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Pedal Mechanics—Back to Basics

By Clair Cafaro

During the cycling season weʼre so happy chasing down rivals, breaking records, or simply exploring the countryside with friends, that we rarely give a second thought to how we rotate those pedals—approximately 17,000 times per 100 km ride!

Late fall is the perfect time to get back to basics by focusing on the technical aspects of cycling. With the bike on the trainer for the winter, itʼs not enough to simply log endless miles to build an aerobic base. Each and every workout should start with technical drills such as single leg drills, and fast cadence drills such as spin ups. Skill acquisition is based on repetition. Psychologist Edward Thorndike calls this the “. . . law of exercise. Connections between a stimulus and a response are strengthened as they are used.”

Understanding the pedal stroke by comparing the pedal circle to a clock face helps to break the stroke into segments allowing for a better understanding of pedal mechanics and technique, resulting in increased efficiency:

1:00 – 5:00 This is the portion of the stroke which all of us do, the push downwards. This is the power phase.
6:00 Your foot should be parallel to the floor or heel slightly dropped to
recruit the hamstrings as well as the quadriceps.
6:00 – 7:00 Scrape mud off your shoe at the bottom of the pedal stroke, or imagine
pulling your foot back in your shoe.
7:00 – 11:00 Take your weight off the pedal, drive the knee towards the handlebars.
11:00 – 1:00 Roll the barrel, drive the foot forwards across the top of the pedal circle.

Single Leg Drills:
Single leg drills may prove to be more challenging than first anticipated. Weak spots in
the pedal stroke become glaringly apparent as the other leg is conspicuously absent.
With practice new neuromuscular connections are forged and your pedalling
becomes more efficient.

An example single leg workout:
Single Leg Drills – One foot remains clipped into the pedal while the other foot remains
unclipped (out of the pedal’s way).
1 min. alternating legs, 2 min. both legs x 10 (repeated 10 times)
2 min. alternating legs, 2 min. both legs x 5 (repeated 5 times)

Spin Up Drills:
Spin ups are fast cadence drills aimed at smoothing out the pedal stroke and
increasing your natural cadence. As cadences get progressively faster, your butt will
begin to bounce in the saddle. This bouncing is caused by both legs attempt a down-stroke due to confused neuromuscular signals from the legs to the brain. With practice, fast cadences can be maintained for longer periods of time without bouncing. (A cadence monitor is an asset but not a necessity for performing spin ups. Gearing should be light; 39×23).

An example spin up workout:
2×5 min. high cadence – 100+ rpm, 5 min. recovery easy spin
2×7 min. high cadence – 100+ rpm, 7 min. recovery easy spin
2×10 min. high cadence – 100+ rpm, 10 min. recovery easy spin

In his book, Periodization Theory and Methodology of Training, renowned sport scientist
With proper attention to pedal mechanics during the winter months, increased
efficiency will translate to better cycling come spring, when you can once again
focus on chasing down rivals, breaking records or exploring the countryside with
Clair Cafaro
Clair Cafaro is the president of C.O.R.E CYCLING ®, an indoor cycling instructor certification program with an emphasis on authentic road riding principles. www.corecycling.ca

Check out Clair’s new e-program Winter Training For Cyclists!



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