Learning a New Skill – Engaging Your Legs and Your Brain
By Clair Cafaro
We all learn differently, some by doing (kinesthetic) some by hearing (auditory) and some by watching (visual). While one learning style dominates, we generally have a combination of all three. Understanding which learning style you are geared to gives you a greater chance of grasping a new skill. If you are primarily a visual learner, you’ll flourish with something you can visually refer back to like a diagram or a picture. Kinesthetic learners will need to physically “feel” the drill. Tap into this style of learning by focusing on bodily cues, like “scraping mud off your shoe” to cue the 5:00 – 7:00 phase of the pedal stroke (see part 1). Auditory learners will need to hear instructions clearly, they respond well to word associations such as, “feel the heel drop”.
Part 1 of “The Simple, Beautiful Pedal Stroke” outlined the importance of pedaling “smooth, round circles” rather than “pushing and pulling” and to break the pedal stroke into 4 distinct phases. (An efficient pedal stroke helps to generate more watts). Understanding the desired outcome of the drill is just as important. Being more efficient and powerful on the bike becomes the desired outcome.
Current research indicates that external focus is the most effective approach to learning a new skill. External focus is a type of attentional control where the athlete focuses on an element that is outside of his/her body. For example, when learning to execute a smooth round pedal stroke, imagine that you have a marker attached to your ankle and are drawing a perfect circle on a white board beside you. Visualize the circle you are drawing, ensuring that the marker line is the same thickness and has the same value throughout (meaning you are applying the same pressure throughout the entire stroke).
“If possible, external focus should be directed toward an element, an anticipated effect, or an outcome that is far from the performer’s body… suggest to athletes that while executing the movement, they should pay attention to or concentrate on (1) something external to their body or (2) the expected outcome of their movements…” Coaching Association of Canada
Imagining that the crank arm is made of thick elastic is another great example of external focus. Stretching the crank from 5:00 to 7:00 and engaging the heel creates awareness of the dead spot at the bottom of the pedal stroke. Visualizing that your foot is on top of a barrel while you push the barrel along, (rolling a barrel) from 11:00 to 1:00 helps to eliminate the dead spot at the top of the pedal stroke.
Spending some time on the trainer at the start of the season to practice external focus and pay attention to the simple pedal circle will go a long way in producing a smooth, powerful and efficient stroke.
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
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