“Because you’re seated, it’s easy to favor the hip flexors and quads and limit glute activation,” Peters says. This can lead to soreness in the quads, reduced range of motion in the knees, and pain in the low back and IT band.
Avoid it: You need to re-engage with the ground before you clip into your pedals to maintain proper form and alignment, which helps activate the glutes. To do it, perform 2 sets of 8 to 10 reps each of plank walkouts, alternating side lunges, and glute bridges before you cycle. All three exercises require strong body-ground contact.
The front-and-back motion can easily place most of the force on the quads, Peters says. Like in cycling, this can lead to low-back pain or IT band friction syndrome. Shifting some of the effort to the glutes will help you run faster and more efficiently while taking stress off the quads.
Avoid it: As a pre-run warm-up, foam roll your quads and the surrounding areas for 10 minutes to desensitize them (so they’re less likely to be overworked). Follow that with 10 walking lunges and 5 T-spine rotations per side. Perform them slowly and prioritize form so you can fully recruit the non-quad muscles. Focus on diaphragmatic breathing while doing these prep movements so the efficient pattern can carry over to your run. “If you’re not breathing correctly, you’ll get winded, which can cause your muscles to lock up and prompt your quads to take over,” Peters explains.
He also suggests adding 2 to 3 sets of 8 to 10 reps of multiplanar step-ups (stepping up from all sides) and Turkish get-ups to every strength routine, ideally twice per week. Because these moves recruit so many muscle groups, it will be difficult to overuse your quads.
It’s especially common to become quad dominant during heavy lifts like deadlifts and squats, where you need to hinge correctly to leverage the posterior chain. A few signs your muscle recruitment is off: you’re sore in muscles you shouldn’t have fatigued (for example, if deadlifts tire out your back rather than your glutes and hamstrings) and an unexpected lack of flexibility (say, you can no longer touch your toes or bring your arms fully overhead without discomfort), Peters says.
Avoid it: Before you lift, foam roll any sore muscles for 5 minutes. Start lower-body days with exercises that take you out of the sagittal plane, like windmill ball slams and inline band lifts. Complete 3 sets of 10 reps for each. Include at least one accessory day (focused on basic isolation or unilateral movements rather than compound lifts) per week with only frontal and transverse plane movements like hinged T-spine rotations and anti-rotational presses, he adds. Over time, these habits will teach you to engage the whole body—not just the quads—giving your fitness more longevity.