After a ride, do your low back and hamstrings feel tight? Do you hop off your bike and stretch them? Well you may be addressing the wrong area…
Most likely you’re noticing a muscle length problem, when what you have is a muscle strength problem. If you add a little bit of length (stretch) and don’t add strength, you’re going to lose that length the very next day and you’ll be stuck stretching the rest of your life!
As Americans and cyclists we sit too much! In fact, we are a nation of professional sitters and then we sit on a bike for our recreation. This can lead to something called “gluteal amnesia” - a strength problem. I’m not talking about forgetting where our rear ends are, but rather how our glutes forget how (and when) to contract to make our legs move correctly. This can end up creating problems for the low back and knee because they are forced to take up the slack. They have to move through a greater range of motion which can lead to wear and tear on these joints. As cyclists, hip weakness can manifest not only as low back and knee pain, but also as hip, neck and shoulder pain, or pain in the hands as a result of too much pressure on the handlebars.
This phenomenon of “gluteal amnesia” is most commonly due to overactive hip flexors. When the hip flexors (psoas, iliacus, rectus femoris, tensor fascia latae) become tight from too much sitting, their antagonists (gluteus maximus, medius and minimus) tend to become weak. Known as “reciprocal inhibition” when the muscles on one side of a joint become overactive, muscles on the other side become underactive or “inhibited”.
So, what in the world does this have to do with a tight low back and hamstrings? Our bodies are amazing - they will do what whatever is necessary to “get ‘er done”. This means finding ways to accomplish movements regardless of whether or not the muscles are functioning optimally. They learn to compensate and call upon other muscles to perform the movement in order to “get ‘er done”. Think “inhibition causes compensation”. So, if our glutes aren’t working properly (inhibited) the body will call on its synergists (helpers) to work overtime in tasks that involve both stabilization of the core and movement of the hip. Think “pedaling”.
The glute’s helpers are primarily the hamstrings, spinal erectors and the adductor magnus (an inner thigh muscle). These muscles all work overtime while we are sitting on our butts. So strengthen you glutes to relax your back and hamstrings.
Great Glute Strengthening Exercises
Cook Hip Lift: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s4I9F9rIqwM
Stable Pelvic Positions: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lilBLOKVSO0
What’s in a toe touch? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n7l4iW5N41M