Improve Your Pedal Stroke For Better Power Production
Maximize your watts, you work hard for them! Even though it looks like a simple circle, the motion of pedaling a bike well is surprisingly complex. Throughout the pedal stroke, some muscles perform large portions of work, while others contribute little or none. As the position of cranks and legs changes, many of these roles reverse thanks to the biomechanics of our bodies and the bike. Through targeted training, we can make significant gains in power production and efficiency with our pedal stroke and cadence.
Improvements in this area require some patience and repetition. Our muscles are driven by neurons, which transfer signals from our brain to trigger contractions. The more we use each neuron determines its size and how many muscle fibers it can control. Hence, the more we perform a motion, the easier it becomes. Changes to this neural network take time and must be triggered by repetitive demand. This is also a case of use-it-or-lose-it: if you haven’t worked on your pedal stroke recently (or ever), chances are it can be made better.
Who is this for? If you ride a bike, this is for you. It doesn’t matter the discipline; On-road or off-, single- or multi-sport all athletes will benefit from a smoother pedal stroke. On average, most athletes pedal with a cadence that's too low for full efficiency. This is especially true for triathletes who will run better off the bike if they raise their cadence. On flat ground, with few exceptions, we should be aiming for 90-105 RPM’s. That number can go down when climbing, but the need to pedal smoothly never goes away. Efficient pedaling is a perishable skill and requires attention each season to make sure we’re maximizing the results of other training.
When should we do it? At first, do this cycling workout once or two times a week for four consecutive weeks. It should be done at least once a month throughout the season. Ideally, do this cycling technique workout on active-recovery days. With my athletes, I schedule it the day before or between interval workouts. This gives us a purposeful training session, and it leaves the legs feeling charged and ready for hard work the following day.
How do we do it? The workout is divided into two sections: Singles/Doubles (single-leg pedaling) and Spin-Ups (high-cadence work). Do single-leg work first to smooth the pedal stroke, allowing Spin-Ups to be performed at a higher cadence. Do these intervals in a very light gear, as a larger gear will mask surges and dead-spots. This is a great workout to do indoors. On rollers or a trainer with a light resistance setting, we can see, hear and feel surges created by a lack of smoothness.
● 10 Minute Warmup ● Singles & Doubles ○ 6-10 x 3 Minutes Single Leg Pedaling (Other foot unclipped) ○ 1 Min Right Leg Only ○ 1 Min Left Leg Only ○ 1 Min Recovery - Easy spinning with both legs. ● Spin-Ups - Pedal highest cadence you can smoothly maintain. ○ 5-7 x 1 Minute (or 3-4 x 4 Min, 2 x 10 Min, 1 x 20 Min) ○ 2-5 Min Recovery - Easy spinning between intervals. ● 5-10 Minute Cool Down - Easy spinning after last interval.
Singles/Doubles: Unclip one leg and pedal as smoothly as possible for one minute with the other. Switch legs the next minute, then pedal easily with both legs for one minute. Repeat this pattern 6-10 times. Aim for SMOOTH, round pedal strokes, around 60-80 RPM’s. You’ll quickly find that the up- and down-strokes are easy, but there are natural dead-spots at the top and bottom of the pedal stroke. You may also notice that your lower leg gets tired, a sign there’s too much tension in the ankle. The harder it feels, the more you need to practice. If it is impossible to maintain a full minute, start with 30 seconds.
Spin-Ups: Spin a very light gear at the highest cadence that can be SMOOTHLY sustained. Aim for well north of 100 RPM’s. Practice perfection here, a fast, but ragged pedal stroke does no good. If you’re bouncing around, slow down, and bring the cadence back up smoothly. Focus on relaxed legs, especially below the knee. Drive your knees up and forward from your hips. At first, do 5-7 x 1 minute efforts with 2-5 minutes easy pedaling between. Progress to 3-4 x 4 minutes. Eventually, aim for longer intervals of 2 x 10 or 1 x 20 minutes.
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