January 31, 2015

How to Pedal Like a Pro… Almost

No matter how good a cyclist you are, most people are highly inefficient when it comes to turning calories into power and speed.  Cycling efficiency runs between 20%-25%, which means 75%-80% of the energy you burn while cycling is lost to radiated heat.  Unless your athletic background includes years as a pro cyclist then you’re likely closer to the bottom of the range.

The reason it’s important to improve your cycling efficiency, or economy, is because it’s a direct predictor of your overall race performance, especially in longer races.  And the key benefit is pretty straight forward:  You’re faster with less effort and can reserve more energy and leg strength for the run.

So how do you step up your cycling economy?  The single best way to get better at turning the pedals is to ride more, which is certainly why pro cyclists are the most economical.  But if adding high volume cycling to the long list of triathlon activities you need to work on isn’t a realistic option then you need to shift your focus to more time efficient methods.

Improve Your Pedal Stroke

Improving your pedal stroke is one of the easiest ways to get more out of your time on the bike.  When you smooth out your stroke you get more out of each revolution because you slightly extend the power phase… the area from 12-6 o’clock.  Considering that you turn the pedals 5,000 to 6,000 times per hour every little improvement can add up.

This is where cycling drills, such as single leg drills, fast spin sets, and spin-ups, usually come in.  All are very good and should be built into the warm and cool down of every bike trainer session to gradually improve your pedal stroke.  The challenge is that these drills are all short in duration and take a long time to make a measureable impact.

So how can you close the gap between your pedaling efficiency and the pros faster without adding lots of time to your training schedule? By simply building training sessions with a specific focus on pedal stroke regularly into your weekly training plan. Best of all?  Because this is strictly intended as an aerobic workout you can build it into your training regardless of where you are in your training season.  Here’s the drill.

1 Hour Cadence Training Session: 

  • Warm up for 10 minutes.  Include a couple of easy single leg drills and fast spins.
  • First Set:  Start with your cadence at 90RPMs in a moderate gear and increase it by 2RPMs every 2 minutes for 18 minutes then spin easy for 2 minutes.
  • Second Set:  Start with you cadence at 92RPMs in a moderate gear and increase by 2RPMs every 2 minute for 14 minutes and then 2 minutes easy spin.
  • Third Set:  Start with your cadence at 94RPMs in a moderate gear and increase 2 RPMs every 2 minutes for 12 minutes and finish the hour with 2 minutes easy spin.

For obvious reasons you’ll need a cadence meter and it should only be done on a trainer because it’s easier to control and safer than dodging traffic.  If you’re a bit time challenged then simply cut out a set or two but try to get in at least 30 minutes to achieve some benefit from this session.

This routine is one of my favorite aerobic workouts, especially during the base building phase and on active recovery days in between those hard sessions.  For extra credit be sure to set up your running gear so you can finish your workout with a short transition run.  For best results, focus on transferring your cadence work on the bike into a quick cadence on the run.

If you incorporate this workout once or twice a week on your easier days you’ll soon be pedaling like a pro.

That’s it for this week.  Until next time train safe, stay healthy, and hope to see you at the races.

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