Strategies for Strength: Activate Those Hip Flexors

This strategy for strength dips into the world of biomechanics—one of my favorite topics! We can sometimes spend hours working on our pedal stroke seated, but neglect full muscle usage when standing. When proper pedal stroke technique is not emphasized out of the saddle, riders usually resort to simply mashing down on the pedals. This only activates the quadriceps and reduces efficiency, endurance, and power. So let’s throw some hip in there.


Before I continue, there is a bit of a controversy as to whether pedal stroke technique exists at all. Some believe that only the downstroke should be used and all attempts to use other muscles (and other parts of the stroke) are counterproductive. I’ve seen this debate in chat rooms and discussion groups. I even participated in these fruitless debates (which I will not do again). The problem lies in the research. It is not that research doesn’t exist. It does. The problem is that the research doesn’t prove what is proposed. The testing has not been controlled, utilizes minimal test subjects, and has been performed on an indoor trainer, which does not support proper pedal mechanics and bike movement. There are just too many factors that have not been included.

So all we have is evidence-based testing. We have measured the improvements and performance of those riders that have incorporated pedal stroke techniques and the results are conclusive. Pedal stroke matters…greatly. Professional cyclists all know this and spend countless hours perfecting their technique.

During my ONLY open debate on this topic, I threw the concept at Fred Morini. Fred is an ex-pro cyclist from the Gerolsteiner team. He is a consultant for the grand tours such as the Tour de France and currently represents Bianchi. Freddie and I got to know each other when we coached a cycling clinic together a number of years ago. His comments were always priceless and he didn’t disappoint when I brought up this controversy to him. I told him about all the research data this guy in the forum had and the claims that only the downstroke mattered. Freddie’s response: “Tell this guy to meet me at the base of Alpe d’Huez with his bike equipped with only platform pedals (no clips or cages). I’ll ride my bike with clipless pedals. Make sure he brings all of that research data with him. I’ll need something to read during the hours I’m waiting for him at the top.”

But I digress.

More Muscle and Endurance

Have fun and put some hip into it!

Be sure to check out our other strategies:

Strategies for Strength: Counting Pedal Strokes

Strategies for Strength: Benchmarks and Rewards, Pt. 1

Strategies for Strength: Benchmarks and Rewards, Pt. 2

Strategies for Strength: A Sprinter’s Take on Climbing Strategies

Strategies for Strength: Climbing at Tempo

Strategies for Strength: What’s Your Mantra?

Strategies for Strength: The Cheek to Cheek Technique

Strategies for Strength: The Wisdom of Yoda

Strategies for Strength: Projection into the Future

Strategies for Strength: Synchronized Breathing


  1. Excellent article Tom! Thank you as always for helping all of us keep it real. I always in each and every class I teach proper pedal technique. But I must admit I only focus on it in the saddle. Now I have more to offer my students with the uphill technique! simply fabulous. Many thanks to ICA….

  2. Excellent article, Tom. I love the image of pushing “down” while trying to go “up” the hill. Much in this article I can use. You’re always helpful.

    1. Tom, I just read the, Activate Those Hip Flexors
      post from Nov 1st. I would really like to know how to correctly implement this into my stroke and teach my class appropriately. Any help you could provide to help me better understand how to implement the incorporation technique you provided will be helpful. Also: I went to the Schwinn Indoor Cycling Certification class in July of 2015 and they were teaching from the research you referred to that only the down stroke matters. I am not an experienced outdoor rider and only being certified as an IC instructor for 14 months my experience is limited there as well. During those 14 months I have attempted to apply the make it real philosophy and have completed the Cycling Fusion Level 2 certification.
      Thanks, Gordon Palmer

  3. Thanks so much Marsha and Lisa. I’m very excited to apart of ICA!!!

  4. You always give us great tips Tom – thanks! I am definitely going to use this!

  5. I love this!!!!!!!!!!! The nuances of biomechanics are so wonderful and important. Can’t wait to teach this with some new ideas. So happy to have Tom here.

  6. Good discussion Tom,

    Pedal stroke is a common topic in my classes that utilize bikes with power measurement. The goal has been to become more efficient and to measure the results.

    However, some seem to not get it. Before I assign them to the “I don’t care” column, could you explain the downside risks to the inefficient stroke where the rider is locking out the knee at the bottom. Maybe if they hear the risks to their body (I’m assuming their are) I can get them more focused.

