Mashing up and down instead of pedaling in smooth circles is common for beginner cyclists. It's an error that often leads to injury. Tightness or pain in the quads, knees and hip flexors are often caused by inefficiencies in the pedaling motion.
The good news is, with a little practice you can fix your pedal stroke pretty easily. By improving your upstroke, you'll not only prevent injury, you'll also increase your power.
The two major muscle groups responsible for developing a solid upstroke are the hamstrings and the gluteals. The hamstrings are actually made up of three different muscles: the semimembranosus, semitendinosus and the biceps femoris. The gluteals are made up of the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius and gluteus minimus.
When functioning correctly, these six muscles work together to generate power and endurance. They also ensure a smooth, circular pattern to your pedal stroke. If these muscles aren't firing on all cylinders, the efficiency of your stroke is reduced and the other muscles of the hips and legs are forced to pick up the slack. This can lead to muscular imbalances and potential injury.
Do these four exercises 3 to 4 times per week to strengthen the muscles needed to boost the power and efficiency of your upstroke. Start with 1 to 2 sets of 10 to 12 repetitions and rest for 30 seconds between each set.
1. Lay on your back with your knees bent and your feet on the ground 6 to 8 inches from your glutes. Your arms should be relaxed on the ground at your sides.
2. Pull your right knee in toward your chest (if you have the flexibility to hold onto your knee with your hands, do it).
3. Keeping your right foot off the ground, push down through the heel of your left foot and lift your hips as high as possible. Squeeze your glutes the entire time.
4. Slowly lower your hips back down to the ground and repeat this 10 to 12 times. Switch legs and repeat 10 to 12 times with your right foot on the ground.
1. Start in the same position as the Single Leg Hip Bridge but keep both feet on the ground.
2. Squeeze your glutes, tuck your tailbone, and lift your hips off the ground.
3. Keeping your hips high, slide your left foot away from your body until your left leg is completely straight, then bring it back in.
4. Repeat this sliding motion with the right foot. Keep your hips off the ground the entire time (glutes should be engaged).
Alternate sliding your feet in and out until you've completed 10 to 12 repetitions with each leg.