Friday, July 7, 2017

Pedaling with more of an emphasis on your Maximum Overload-blasted bootie will help you ride longer, stronger and safer.

By Roy M. Wallack

You’re sitting on a powerhouse. And to your detriment, you’re doing nothing with it.

It’s your butt — technically, your three gluteal muscles, the gluteus maximus, medius and minimus. If you’re like most cyclists, you’re probably so focused on pushing the pedals with your exalted quads that you’ve never even thought about your glutes. And in a classic case of cause-and-effect, that neglect not only leaves cyclists with a bootie far short of the big, beautiful bumps of skaters and gymnasts, but leaves us slower and more vulnerable to injuries. 

Fact: If you want to be a faster cyclist, as well as avoid knee injuries and cycling-linked bone and muscle loss and horrible slumping posture, YOU NEED TO PUSH THAT TUSH — in the gym and on the bike.  In support of Maximum Overload, Bicycling magazine has asked me to write a series of articles describing the manifold benefits of weight training for cyclists.  This article takes that further. It pairs the Maximum Overload workout, with its array of butt-blasting exercises, including leg presses, deadlifts and walking lunges, with something not discussed in the book: a butt-centric pedal stroke, initiated through the hips earlier in the pedal stroke, that was found to lower perceived effort and knee strain in a time-in-motion test conducted at the University of Southern California Human Performance Lab.

Bottom line:  Improving power and strength of the butt and the other mover muscles with Maximum Overload will make you faster on less training time. Altering your pedal stroke to utilize even more of that burgeoning butt power can further enhance the benefits AND save your knees. It takes no time to make the shift -- just a change of thinking. Why wouldn't you try it? 


First, let’s talk about speed, which is the foremost  topic on a cyclist's mind and the probably reason why you will be interested in Maximum Overload: Even withered and underdeveloped, before you lift a single pound in the Maximum Overload program, a biker butt still has a ton of power. If you figure out how to use it, it can make you go faster on less effort. And if you decide to hit the weight room and really blast you buns, it’ll send your power through the roof. 

While we do not discuss "butt-centric" pedaling per se in Maximum Overload (it's briefly discussed over several pages in my earlier book, Bike for Life), I personally know that a butt-centric pedal stroke, initiated earlier in the stroke through the hips before transferring the load to the quads, can make you faster. I saw proof with my own eyes in the lab. 

A decade ago, on a visit to the Human Performance Lab at the University of Southern California with my road bike, I did a “time-in-motion biomechanics mapping” study with director Chris Powers, Phd.  Basically, Dr. Powers turned me into a cartoon movie. With a dozen light-reflecting diodes attached to my legs and back, his computer converted me into an onscreen, moving stick-figure. Then, capturing two different pedal strokes, my normal quad-centric contraction and a butt-centric version, we synched the two cartoon images with their respective heart-rate and power data. Here’s what we noticed:

The butt-centric pedaling instantly caused striking changes in my biomechanics, muscle usage, joint stress and pedaling efficiency. I exhibited less quadriceps fatigue, less perceived exertion, and the same power at the same heart rate, which probably meant better staying power and endurance. My body position changed; I took on a flatter back (instead of bowed), and my knees showed less valgus — i.e. they did not collapse inward, but kept a more straight-ahead pumping profile. I also rode smoother, exhibiting less side-to-side rocking while butt-centric than with my quad-centric stroke. 

This translated to less long-term strain on the knees and back and more speed, according to Dr. Powers, “Valgus increases lateral force on the kneecap and is known to lead to knee injuries,” he said. “The knee should stay in the same plane during the pedal stroke, like a piston in an engine.”

Based on my Compuscan results, piston-like knees raised my efficiency,  as they appeared to provide a more solid platform for push-off. And as my gluteal muscles became conditioned to the new motion over the two hours in the lab, we found that my endurance (the ability to maintain the same power over time without a rise in heart rate) increased. 

My own anecdotal on-the-road riding experiences in the years since my morning at USC have made me a butt-centric believer. When I’m starting to feel fatigued, I check my form and re-focus on initiating the stroke from my hips. I instantly get smoother and more efficient.  It definitely provides a break for the quads


If you can get more potential mileage out of your pedaling just by altering your cycling mechanics, imagine the boost you get when you pair it with BIGGER, MORE POWERFUL GLUTES.  

I've been lifting weights pretty regularly for the last dozen years, but definitely paid more attention to pounding my glutes beginning in 2013. That's when, while doing research for a book I was ghostwriting, I met West Los Angeles coach Jacques deVore. He was training pro rider David Zabriskie with something unheard of for cyclists: heavy weight-lifting.  

Twice a week, DZ blasted his butt with weighted jumps and deadlifts. He said that his power jumped 15%,  that he had seen big improvements in his early-season performance at the Tour of Catalonia, and was excited about testing his new ripped-ness at that year’s Tour de France. Unfortunately, he broke a collarbone in the Tour of California and retired.

But DZ's weight-lifting plan, which Jacques called Maximum Overload, worked for me. I did not have access to the fancy $20,000 resistance jumping machine that Zabriskie trained on and didn't really know what I was doing, but I attacked my glutes with gusto in the gym, going to near-"failure" on deadlifts, walking lunges, thrusters, even the "Butt Blaster" machine that I had previously only seen women using.

The results?  I finished in the top 25% in the 8-mile mountain-climb time trial at the 2014 Beverly Hills Gran Fondo.  I’m usually closer to the back of the pack. 

I was shocked — and so impressed that I suggested Jacques and I write a book together. 

No buts about it: I’m a believer in the butt— on using it on the bike and  improving it in the gym. The weights not only raise your sustainable power, but in the long run encourage better pedaling form and  add more protection against injury. 

“When we traced cyclists’ knee pain back to its source, we found that weak gluteus medius and minimus (the smaller butt muscles, which hold the leg in line) often allow the thigh to rotate and cave inward toward the top tube,” says Kevin Jardine, a Toronto-based physical therapist, chiropractor, and acupuncturist who has worked with the Canadian Olympic Team and Team BMC. “The old wives’ tale that the knee should graze the top tube is dead wrong. The knees should not cave in—that creates torsion, and all kinds of damage can result. They need to be properly aligned—moving straight up and down and symmetrical.”  

To do that, Jardine told me that he recommends all cyclists weight-train their glutes with an array of leg presses and  squats and  specifically address the smaller gluteal muscles, the medius and the minimus, with stretch-band side steps. Also, some cross-training that involves butt-blasting lateral movement, like skating, tennis and even basketball, is also a very good idea. (Ever wonder how skating star Eric Heiden was able to transfer to cycling stardom so easily?  He had the ass.)

The potential harm of caved- in knees, due in large part to an over-reliance on the quads, is documented. One study found “excessive side-to-side swinging of the knee during downstroke in more than 80 percent of cyclists with patellofemoral pain.” The late Ed Burke, PhD, a prodigious University of Colorado researcher and fellow ultra-cycling participant who wrote extensively on cycling biomechanics, found that of “cyclists with no patellofemoral pain, most had a linear pattern of downstroke, with little mediolateral deviation” (meaning they moved piston-straight).

As for the bottom line, the message is clear: Use the butt. Work the butt. Love the butt. Make Maximum Overload part of your weekly routine. If you do, you’ll save time, go faster, and ride longer, stronger and safer for many years to come.



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