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    Senior Member hillcrawler's Avatar
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    Which leg muscles work least when cycling?

    Could you please name them for me? I also wonder if there is any difference with clipless and platform pedals. Since i use platform pedal most of the time I think i have more weakness on some departments.
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    Senior Member wolfchild's Avatar
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    Cycling doesn't work your hamstrings a lot, especially when you're using platform pedals. You need some form of foot retention so that you can pull up more , when you're pulling up your hams get a little more of a workout. It's best to do some other exercise for your hams such as deadlifts.

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    Senior Member hillcrawler's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by wolfchild View Post
    Cycling doesn't work your hamstrings a lot, especially when you're using platform pedals. You need some form of foot retention so that you can pull up more , when you're pulling up your hams get a little more of a workout. It's best to do some other exercise for your hams such as deadlifts.
    Yeah right. I also read hip flexors work so little when cycling. Is that right?
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    I tend to use my hamstrings pretty heavily, but I do use clipless pedals.

    I'd guess the abductors and adductors in the upper thigh get the least use.

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    You have to be aware that the word "work" is pretty ambiguous/misleading here. Work as in "moving you forward" is different from work as in "exerting force and getting tired". Hamstrings get tired, but, strictly speaking, they don't do any work. At best they reduce waste: if you don't use hamstrings, part of the force exerted by one leg during downstroke goes into contracting and raising the other leg which is in the upstroke. Even with cleated pedals, net work performed by the leg during the upstroke is normally negative.

    But yes, hip/knee extensors and foot plantarflexors (calf muscles) are the primary movers, flexors may or may not be involved, and abductors/adductors are along for the ride. Contributions of different muscles depend on bike setup and foot placement. People with platform pedals, and, to some degree, those with cleated pedals but with cleats moved as far back as they go, use mainly knee extensors. If you move the cleat forward or learn to put the ball of your foot on the pedal, you'll exercise calf muscles to a greater degree.
    Last edited by hamster; 02-16-14 at 08:52 PM.

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    Member BridgeRider's Avatar
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    I found this graphic the other day: http://lovingthebike.com/wp-content/...oke_large1.gif Someone put a lot of work into presenting a very readable diagram. Maybe it'll help.

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    Senior Member GeorgeBMac's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by BridgeRider View Post
    I found this graphic the other day: http://lovingthebike.com/wp-content/...oke_large1.gif Someone put a lot of work into presenting a very readable diagram. Maybe it'll help.
    Thanks, that's helpful
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    Senior Member SanDiegoSteve's Avatar
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    You can pedal using more or less muscles. You may even have muscles imbalances where one leg will take over for another at different parts of your stroke.

    You can learn to pedal efficiently (there is a thread on one-legged pedaling that is pretty fresh) in a number of ways. Standing in different ways will not only fire your core, but force you to be stable in your muscles. Again, this points to different muscles. If you pedal with good form, I think cycling uses most leg muscles ok. Running would target others. Swimming others and so on.
    Roadie in San Diego with a bad knee recovering from back surgery.

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    Cycling doesn't use any leg muscles all that much. For the legs, the quads do at least 90%, but the majority of the real work is heart and lungs. So different pedals may only expose imbalances that were already there.

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    Senior Member MinnMan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by sprince View Post
    Cycling doesn't use any leg muscles all that much. For the legs, the quads do at least 90%, but the majority of the real work is heart and lungs. So different pedals may only expose imbalances that were already there.
    Wow.

