Strong hamstrings will help you keep a strong pedal stroke throughout your ride and reduce the risk of injury. Paul Hough, an exercise physiologist at St Mary’s University and author of Advanced Personal Training, explains what they are and what to do if you injure yours.
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What are they?
Hamstring is the collective term that’s often used for the posterior (rear) thigh muscles.
They consist of the semimembranosus, the semitendinosus and the biceps femoris muscles — a series of muscles that span the thigh, crossing both the hip and the knee.
The muscles begin just below the buttocks, where they attach to the ischium (the lower part of the hip) and connect onto the top of the lower leg bones (the tibia and the fibula). Your posterior thigh muscles bend your knee and straighten your hip.
How do they work?
The hamstrings work hardest when you pull your leg up from the bottom of the pedal stroke. But as the pedalling action does not involve a full hip extension, cyclists can develop tight posterior thigh muscles over time.
What goes wrong?
Prolonged cycling, particularly when fatigued, can raise the risk of developing a posterior thigh strain, which usually occurs where the muscle fuses with the tendon (myotendinous junction).
The risk of injury also increases when the posterior thigh muscles become fatigued by pedalling in a low gear and/or maintaining a low cadence.
How to fix it
Performing hamstring strengthening exercises two to three times per week can improve your pedalling efficiency and reduce the risk of injury.
It is also a good idea to stretch your hamstring muscles following a ride, holding each stretch for at least 30 seconds, while taking deep breaths.
One exercise to try: hamstring bridges
1. Put your feet up
Lie on your back with legs raised to approximately 45 degrees, then bend one leg to rest your foot on a box about 30–40cm high.
2. Lift your hips
Gently raise your hips while keeping your abs tense and pressing your heel into the box.
3. Drive on
Drive the hips upwards until there is a straight line between your knee, hip and shoulder. Hold this position for two seconds and repeat for 10–12 repetitions. Switch legs and repeat.