    I actually believe they believe they’re not locking out the knee. So it becomes a coaching problem to help expose and correct this weakness.



    1. Chuck,

      There is inefficient pedal stroke in the form of poor muscle activation. This doesn’t cause injury just a lacking performance.

      Then there is inefficient, or shall i say improper, pedal stroke technique where a joint is at risk. Locking out the knee or excessive knee extension can lead to a number of issues including damage to the meniscus, capsular laxity, and injury to the muscles and tendons at the posterior aspect of the knee. Couple with with riders (and their knees) enduring 4,000 to 6,000 pedal rotations per hour, I’d say that is quite the risk for an activity that is intended to increase our fitness and conditioning.

  7. Thank you so much for the clarification re racing-TDF and Velodrome. I am not familiar with either. I just knew that Jennifer had shared quite a bit of info on where some outdoor cycling practices did not necessarily translate to the indoor cycling practice. Most indoor riders are not professional and highly conditioned cyclists and happy follow the instructor-especially the super popular ones. There is so much “entertainment” factor that has take over the indoor cycling arena with any coaching for form being left in the dust. Watching people bounce and snap their legs at these out of the saddle high cadences is just scary and dangerous. The bikes are pretty close together so when I get a “snap and bend” rider next to me it is really distracting. I’m just trying to keep myself “real” and continue to improve my own knowledge, form and performance. BTW this instructor is currently so hurt she is off the bike indefinitely. She would be an amazing coach and a real superstar if she had a little solid Spinning knowledge under her belt. These out of the saddle runs rock my HR up to about 175-so it’s race day everyday.But that’s another story….Thank you for your response. Met a rider recently here in Miami-she’s an MD at Beth Israel and has ridden with you!

  8. Hi Gloria, thank you so much for your comments. To answer your first assumption, yes there is a weight shift from one side of the bike to the other but it is subtle. Remember the hip flexor activation starts when the feet are practically horizontal. The knee/leg should never lockout unless someone is using incorrect form and trying to stand straight up while riding. This is one of the reasons I do not recommend the “standing run” on an indoor bike, it can encourage lockout (besides the fact that standing and running on the bike has no value in cycling).

    To your cadence speed questions, the rpm experience on a velodrome can vary depending on which track event we are talking about. However, legs speeds on the track can exceed 140 rpm. And yes, they are very beneficial if one has the conditioning and technique. Due to the biomechanical limitations of most indoor bikes, leg speeds above 120 rpm are not recommended. I will be writing an article on this soon to help understand what these limitations are and how they affect body mechanics, muscle function and safety.

    As for the TDF, yes legs speeds in the peloton (on the flats) can vary depending on the task at hand. It is common to see a steady 90-105 rpm cadence from the pros. 90-100 rpm is sort of the de facto standard. Remember, advanced, elite level, and pro cyclists can pedal at 120 rpm and still remain in Zone 1 (50-60% RPE) and maintain good form. In sprints (particularly those at the end of a stage), I’ve clocked cadences ranging from 96 to 135 rpm.

    I hope this helps. Cheers, Tom.

  9. Plus, thank you Jennifer, for all your technical info. I love continuing to learn-for myself and my students.

  10. So I am assuming there is some subtle weight shift here as you complete the 10-12 phase of the pedal stroke before the “drive forward” phase? I can picture what I want to explain in my mind but not so well written. This looks as though this can help the leg lockout at the bottom of the pedal stroke. General question-off topic. Does anyone know the time and rpm for the push phase of a Velodrome race? Or the general rpm of the flat during the TDF? I realize this can vary but I am asking for an indoor cycling question.I have an indoor instructor pushing students to 120/125-race pace seated. She demonstrated 150 rpm as a goal. Benefit-zero I know. Having done Mad Dogg certification, I do know the parameters and why. She does not follow Any certification guideline stating that her years of bike racing and personal training let her know what to teach. In watching the TDF, I didn’t see any demonstration of this craziness. Am I missing something? I know that sprints-standing can go to 110 rpm.

  11. Thanks. We are planning to mural a copy of a pedal stroke ‘clock’ on our studio wall, depicting muscle involvement through out the pedal stroke.

    1. Beautiful Vickie. I love this!!!

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