring your arms back by your sides.
- Flex your left foot, point your toes straight down and press back through your left heel.
- Keeping your hips level—bend and straighten your standing leg 6-8 times to activate your right glute. Keep pressing down through the middle of your right heel. You can use a wall for support.
- Come back up to standing and switch to the left foot.
- Repeat this pose twice through on each side.Side Plank (with hip abduction)
- From Plank, shift your weight onto your right hand and come to the outside edge of your right foot. Open your body to the left, stacking your left foot on top of the right. Flex both feet and straighten your left arm up to the sky.
- Your ankles, hips and shoulders should all be in a straight line. Engage your core.
- Hold the pose for 5-10 deep breaths or if you can, lift your top leg to work your gluteus minimus.
- In the most advanced version, lift and lower your top leg 6-8 times.
- Come back to Plank and switch to the other side.
- Repeat this pose twice through on each side.Chair
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart, toes pointing straight ahead. Again, take a moment to check that your weight is balanced evenly between the balls of your big and little toes and the middle of your heels.
- Inhale, lift your arms up by your ears – palms face each other. Exhale, bend your knees and sit back in Chair pose.
- Engage your lower abs and lower back muscles to support you lower back.
- Shift your weight back into the centre of your heels and drop your hips.
- To engage your glutes, try to tear the mat apart with your feet.
- Hold the pose for 5-10 breaths, in and out through your nose.
- Take a break for a few seconds and repeat.Locust
- Lie face down on the mat with your feet hip-width apart and your arms resting by your sides, palms facing down.
- Engage your abs and lower back.
- Lift your chest, hands and arms. Outwardly rotate your shoulders and turn your thumbs up to the sky. Draw your shoulders back, lengthen your neck and look down at the mat.
- Then lift your legs, press back firmly through the balls of your feet and draw your shoulders back.
- Squeeze your glutes and hold the pose for 5 deep breaths.
- Take a deep breath in. Exhale, come down to the mat and rest your right cheek on the mat.
- Repeat the pose.
- Take a deep breath in. Exhale, come down to the mat and rest your left cheek on the mat. Rock your hips from side to side to release your lower back. Bring your hands underneath your shoulders and push back to Child's pose.Bridge
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the mat, hip-width apart. Check that your toes point straight ahead.
- Rest your arms by your sides, palms facing down and walk your feet back until your fingertips graze your heels.
- Press your feet into the mat, squeeze your glutes and lift your hips up into full extension, creating a diagonal line from your shoulders to your knees.
- Check that your knees point straight ahead and do not fall out to the sides or in towards each other – good alignment is crucial here. Your thighs should be parallel to each other. Hold for a few seconds.
- Slowly lower down.
- Lift and lower 6-8 times holding for a few seconds at the top.
- Try to isolate your glutes so that your lower back and quads don’t kick in.
- Take a break for a few seconds and repeat.
- Hug your knees into your chest and rock gently from side to side.
Now, get on your bike!
I'd love to hear what is working for you guys, especially pre-ride. And feel free to fire questions at both of us.