Ask The Expert: Heavy Quad-Dominant Pedal Stroke

Question from ICA member Joanne Swayze:

“I have several triathletes and highly fit cyclists in some of my classes. A few of them seem to have really heavy, quad dominant downstrokes that results in what I “see” to be a highly inefficient circular pedal stroke. When in climbing position, these same “quad dominant” cyclists have a lot of hip rocking. (Not a ridiculous amount, but more than what a trained athlete should be doing if they are knowledgeable.) I guess they are trying to really force the pedals down which, of course, leads to the inefficient stroke. My advice in class is to ”settle down” the hips. There should be some side to side, natural movement, but not overkill.  If you settle down the hips a little, it forces a smoother stroke—especially the upward phase of pedal stroke. Am I right to say this?”

Joanne, this is a great question and an excellent observation. The reasons why a rider may pedal with a heavy quad-dominant pedal stroke can vary. Some may not have been taught proper technique or muscle engagement, while others may require a different bike setup.


  1. Hi,

    I’ve read that about 30% of your power comes from hamstrings(or the upstroke). BY focusing on the down stroke only, the rider is wasting or not using a lot of power. What makes sense to me is to think in terms of basketball. It’s like choosing not to take every third shot.

    From an instructor view without pointing anyone out, you could do single-leg drills having people focus on the down stroke for a minute, then have them focus on the upstroke for a minute for a total of five or so minutes per leg. Have them think about pulling up(if they don’t use their hamstrings a lot, the rider should feel some hamstring fatigue/burn)which lets them know that they are no saying “hi” to their other half. Perhaps then talk about how much power they derive from that upstroke and how much more power a rider has when they incorporate all the muscle groups.

    If doing a hill ride, have the riders do repeated accelerations while on a hill should also incorporate hamstrings. A slight burn in their hamstrings lets the riders know that they are using a wider range of muscles. I’d think riders should feel some quad burn and some hamstring burn. If you never feel hamstring fatigue, then I’d think that’s a clue that the rider isn’t using their hamstrings.

    My partially-related question is: Is it possible to indoor cycle without using your glutes? I never “feel” my glutes working which makes me think I’m not using my glutes–maybe bike position is off? Or perhaps that outdoor “glute burn” isn’t possible to replicate indoors due to spin cycle bike setup? It seems impossible not to use your glutes, however, I have a suspicion that I’m relying on my quads to do most of the work. Are there any drills focus on keeping the glutes involved? I’d expect to feel a glute burn, but again, perhaps I’m incorrect. Thanks!

    1. Thanks Tom!! Awesome information!!! Note to readers: I spelled knowledgable wrong. Feel really stupid right now.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *