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After injuring my knee, how can I make sure I’m not pedaling more with the uninjured leg?

Ask a Pro — Diane Stibbard

Coach, Personal Trainer, and Two-Time Canadian Duathlete of the Year

Diane Stibbard - two-time dualthlete of the yearQ: I’ve injured my knee, but I’m cycling again. How can I make sure that when I pedal I’m not using my uninjured leg more?

A: Injuries, as bad as they are, can teach you what part of your body is weak and what part requires more attention. Recovering from an injury can also bring your attention back to some of the basics of cycling, such as pedal stroke.

Most cyclists have one leg that’s stronger than the other. The stronger leg does more of the work in the pedal stroke. If the muscle imbalance between your right and left legs is minor, then the difference between the use of each leg will be minimal. However, if you’ve injured a knee, the muscles that surround the knee can atrophy (muscle wasting) because they haven’t been used. If that muscle imbalance is not addressed, other injuries to the knees, hips, and back may occur.

The push and pull of the pedal stroke generates power and speed on the bike. When you pedal in circles, (which is how you should pedal) you push and pull equally with the muscles at the front of the legs and the muscles at the back of the legs. That means you not only need to make sure that each leg is working evenly, but that the front and the back of each leg are also working evenly.

The pedal training I outline below is for someone who has had a knee injury. However, all cyclists can benefit from this training. The winter months are a good time to work on your pedal technique. Riding on a stationary bike trainer makes it easier to work on one leg independent of the other. For someone who is coming back from a knee injury, I suggest two sessions a week for the first two weeks, then drop down to one session a week for the remainder of the indoor season. For everyone else, one session a week is sufficient. Once you’re back riding outdoors, once every two weeks would be a good way to ensure that your pedal technique continues to be balanced and efficient.

You can do the following pedal technique training workout on your trainer or on a spinning bike.

Pedal Technique Training: 

  1. 15 to 20 minutes warm up – light and easy to get the blood flowing and the body warm. If you’re on your own bike, set the bike to the small chain ring, and have it set to a relatively light gear. If you’re on a spinning bike, make the tension light but make sure that you aren’t spinning too fast and that you can control the pedal stroke. Place a chair beside the bike, unclip the left pedal, and place your left foot on the chair.
  2. For one minute focus on the push phase of the pedal stroke. Then on the same leg, spend one minute focusing on the pull aspect of the pedal stroke. Repeat this sequence five times, then switch to the left leg and do the same sequence.
  3. Once you’ve done both sides, clip both feet in, and ride using both legs for five minutes, focusing on both the push and the pull on both the right and leg legs.
  4. Do each leg twice for the first two sessions and then increase to three sets.
  5. Cool down after each workout with ten minutes of easy spinning

In addition to this on-bike training technique, I suggest a very simple exercise that helps to rebuild the muscles that surround and support the knee. It’s called a one-legged partial knee bend. Here’s how to do it:

Stand on one leg, then go into a mini squat, or partial knee-bend movement. Bend down and up in a very small range of motion (about 10 degrees of bending motion).  Do two sets of 15 repetitions on each side, once a day for the first month, then two to three times a week. This simple yet highly effective exercise will help rebuild the strength of the muscles above and inside the knee joint, helping to provide stability and strength for the repetitive motion of cycling.

If you’ve been injured, adding both of these exercises to your daily and weekly workouts will help you get back into cycling again, providing you with a stronger more efficient pedal stroke to ride longer and faster.

Training for a two-day cycling eventDiane provides training programs for recreational and competitive cyclists, duathletes and triathletes, including nutritional counseling and personal training. Does your company need a fitness consultant? Get in touch with Diane to discuss fitness seminars for corporations

You want personal training but don’t live near Diane? No problem. Diane does email and telephone consultations. To learn more, contact Diane at [email protected] or at LinkedIn.

Check out Diane’s e-programs: Keeping Fit in the Off-Season and Training For a Two-Day Charity Event For the Time-Starved Cyclist.

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