  11. #11
    Senior Member hillcrawler's Avatar
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    Man, if you are riding a lot you should avoid flat pedals. It should be teached to the kids as first lesson in the schools. That is my own experience. When you don't have an spd pedal system you end up working the same certain group of muscles much more than the others and it causes an imbalance which in the end effects your knees. I mean the muscles that work intensely like quads and glutes carry all the work and they get really tight at the end of the day. If you don't massage or stretch them properly, your body finds a way to adapt itself to this awkward condition. Those muscles get shortened! I don't know if it is a scientific fact but I really think that it is working like this. When they got shortened they start to put pressure on the tendons which are connected to the kneecap (patella). Now your patella is standing closer to your femur (thigh bones) and they start rubbing there even you are not actively using them. This is causing a problem called quadriceps tendonitis which is the inflammation of the quadriceps tendon. If you continue pushing yourself on the platform pedals, problem gets bigger. You can have cartilage degeneration or ACL torns. That's my own experience. Another problem with platform pedas is that you can place your foot at awkward position like they are too close to the frame, pointing inward or outward. So, people should stop discussing if clipless pedals have a performance gain or not. They are needed for health reasons on the first place. Ride clipless.
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  12. #12
    Senior Member GeorgeBMac's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by hillcrawler View Post
    Man, if you are riding a lot you should avoid flat pedals. It should be teached to the kids as first lesson in the schools. That is my own experience. When you don't have an spd pedal system you end up working the same certain group of muscles much more than the others and it causes an imbalance which in the end effects your knees. I mean the muscles that work intensely like quads and glutes carry all the work and they get really tight at the end of the day. If you don't massage or stretch them properly, your body finds a way to adapt itself to this awkward condition. Those muscles get shortened! I don't know if it is a scientific fact but I really think that it is working like this. When they got shortened they start to put pressure on the tendons which are connected to the kneecap (patella). Now your patella is standing closer to your femur (thigh bones) and they start rubbing there even you are not actively using them. This is causing a problem called quadriceps tendonitis which is the inflammation of the quadriceps tendon. If you continue pushing yourself on the platform pedals, problem gets bigger. You can have cartilage degeneration or ACL torns. That's my own experience. Another problem with platform pedas is that you can place your foot at awkward position like they are too close to the frame, pointing inward or outward. So, people should stop discussing if clipless pedals have a performance gain or not. They are needed for health reasons on the first place. Ride clipless.
    I wish I could disagree with you -- but I experienced something very similar to what you describe. The only difference being that the injury was slightly below and on the inside of the knee joint. But, after being examined by an ortho who took X-Rays as well as an MRI he declared it muscle/tendon related and ordered exercises to stretch, strengthen and balance the muscles of the thigh.

    I use platform pedals (actually they are free-ride pedals) for safety reasons: I ride mostly on rails-to-trails which are sometimes narrow and crowded with kids and dogs -- who can be counted on to dart out in front of you when you least expect it. So, I just don't want the added complication of having to unclip in those emergency situations. (Call me a whimp -- but I do not like to fall for any reason).
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    Senior Member LesterOfPuppets's Avatar
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    Huh. I can spin fairly well on nice BMX platforms. I even do one leg drills on 'em. Haven't noticed problems after 30 mile rides on them.

    With the right shoes it's "almost" like being clipped in.

    I do prefer toe clips or SPDs for most spirited road and dirtroad riding, however.
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    just another gosling Carbonfiberboy's Avatar
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    Wow, is there ever a difference! The longer you ride clipless, the more you realize how silly it was to ride platforms. IMO platforms are for most people a fixie-like ego statement. A way of separating themselves from the ordinary herd of road and MTB cyclists. I'm not talking to you, George. Back in the day, when I commuted in heavy city traffic, back before there were clipless, I rode toe clips tightened down. I thought it much safer being nimble and fast.

    I use all the muscles in my legs. I've had sore adductors and abductors after a hard ride. Sore psoas, sore hams, sore quads, sore glutes, sore calves. If a muscle isn't sore, I'm doing something wrong. I push 'em all to just below the point of cramping on the rollers and training rides. If one muscle gets overtired, I use another. Then they're ready to go for events.

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    Quote Originally Posted by hillcrawler View Post
    Man, if you are riding a lot you should avoid flat pedals. It should be teached to the kids as first lesson in the schools. That is my own experience. When you don't have an spd pedal system you end up working the same certain group of muscles much more than the others and it causes an imbalance which in the end effects your knees. I mean the muscles that work intensely like quads and glutes carry all the work and they get really tight at the end of the day. If you don't massage or stretch them properly, your body finds a way to adapt itself to this awkward condition. Those muscles get shortened! I don't know if it is a scientific fact but I really think that it is working like this. When they got shortened they start to put pressure on the tendons which are connected to the kneecap (patella). Now your patella is standing closer to your femur (thigh bones) and they start rubbing there even you are not actively using them. This is causing a problem called quadriceps tendonitis which is the inflammation of the quadriceps tendon. If you continue pushing yourself on the platform pedals, problem gets bigger. You can have cartilage degeneration or ACL torns. That's my own experience. Another problem with platform pedas is that you can place your foot at awkward position like they are too close to the frame, pointing inward or outward. So, people should stop discussing if clipless pedals have a performance gain or not. They are needed for health reasons on the first place. Ride clipless.
    I didn't realize that all those cyclists for 100+ years up to the 80's had ruined their knees from riding on unhealthful pedals. I've been using toe clips or plain platforms for at least 45 years and it never caused a problem, so that must make me some kind of one in a million freak of nature. Would be particularly interested to know how one tears their ACL riding a bike Bike jousting with telephone poles, Australian rules bike rugby, playing chicken with trucks on the interstate?

  16. #16
    Senior Member hillcrawler's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by sprince View Post
    I've been using toe clips or plain platforms for at least 45 years and it never caused a problem, so that must make me some kind of one in a million freak of nature.
    Ok, I think I've gone too far by mentioning ACL torns. That is not based on anything. However, I think that I am right at some points, some assumptions. Anyway, toe clips makes a big difference. They do work almost as same as the spd pedals. I think only the commuters use platform pedals on the long term. I did around 2.500 miles in two years on flat pedals and that has put a lot of pressure on the certain muscles. Now I am trying to get rid of all those tightness by doing stretches. Even if I had been using spd pedals from the beginning I would probably develop the same issue because I wasn't stretching at all but it would be more mild I guess.
    Last edited by hillcrawler; 02-24-14 at 04:49 AM.
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    Senior Member SanDiegoSteve's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by sprince View Post
    I didn't realize that all those cyclists for 100+ years up to the 80's had ruined their knees from riding on unhealthful pedals. I've been using toe clips or plain platforms for at least 45 years and it never caused a problem, so that must make me some kind of one in a million freak of nature.
    x2

    Toe clips and SPDs do about the same thing, right? Help you pedal more efficiently. They aren't fixing a broken problem. I think there are two drawbacks to clips. First is they are slightly harder to get in and out of (they are popular on the track since you can't pop out accidentally). Second is you can't get float. Float is a savior for me with bad knees.

    If you are a good healthy human, toe clips are great like clip-less style pedals (SPDs/look/speedplay). The advantages of the clip-less are ease of in and out, float if needed and lots of shoe options to name a few.
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    I completely understand having a preference, that clipless gives a slight advantage on power output over time and tangible weight savings, and that platforms might irritate some pre-existing conditions. But I don't think they are a cause of knee problems (or ACL tears), and I also don't buy that they use different muscles to any significant degree.

    There are a lot of practical reasons people use platforms or platforms with toe clips, such as: the high cost of the clipless pedals (for one or many bikes), the high cost of clipless cycling shoes, shoes that are useless for keeping your feet warm, shoes that you can't walk in, shoes you can't wear to work, having to remember to carry the special shoes, bindings that release unexpectedly, bindings that are not strong enough to hold in a sprint, fore/aft positioning limitations, pedals that can not be serviced or don't last long enough to deserve service, just to name a few.

  19. #19
    Portland, OR, USA pdxtex's Avatar
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    just taking a guess, id estimate quads/glutes do 70 percent, calves maybe 20 percent and the rest act as stabilizers (mcl, acl, ankle, etc...) as i get a little older and creakier though i realize that its best not to take those stabilizers and overall flexibility for granted.....i still ride in toeclips and straps for most of my city rides but always use a clipless pedal for hilly rides. toeclips are ok for hills but not optimal. you really need to make sure your knee isnt sliding up or forward and ends up getting loaded funny. that requires either spinning really easy gears and staying seated or really clamping down on the leather strap. in either case a stiff bike shoe and road pedal will easily trounce a platform climbing. you just need to figure out where your priorities lie. i need a bit of float and a really loose sping or no spring which i like even better. speedplay x pedals have been my go to clipless choice for about ten years and ill probably stick with them for awhile longer.
    we've got both kinds, country and western.

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    Senior Member WonderMonkey's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by hillcrawler View Post
    Yeah right. I also read hip flexors work so little when cycling. Is that right?
    He is right but the caveat is that most don't ENGAGE their hamstrings much, relative to the other muscles. Clipping in and pulling helps that situation out. Many MANY bikers have an imbalance in the hamstring area because.
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  21. #21
    Senior Member hillcrawler's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by pdxtex View Post
    just taking a guess, id estimate quads/glutes do 70 percent, calves maybe 20 percent and the rest act as stabilizers (mcl, acl, ankle, etc...) as i get a little older and creakier though i realize that its best not to take those stabilizers and overall flexibility for granted.....i still ride in toeclips and straps for most of my city rides but always use a clipless pedal for hilly rides. toeclips are ok for hills but not optimal. you really need to make sure your knee isnt sliding up or forward and ends up getting loaded funny. that requires either spinning really easy gears and staying seated or really clamping down on the leather strap. in either case a stiff bike shoe and road pedal will easily trounce a platform climbing. you just need to figure out where your priorities lie. i need a bit of float and a really loose sping or no spring which i like even better. speedplay x pedals have been my go to clipless choice for about ten years and ill probably stick with them for awhile longer.
    Those lollipops have too little surface area and can cause you to lose some pushing power efficiency. Did you think about that?

    Edit: I mean the down stroke efficiency.
    Last edited by hillcrawler; 03-10-14 at 02:23 PM.
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    Portland, OR, USA pdxtex's Avatar
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    ^^^i make sure the cleat is centered and all the way back to the widest park of my foot. too far forward and with your foot back loads your shin weird. the biggest game changer for me overall regardless of pedal choice was seated, fast spinning climbing.
    we've got both kinds, country and western.

  23. #23
    just another gosling Carbonfiberboy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by hillcrawler View Post
    Those lollipops have too little surface area and can cause you to lose some pushing power efficiency. Did you think about that?


    Edit: I mean the down stroke efficiency.
    Uh, no. Many pros use the lollipops. Fabian Cancellara uses Speedplay pedals, as does Andy and Frank Schleck, and Jens Voigt. Ivan Basso, Alberto Contador and Cadel Evans also use Speedplay pedals. With decent cycling shoes, the clipless system used doesn't really matter. They're all good.

  24. #24
    Senior Member hillcrawler's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Carbonfiberboy View Post
    Uh, no. Many pros use the lollipops. Fabian Cancellara uses Speedplay pedals, as does Andy and Frank Schleck, and Jens Voigt. Ivan Basso, Alberto Contador and Cadel Evans also use Speedplay pedals. With decent cycling shoes, the clipless system used doesn't really matter. They're all good.
    None of these are sprinters. What about Cav, Greipel, Kittel?
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  25. #25
    Long Distance Cyclist Machka's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by hillcrawler View Post
    I think only the commuters use platform pedals on the long term. I did around 2.500 miles in two years on flat pedals and that has put a lot of pressure on the certain muscles.
    And yet ...

    I've been riding with a platform pedal since 2007 ... that's about 36,000 km ... and I've been fine.

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