Pedaling seems like an easy, natural motion, but it actually takes a lot of skill. Inefficient pedaling can cost a cyclist valuable energy and speed. In the off season, when you are relegated to an indoor cycle or have mounted your outdoor bike on a trainer, work single-leg drills to hone your pedaling skills. Come the new season, you'll be more efficient, faster and fitter.
The Ideal Pedal Technique
If you use clipless pedals, you already have improved efficiency. These shoes that fasten directly into the pedal enable you to push forward at the top of the stroke and de-weight so you pull up slightly at the back end of the stroke. If you powerfully pull up, your leg will fatigue and lose power on the downstroke. With this technique, you use anywhere from 50 percent to 95 percent of the available power to move your cycle forward, says Justin Chester, a trainer with Mile High Multisport in Colorado. Single-leg drills help you hone the efficiency of this movement so you end up toward the higher end of your potential power output.
One Leg at a Time
Single-leg drills are especially valuable when you’re building your base level of fitness. You have to do them on a trainer or indoor bike – don’t try this on the road. Remove one foot from the clip and rest it on a chair next to the bike. The other foot pedals while you remain in an easy gear. Go at a comfortable speed and observe the smoothness of your stroke. You may notice that the top of the stroke is challenging and choppy. As you pedal, focus on keeping this top portion of the stroke smooth. This will fatigue your hip flexors quickly. Once you can no longer smoothly pedal, switch legs until that hip fatigues. Then pedal with both legs for three to five minutes, focusing on a smooth stroke. Repeat the single-leg drills three to five times as an extension of your warm-up.
Both Feet on the Pedals
Perform isolated leg drills with both feet in the clips, if you prefer. Warm up to pedaling at a pace of about 90 rpm for several minutes. Relax your right leg completely and pedal primarily with your left for 30 to 60 seconds. Emphasize the same smooth stroke that you attain when using both legs for power. Re-engage your right leg and pedal using both legs, then switch to pedaling only with the right leg for 30 to 60 seconds. Repeat the drill several times at the beginning of your workout to hone form and pedaling efficiency.
Keep In Mind
The Burlington Endurance Athletes Sports Team -- Team Beast for short -- recommends warming up at least 20 minutes prior to executing single-leg drills. These drills are among several techniques that help improve your pedaling efficiency and cadence. Include training sessions that emphasize pedaling at a high cadence -- 90 to 115 rpm -- consistently for 30 to 60 minutes as another way to make pedaling more efficient.