Darn those weak hip flexors

Hi Lee;

In Chapter 3 of MMBS you do what I think is a good job of explaining the pedalling process.

I’ve been paying more attention to my legs and where they seem to get tired on climbs, and I am of the opinion that my hip flexors are the weak link. (seems to be the same thing running intervals on the treadmill)

Does this make sense to you and can you offer any additional exercises to the ones in your book that might address my self diagnosis?

Great book and web site by the way, keep up the good work.

Cheers Greg

Hey Greg!

Dude, I love questions like this.

Your hip flexors are indeed the weak link. Of all the primary pedaling muscles — quads, glutes, calves, hamstrings and hip flexors — the hip flexors contribute the least to pedaling power.

Check out this Hot Diagram Action from Mastering Mountain Bike Skills:

Your Massive Power comes on the downstroke from your quads, glutes and calves, in that order. Your hamstrings pull the pedal back and up. Your hip flexors help sweep the pedal over the top.

Compared to runners, cyclists have very weak hip flexors. While runners pull their recovering forward with every stride, we cyclists tend to let the recovering leg sit there while the power leg pushes it along. When I finished the Bolder Boulder 10K this year, I could push into the ground all I wanted, but I could barely lift my legs for the next stride.

Most cyclists don’t use their hip flexors at all, especially in the saddle. While those muscles don’t contribute much power, you should still learn to use them:

1. The more you engage your pedal up the back and across the top, the sooner your power stroke can begin.

2. Staying engaged all the way around smoothens your pedal stroke and allows higher rpm.

Something I’ve been thinking about on the 2.4-mile climb to my house:

Try leveraging one hip flexor against the opposite glute. Imagine the forces running through your pelvis — one leg flexing while the other is extending. This is exactly the same motion as running. The harder you pull with your hip flexor, the harder you push with your glute. And vice versa.


AA pro BMXer Jason Richardson demonstrates the similarity between sprinting on a bike and sprinting on foot. These guys focus on their downstrokes, but the upstroke is important for power out of the gate and smoothness at top speed.

Like I said, the first issue is engagement. No matter how massive your hip flexors are, if you’re not engaging them they’ll be useless. Here are three ways to engage and strengthen your hip flexors, in order of importance.

– Cycling correctly. Practicing at low rpm, try to pull your pedal up and forward. Start your power stroke as early as possible. Also read: What is this “pedaling circles?”

– Running correctly. Especially uphill, because you have to lift your legs higher. This will increase your body awareness — especially when your hip flexors start to burn!

– Bicycle exercise. According to a study by the American Council on Exercise, the bicycle exercise is the best overall ab exercise. If you extend your legs far and low, your hip flexors will get plenty of love.

Have fun out there, and tell me how it goes.


— Lee

7 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *