Whenever I try to go hard on the bike, I’ve noticed that my hips are sloshing in the saddle and it feels like I have no power. What am I doing wrong?
Great question. This is a common problem among triathletes. Most of the time the lack of power on the bike is related to your pedal stroke and weak gluteal muscles. Here are three areas for you to examine and correct this issue:
1.Take a look at your seat height. It could potentially be too high. A simple measurement is to note the knee flexion at the bottom of your pedal stroke while your foot is flat on the pedal surface. This varies with TT bikes or road bikes and also leg length but a rule of thumb is to have an extended leg of 150 – 158 degrees. My guess is that your knee angle is greater than this range. The problem is you end of flexing your toes and / or sliding or sloshing your hips to reach the bottom of your stroke. This causes a dramatic reduction in power from your gluteals and the key quad that is on your inner thigh called the vastus medialus oblique (VMO). Grabbing the pedal and limiting the activation of your gluteals and VMO is a recipe for a weak pedal stroke.
2. Examine Your Cleat Position. Cleat position is key to applying proper pedal power. Your cleat should be fixed directly under the metatarsal pad. If the cleat is too far forward (toward your toes) the flexion or curling of your toes will occur. This position will often result in the issues I addressed in the above. The problem with an over active toe flexion is that the muscles in the arch of the foot can become tight and the tendency is to push straight downward.
To fix toe flexion, try this technique: Completely relax your toes and lift them off the bed of the shoe. See if you can maintain power or a higher power (speed) output than the toe curling technique. Mentally concentrate for 6 perfect circles with the right foot and note whether there is still a tendency to grab the shoe. Try 6 perfect strokes concentrating on the left shoe. You may notice that one side may feel quite different. With a toe grabbing technique, the cleats need to be moved backwards and now you’ll have the pressure directly over the metatarsal pad. Also, this drill is helpful to improve your overall pedal stroke as well. See more tips in my article on pedal stroke technique here.
3. Check Your Glute Strength. How do you know if your gluteals are like butter and your quads are doing the lion’s share of the work on the bike? Do you feel your gluteals engage at the three o’clock position within your pedal stroke? This is where the rubber hits the proverbial road for your cycling power and speed!
If you have weak gluteals, typically most riders pedal stroke will use a toe pointed plantar flexion at the bottom of your stroke. This is because you simply don’t have the strength to handle the pedal force at 3 o’clock position in the pedal stroke and consequently your foot will roll forward over the pedal spindle—dramatically minimizing power output.
To help engage the gluteals, slide back on your saddle rather than towards the front end. The tendency with weaker gluteals is to rely on your quads and to slide forward. If you do slide back, also lower your saddle height about .3 centimeters. This technique change in combination with a more dorsi flexed ankle (heel down) will increase the potential load on the gluteals – and that’s the objective!
With weaker butt muscles and a reliance on your quads the power comes too late in the pedal stroke at 4 – 6 o’clock. If you’re still having trouble firing your gluteals, try looking at your feet and ankle while pedaling and dropping your heel downward. Again, the purpose is trigger the mind and body to help activate your gluteals while keeping more pressure on the pedal surface that will in turn elevate your power. When dropping your heel downward, keep in mind, the ideal ankle flexion at the bottom of the pedal stroke should be 95 – 110 degrees depending upon road, TT bike and leg length.
Additionally it’s important to train your gluteals off the bike to improver your performance on the bike. Checkout this video as an effective exercise to build glute strength.
Examine these three hot spots and see what you can change to increase your power production. Make the adjustments, practice the new technique and do your strength training on dry land and you’ll regain your lost power and improve your overall cycling speed.