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Caleb Ewan's Sprint Position - Revealed through Kinesiology

Cycling Quad Fatigue

Got quad burn?

This post was inspired by real client questions and then later discovering that a lot of people on the internet have also asked the same questions:
  • Why do my quads burn while I cycle?
  • Instant fatigue in quads - any ideas?
  • Why do my legs hurt so much after cycling?
  • Does cycling build quads?
  • Does cycling give you big thighs?
  • How do I stop my legs aching after cycling?
  • Why do my legs feel heavy when cycling?
  • Why do my legs feel like jelly after cycling?
The quads burn will burn too quickly due to a poorly fitting bike or because you're using the wrong muscles groups to move the pedals.  A bike fit is a straightforward fix that involves some trial and error, but fixing the latter part is a beast to fix if you don't have a background in anatomy and experience in fixing motor patterns.  In fact, many Pro cyclists suffer from the latter part, but either they or their coaches are too overwhelmed or impatient to fix it.  If you suspect that you have a bike fit issue, here are a few things to check:
  1. Saddle too low = Quad burn because the knee remains in too much flexion; so the quad will fire from either being on stretch or being optimally positioned for activation (this is a bad thing).
  2. Saddle too high = Quad burn because the hamstrings will stretch causing the antagonist muscle (quads) to fire and counter the force of the stretch.
  3. Difficult gearing = Very Low Cadence = Quad burn because if the resistance is too great, you'll experience a co-contraction of the quads and the rest of the hip and leg.

Fixing quad burn via Posterior Chain Activation

Fixing quad burn caused by motor pattern deficits involves teaching yourself how to activate the posterior chain muscles while cycling.  Looking at the hip and below, the muscles to focus on are the glutes, hamstrings and calves.
Posterior Chain Muscles (blue)
The DIY method of fixing quad burn involves practicing the list of glute dominant squats (below) without quad burn.  Being able to do these exercises quad burn-free increases the likelihood that you'll stop overusing the quads while cycling.
  1. Split squats
  2. Bulgarian squats
  3. Back squats
  4. Forward lunges
  5. Reverse lunges
  6. Step ups
  7. Single leg squats
  8. Single leg deadlifts
  9. Sumo squats
  10. Goblet squats
  11. Lateral squat

If the quads are still burning:

The primary function of the posterior chain is to extend the hip and flex the knee.  When practicing the exercises above, try to perform them with only hip extension and knee flexion.  If performed correctly, you'll feel most of the force transfer through the heel; even if the heel is against the floor or elevated from a split stance position.  At all costs, DO NOT let yourself kick with the feet or else the quads will activate (the quads extend the knee and flex the hip).
Posterior Chain function on the hip and knee

Still burning after months of practice?

If you're still experiencing the same quad fatigue after months of practice, reach out to me at to setup a virtual session.  On average, I can resolve quad dominance in cycling in one session.


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