Leg Muscles Used in the Cycling Pedal Stroke
Cycling Anatomy: Leg Muscles in Action
Muscles Used During Cycling
Which leg muscles are used during each cycling pedal stroke? And at which points in the pedalling action are the muscles activated?
The training effect of cycling mostly takes place in the lower body. The upper body muscles are mainly used for balance and posture while bicycling.
It is important for a cyclist to have a strong core (abdominal muscles and lower back).
While looking a relatively simple action there are a large number of cycling muscles utilised in every pedal revolution in their agonist and antagonist states and the pedal stroke has two distinct phases: the Power Phase and the Recovery Phase.
The table below shows how each leg muscle is used during the cycling leg muscle action. The diagram below gives a clear view of the pedal stroke action and cycling muscle recruitment patterns, including their activation points, and the complexity of a synergistic cycling pedal stroke which features almost every significant muscle within the leg at some point in the pedal action.
The Power Phase of the Cyclist's Pedal Stroke
- From the top of the pedal stroke, a cyclist utilizes their hip extensors (gluteus maximus muscle) which initiates the Power Phase of the pedal stroke until point at 3 on a clock face
- From the point of 3 to 5 on the clock face the knee extensors activate: vastus lateralis and vastus medialis. Many cyclists associate this point with generating the most force for their pedal stroke; this is particularly prominent while climbing out of the saddle on steep gradients.
- From positions 5 to 6, plantar flexion occurs, thanks to the gastrocnemius which causes the toes to point outwards.
The Muscles of the Cycling Pedal Stroke in Action: Road Racing
The Recovery Phase of the Cyclists’ Pedal Stroke
- From 6 to 8, the Tibialis Anterior draws the toe upwards towards the shin. (dorsiflexion)
- From 8 to 10, the hip flexors of the Semimembranosus, Semitendinosus and Biceps Femoris pull the heel upwards towards the buttocks.
- From 10 to 12, the hip flexors of the liacus and Psoas finish off the pedal stroke.
Leg Muscle Functions and Their Recruitment During Bicycling
Best Known As
Muscle function while cycling
Extension at the knee combined with hip flexion during the initial downward phase of the pedal stroke
Recruitment pulls the heel back towards the buttocks as part of the pull back phase.
Initiates the downwards push down phase
Iliacus and Psoas
Recruitment during push down phase
Upper Calf Muscle
Pointing of the toes (Plantarflexion) during climbing and pull up phase of pedal stroke
Lower Calf Muscle
Recruitment contributes to knee flexion
Semimembranosus and Semitendinosus
Pull back phase with biceps femoris.
Front Of Shin
Bringing foot up towards the shin (Dorsiflexion)
Visual Representation of Leg Muscle Anatomy During the Cycling Pedal Stroke
How Your Brain Affects Your Cycling
There are so many aspects of human anatomy and physiology which are involved in the action of riding a bicycle. Your brain provides you with motivation and intellect through your cerebral cortex, while your cerebellum has responsibility for your balance and co-ordination.
© 2011 Liam Hallam
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