Something that can make a huge difference to performance is the quality of your pedal stroke on the bike. Pedal stroke should always be smooth, consistent and deliver your power evenly throughout the pedal stroke. This is something different to general cardiovascular fitness and a strong pedalling technique can make the most of whatever fitness you do have.
But how exactly do you go about improving the quality of your pedal stroke?
Setting aside the nuances and vagaries of your position on the bike, the best place to start is simply by becoming aware of your current pedal stroke and how it feels. This the starting point.
When on your next ride (and without reducing your road awareness or level of safety!), focus on your legs and how they rotate the pedals. Does the motion feel reciprocal (simply up and down) or does it feel circular (round and round)? Is it a combination of both, or one when seated and one when climbing? Is your upper body stable whilst pedalling, or is there excessive movement? Ideally your body should be controlled at all times to avoid wasting unnecessary energy.
Are you knees pointed outward, inward or straight ahead? How are your feet aligned with the direction of travel? Really start to feel yourself on the bike. Make a mental note of your current technique and ask yourself does it feel comfortable, uncomfortable, natural or unnatural? Once you have a picture of where you’re at, you can start thinking about how you might improve.
Four simple drills that can help
1. Cadence drills: One of the most important aspects of an efficient pedal stroke is maintaining a steady cadence. To improve your cadence, try doing cadence drills where you alternate between high and low cadences for short periods of time. For example, you could alternate between 100 RPM for 1 minute and 60 RPM for 1 minute.
2. Single-leg drills: Single-leg drills are designed to improve your pedal stroke by isolating each leg and allowing you to focus on the motion of each pedal stroke. You can do this by unclipping one foot and pedalling with the other leg for 30 seconds to 1 minute, then switch to the other leg.
3. Hill repeats: Hill repeats are a great way to build strength and improve your pedal stroke by forcing you to engage your entire leg muscles. Find a hill with a steady incline and ride up it in a relatively high gear, focusing on maintaining a smooth and steady pedal stroke.
4. Intervals: Intervals are an effective way to improve your pedal stroke by simulating race conditions and allowing you to practice maintaining a consistent effort level over time. For example, you could do 2-minute intervals where you pedal as hard as you can for 2 minutes, then recover for 1 minute, and repeat.
Why not pick one drill next time you are out on the bike and find a suitable location to give it a try. Simply trying the drills will in itself start you thinking about the mind-muscle connection and this improved level of awareness will only grow over time. Consistency is key to all of this.
One final point is that it’s only by considering your comfort and technique on the bike ALONGSIDE accurate power data can you start to make sense of what works for you. There are many cycling power meters out there but be aware, not all are created equal.
The InfoCrank and IC2 from Verve InfoTech have been designed to take the measurements that matter. With 256Hz measurements of both torque and cadence to give a real power number – not a 4Hz fudge or estimation like many of the other brands. How can 4Hz be sufficient when it leaves out entire pedal rotations despite how the head unit may mislead you!
The Verve InfoCrank is in use by many of the top teams and federations in the world, including the UCI. There’s a reason those who know about performance choose the InfoCrank, for the simple reason that the data is the product of actual measurement. So if you’re serious about improvement as opposed to just having a number on a head unit, check out the InfoCrank and IC2 today.