“My quads hurt” — Use your hips!

Hey, Lee. For the past couple of months my quads have been killing me on long descents. I’m having a hard time figuring out why, as it doesn’t happen on climbs, even when I’m standing for a long time.

I’ve thought about hitting the gym more often, but it seems like I’d be working the same muscle groups that you use when climbing. I have a notion that it’s because I’m using XC pedals…I have really big feet and sometimes it feels like a regular SPD just isn’t big enough to support me, causing me to tense my feet and legs a lot.

Is this a possibility, and should I try going for some DH pedals? Or does going downhill work some muscle group that I’m not using anywhere else? Thanks for any advice you can give.


The more you click, the more I can post. Lee Likes Groceries dot com!

Hi Jesse,

What a great question. My inner nerd thanks you. OK, so does my outer nerd.

This issue has nothing to do with your pedals and everything to do with you. Sorry, but that’s the deal. Three things:


Any time you hold on for dear life, you create muscular tension, which A. makes it difficult to ride smoothly and B. increases fatigue. You gotta stay loose and keep your feet moving. Compared to riding tense, this is more fun, more effective and less tiring.

Muscle recruitment

In 1998 I got a Pulitzer for my infographics, and now I draw stick figures holding their butts!

This is a very subtle and extremely common pattern I see in a lot of coaching clients. I guarantee you’re holding your weight with your quads, instead of with your glutes. Try this experiment:

– Stand with your feet together and your hands on your butt cheeks. .. Ahh … so nice.

– Keep your hips where they are. Bend your knees forward.

– Feel your quads tighten. Notice that your glutes are still slack. This is how you’re decending, with all your weight on your quads.

– Push your butt back and rotate your hips forward. Point your tailbone behind you and let your shoulders rotate forward with your spine. At some point you’ll feel your glutes engage. … Mmm, feels good … Now your most powerful muscles are supporting your weight.

When you descend, align your hips so your weight is supported by the entire chain — calves, quads, glutes, lower back — instead of just your calves and quads. This hip-angle style is a crucial element of the Attack Position I teach. Look at photos of Lopes, Graves, Rennie, Gracia …

Isometric and eccentric strength

When you pedal, your muscles shorten (this is called concentric contraction).

Pedaling is fine and good, but when you descend on rough terrain, your muscles must also maintain your position (isometric contraction) and absorb impacts (eccentric contraction). No matter how much road riding you do, your legs will not be ready for the stability and jolt-suckage you need off road.


1. Ride off road as much as you can (using the above technique).

2. Consider cross training exercises that build isometric and eccentric strength. The F6: Six moves to build your foundation off-bike training program is made for this.

Your hips are the biggest hinges in your body. Use ’em!

12 replies
  1. Jesse says:

    Whoa, I never would have thought of that. Awesome. But…is it still possible to check if my glutes are engaged by grabbing my own ass while riding, or do I have to have somebody else do it for me? =)

  2. Ed says:

    Very topical, I’m frighteningly quad-dominant myself so am trying to redress the balance. Single-leg Romanian deadlifts are doing the biz, along with aggressive stretching of the hip flexors. Also definitely worth buying a foam roller and writhing about on the floor in agony!

  3. Sean says:

    Nice tip, Lee. That’s one that applies to alpine skiing also (although in reverse – quad burn means too much “squat” and not standing tall enough). Thankfully, the quad burn never has hit me when riding my bikes,

    Your answer and suggestions for my shoulder ache have helped quite a bit. And I got the book yesterday, and read it throughout the day. Great stuff in there, good humor too. Thanks.

  4. adam says:

    would using your hips more change the weight distribution between front and rear wheels in dh?

  5. adam says:

    i just has a 24hr uplift weekend and did 32 runs, i did what you suggest in this article and my legs aren’t even aching. i also tried out what you said in your interview with james about riding with your weight on the pedals and staying in the middle of the bike. its going to take a bit more of getting used to but wow, what a difference. now i know why all pros ride in that ‘pinned’ position. one rider that comes to mind that really highlights this is sam b.

    thanks again lee!! i would really hope to attend one of your classes one day, but america is half way around the world for me!!

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] Feel your butt! Remember this? […]

  2. […] read: “My quads hurt” – Use your hips! April 8, 2008 : Posted In: MTB Strength Training Program, Skills/training […]

  3. […] Ride with your feet. I’ll bet you’re too far back, and you’re pulling on your bars. This reduces front traction and tires you out. It also encourages bumps to buck you forward. Not cool. Practice riding with heavy feet and light hands. And roll your hips back to engage your glutes — Remember? […]

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