Hip pain when cycling? Why it happens and what to do about it.Apr 18, 2022
Do your hips get achy after a long ride? Are you unable to cycle as much as you’d like because of hip pain and discomfort? Maybe you’ve tried some soft tissue work, massages and exercises that don’t work. And maybe you even spoke to a doctor who told you… “stop cycling so much.”
You don’t want to hear that! And I don’t want you to hear that. Instead of reducing our time cycling or stopping altogether because of hip pain, why not build more resilient hips? Why not understand what our hips do while cycling and strategically program exercises that strengthen our hips in these movement patterns?
This is what I’ll share with you in this article. I’ll explain what main hip movements are involved in cycling and how limitations in these movements can lead to pain and discomfort. I’ll then share some exercises you can start doing to improve your hip function and capacity so you can get back on the road…or trail faster!
Why do I get hip pain from cycling?
To answer this question, let’s examine what the hips do while cycling. The main movement during cycling is hip flexion. This is simply when the femurs (long thigh bones) travel toward the upper body.
During cycling, the hips are in flexion nearly the entire time. And when you pedal, your hips go deeper into hip flexion. If you are weak in hip flexion then there is no question that this can lead to pain and discomfort while cycling.
Another important movement pattern during cycling is hip internal rotation. This occurs when the hips rotate inward and causes the femurs to move toward the midline of the body.
Hip internal rotation is a little bit more subtle. Take a look at what the hips and knees are doing in cycling professionals. Their knees are either aligned with the hips or pointing even more inward than that.
Many recreational cyclists don't have this much hip internal rotation capacity. In fact, many people will cycle with their femurs in a more externally rotated position.
We are resilient creatures. We CAN cycle with our hips in an externally rotated position. But it is not the most efficient position for hips to be in while cycling. This is evidenced by the position of the hips in every picture of a professional cyclist I can find.
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How do I Get Rid of Hip Pain from Cycling?
Now we know that cycling requires strong hip flexion and hip internal rotation. What can we do with this information? Train these movements through exercise! Below are beginner exercises for each movement pattern to get you started.
I like this exercise for cycling because it works hip flexion from a seated position. By keeping the low back in a good position and really holding the isometric at the top, you will engage the exact muscles you would be engaging while cycling.
This is a great exercise to start improving hip internal rotation because it puts more focus on the inner thigh muscles. Many exercises for internal rotation work the lateral hip muscles which also has enormous value. But for cyclists that are “stuck” in hip external rotation, waking up those inner thigh muscles is crucial.
Hip discomfort while cycling might be a sign that our hip function and resilience may not be optimal. The exercises in this tutorial are a great place to start because they target the exact hip movements in cycling.
But there is no perfect exercise for any activity. And the true path to pain-free hips is building strength and function in all of the main hip movements.
To start learning how to build stronger hips, try my free hip starter course. It's a great way to jump-start your path toward healthier and more resilient hips.