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The Simple, Beautiful Pedal Stroke

By Clair Cafaro

With the glorious emergence of spring and the new cycling season, the last thing on your mind is your pedal stroke. Why dissect it? Why bother analyzing it? Don’t you just “push and pull” on the pedals? Well, not really. Focusing on a smooth, round stroke will actually help to produce more power per stroke. If you think about it, pushing and pulling connotes a linear trajectory, or at best pedaling a square. Instead, imagine the pedal stroke as a clock face.

anatomy of a pedal strokeThe stroke is then divided into four distinct phases:

Top Dead Centre (12:00)

11:00 – 1:00

Roll The Barrel

Imagine that your foot is on top of a barrel and you are rolling it forward

allowing your foot to move across the top of the pedal stroke.

Imagine your toes pushing towards the front of your shoe.

Power Phase

1:00 – 5:00

Fully Engage Core

Begin to Drop Heel

Relax the belly but engage the core by bringing your ribs to meet the hips.

This will fully engage the core and provide a strong platform for your legs to push up against.

During the power phase many riders will rotate the pelvis forward as the knee is in the flexed position which results in a loss in power.

It’s important to try to keep the hips square.

Begin to drop heel in this phase.

Bottom Dead Centre (6:00)

5:00 – 7:00

Scrape Mud

Begin this phase with the heel dropped.

Drag the foot across the bottom of the stroke leading with the heel which engages

the powerful muscles of the gluteus and hamstring group. Imagine trying to lengthen the crank arm.

Recovery Phase

7:00 – 11-00

Unweight Pedal

Help with the power phase by floating the foot on the pedal.

As you approach 10:00 imagine throwing the entire leg

over the handlebars.

Practice the four phases on your trainer with a gear big enough to feel the entire stroke. If you have access to a power meter, try your old way of pedaling and then pedal full smooth circles (be sure to keep the cadence and gearing consistent with both efforts). You’ve now learned how to pedal efficiently through the “dead” spots at the top and bottom of the stroke, becoming more productive and powerful simply through a better understanding of the beautiful, simple pedal stroke.

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
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1 comment to The Simple, Beautiful Pedal Stroke

  • I love this, thank you Clair for the reminder. It’s such an important point, because it makes a huge difference in harnessing every ounce of power in the most productive way. It’s unfortunate that the pedal stroke is so often ignored and yet plays such a pivotal role. Thanks again ~ U

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