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The Secret Weapon for Better Cycling and Running

The Secret Weapon for Better Cycling and Running

One of the best exercises to improve your cycling and running performance

Cycling is awesome; just about anyone can do it, and it is a great calorie burner to keep you slim and strong.

Cycling naturally strengthens the glutes and quads, but hamstrings are trickier. Even if you are pulling up efficiently on your pedal stroke while riding and doing hamstring curls in the gym, you will definitely feel a huge difference with this stability ball exercise.

Runners, you need great glute and hamstring strength to stabilize and support the impact of weight transfer.

Glute and hammie strength is definitely the endurance athlete’s secret weapon. So in an effort to strengthen your hamstrings most effectively, there’s one exercise that tops the rest: Stability Ball Hamstring Curls.

Why this one exercise?

  1. It takes strength to execute it properly.
  2. After mastering the basics there are lots of progressions that make it harder.
  3. The element of balance forces more muscle fibers to contract. Every rep is different as the body fights to keep from falling, stimulating muscle fibers to be more responsive.

You get stronger by recruiting more total muscle fibers as well as making that total stronger.  Muscle fibers that never had to respond before don’t have a choice: Fire or you fall.

Falling/losing your balance, sends an emergency response from the brain to the body: Send the troops! (i.e. muscle fibers)! HELP!! The body hates to fall; it does not know the difference between going down a cliff and falling off of a stability ball. Any time you add the element of fighting for balance you will get a heightened training response.

Think about the physiques of athletes trained to fight for balance. Gymnasts, dancers, Cirque de Soleil performers, etc. tend to be lithe and strong, flexible and responsive.

Training makes the body look and perform a certain way. These athletes have amazing strength in small packages: their bodies know how to use every ounce of what they own to transfer their weight and perform gracefully with agility and coordination. Cyclists and runners benefit from workouts that create an entirely new platform of challenge.

This one exercise is a game changer. If you only do one exercise to improve your performance, make it this one.

Starting position

Stability Ball Hamstring Curls: To begin, place your feet on the ball, ribs pressed closed, hands and cheating elbows off the floor.

Ending position

Stability Ball Hamstring Curls: Pull the ball in. Hips are bent and knees are bent:

Alternate ending position

Stability Ball Hamstring Curls: pull the ball in, hips are not bent, just the knees:

How to do the move:

  • Lie on your back with your feet on the ball, knees straight. Beginners can have more lower leg/calf on the ball, more advanced, just the heels of your shoes.
  • Lift your hips off the floor making a straight line from your shoulders to your feet.
  • Make sure your core is organized: press the ribs closed around your torso; do not let them splay open as you do the exercise. Keep your shoulder blades down low in your back; if they elevate your shoulders will slide up toward your ears: press them back down.
  • Keeping your ribs pressed close, roll the ball in as close as you can to your glutes then roll it back to the starting position. Do not let your ribs splay open (if they splay open the low back will fire up: to have the abs turned on, keep the ribs pressed down).
  • Perform this exercise with your hands/arms/elbows off the ground. If you cannot do it with your hands off the ground, try 5 times before you give up and put your hands on the ground. It’s important that your body fights for balance and starts the process of recruiting more muscle fibers to stabilize the ball and keep from falling. Therefore, give your body the opportunity to fall.

VARIATIONS of Stability Ball Hamstring Curls

  • Intermediate Level Variation: 

Keeping the ball in place, lift one foot off the ball at a time.

  • Expert Level Variation: 

Pull the ball in to your glutes one leg at a time (This is really hard…).

  • Intensifier: 

As soon as you think you are really awesome at all of this, raise your hips one more inch and try and execute any of the moves a little higher.

  • There are 2 ways to pull the ball in: one is what most people automatically do: they bend at both the hips and the knees to bring it in. If you do not bend at the hips, but only the knees, it is harder. If you try this option, your hips will end up much higher than the version where you bend both the hips and the knees.
  • If you try the above variation, try this: starting with straight knees, pull the ball in by bending only your knees (keep the hips up), then, with control, lower your hips almost to the floor (try and tap the ball to your butt as you go down—you have to consciously pull the ball toward your butt to do this). Send the ball back up to the top (consciously try and keep the ball close to your glutes while you go up). Finish by straightening the knees back to the starting position.
  • Any of these variations done with ONE LEG and HANDS OFF THE FLOOR take a tremendous amount of strength, balance, and coordination. The better you get at these tricks, the better your cycling or running is going to be!

Have fun with it! Falling off the ball means your body is fighting to learn. It learns faster falling (since it really hates to fall) than in any other scenario. Embrace it and challenge yourself to do things that you are not good at….and with a little time, you WILL be good at it!

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