Getting pain down the back of your legs caused by cycling? Then it could be because you’ve got issues in your hamstrings. The hamstring is the group of muscles that connect the hip to the back of your knee caps. Hamstring pain in cycling can be caused by a lot of things and keeping them strong can improve your overall pedal stroke.
What are your hamstrings?
Hamstring is a term for the group of three muscles that form your posterior (rear) thigh muscles.
The hamstring is any one of the three posterior thigh muscles in between the hip and the knee (from inside to outside semimembranosus, semitendinosus and biceps femoris). They cover the whole thigh crossing both the hip and the knee.
The muscles control the bending of your knee and the straightening of your hip.
How are my hamstrings used cycling?
The hamstrings are engaged when you’re pulling your leg up from the bottom of the pedal stroke. Though this isn’t quite as important as the power generated from your quads, hamstrings can get tight over time and often cyclists have shortened hamstrings.
As you’d expect, the stroke is most efficient when the majority of power comes in the down stroke when the pedal is being pushed by the rider. You never “pull” on the pedals with the hamstrings, and this could lead to injury.
Though pulling – or ‘scraping’ – through the very top and bottom of the rotation will increase your power output. This is one of the reasons we see elite riders able to generate better around the pedal stroke than the average club rider. Riders that come from a mountain biking, cyclocross or track background are especially good at this. As in that type of event a smooth power delivery is critical.
How do I avoid hamstring pain?
Low cadences and pulling on the pedals too much can cause pain in the hamstring due to the front of the leg getting tired much faster. When your body is fatigued it’s likely the hamstrings will begin to do more and therefore are at risk of pain.
A bike that doesn’t quite fit properly can also cause the hamstrings to be overworked leading to issues. This can be avoided by a good bike fit to make sure all the correct muscles are engaged.
As well as this strength and conditioning can really help the hamstrings. Light weights or exercises with resistance bands will strengthen the muscles most used in cycling to keep them firing properly and reduce the load on the hamstring. Mixed with some light hamstring strengthening the issues should subside or stay away. These can be done 2/3 times per week to improve pedalling efficiency.
Static stretching is another good way to keep your hamstrings supple. Though not directly linked with performance, it can help avoid injury over a long term when repeated a few times a week.
Hopefully you’ve found something in this article that can help reduce and avoid hamstring pain in cycling!