Quadriceps Versus Hamstrings

My Observations - Bob McCauley


Spinning® Bike Characteristics

Indoor spinning® bikes provide an opportunity to use different techniques for different types of exercise.  Specifically, the front wheel of a spinning® bike is "cam-loaded" which means that it is made up of solid metal, and as such, is subject to basic laws of physics that involve momentum.  This momentum has a tendency to continue to rotate after starting.  Since the wheel is as heavy as 45 pounds, this momentum is significant.

Just as with any exercise there are both negative and positive effects.  Some negative effects of the increased momentum, such as stress to the knee and the potential for knee injury, are more than offset by the advantages as long as one respects the limitations as well as the advantages of the exercise vehicle.

To gain efficiency on the spinning® bike, the emphasis should be shifted from a downward stroke to an upward rotating stroke.  That is, thinking in terms of a circular stroke as opposed to the layman bicyclist's pressure on downward stroke. The fast twitch muscles of the hamstrings on the back of the leg can get to higher speeds with less effort than the quadriceps, or front muscles.  Additionally, when the focus is placed on the hamstrings for movement, the hip muscles are more relaxed.  When the hamstrings are used, the hips and quads can be relegated to a more relaxed activity.  What I have found is that the result is that the rider can go faster, longer and with less probability of damage.  Why less damage?  It is because the pressure is not pushing down on the knee.  This hamstring effect works because the weight of the cam-loaded wheel pulls the legs in the down cycle.  If you are pushing down when this pulling effect happens, the knee bones can clash and cause damage as it "shoots" around the bottom of the stroke at the mercy of the inertia of the wheel.

The above description is not meant to suggest that hamstring-oriented speed rides should be only used.  It is merely an attempt to explain different techniques of spinning®.  The importance of focusing on the hamstrings is emphasized because these are usually neglected by participants in spinning® classes. Using only the hamstrings results in underdeveloped spinning® capability.  This efficiency the hamstrings usage should be relegated to activities where higher revolutions for longer periods are called by the instructor.  The optimal technique for spinning® involves a coordinated effort between the quads, gluts and hamstrings.  This results in a balanced approach which also translates best to the real world of riding outdoor bikes. 

Training The Hamstrings

From youth, it is natural to utilize one's quads when riding a bike.  Only those more sophisticated riders that participated in racing and wore cleats or straps on their pedals learned to utilize their hamstrings. Therefore, for most people, working the hamstrings is awkward and uncomfortable. 

One way to get started to train the hamstrings is to (while seated) turn up the resistance knob on the spinning® bike until it becomes necessary to "pull" as well as "push" to get the pedal to go around. This should be done for short periods of time with each spinning® workout.  After a few of these exercises, it will become easier and longer efforts can be involved.  Most instructors encourage adding resistance, but, unfortunately, many people cheat and use light resistance at all times. 

After a few weeks, this seated high resistance exercise can be relegated to only pulling without the use of the quads to push.  After a few months of this type of work, the whole idea of high resistance takes a different perspective.  With additional strength in the hamstrings and switching to an combined equal level of push and pull will allow the participants to graduate to very high levels of resistance.

It should be noted that the above are only my observations and are not backed by clinical results.

Spinning® is a registered trademark of Mad Dogg Athletics, Inc.











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