By following these tips, you will pedal perfect circles and produce more power with less energy.
For the most part, competitive cyclists are keenly aware of how they can improve their performance. Iconic cycling legend Eddy Merckx summed it up when saying…
“Ride as much or as little, or as long or as short as you feel. But ride.”
While the focus is primarily on improving our cycling endurance and strength through time in the saddle spent training and just riding in general. Weight training, plyometrics, flexibility exercise, and other off-the-bike modalities are essential in improving cycling performance.
Many Factors Affect our Race Results
When it comes to racing and results, strategy, positioning, drafting, course selection, equipment choice, and teamwork are significant factors. There is also bike handling and experience, making up for deficiencies in other areas and masking our weaknesses.
Virtual cyclists and esports competitors do not have that luxury.
The relatively static nature of most indoor trainer setups, even the more dynamic rocker plate designs, allows for an advantage not realized on the road or trails.
The Advantage Virtual Cyclists Have
The ability to focus on pedaling technique without the distractions to safety found when riding on a varied course in the presence of other racers is a unique element of virtual cycling and can be utilized to improve performance.
The technological advances in this area that allow detailed observation and analysis of the multiple metrics and components of the pedaling cycle enhance this virtual cycling advantage.
In our previous posts on this topic, an overview of the phases of the pedal stroke, the muscles used at each point during the cycle, and related external factors which can be of effect, were described in essential detail. In the following, take the opportunity to use that knowledge and translate it into performance gains through improvements in pedaling technique.
The Importance of the Pedal Stroke
A foremost expert in the science of pedaling, Dr. Barney Wainwright of Leeds Beckett University, UK, gives his authoritative opinion on why it is essential to refine your stroke.
“Poor pedaling can be very performance limiting. It can be very metabolically inefficient, increasing the energy cost for any given distance. An ‘energy-efficient’ pedal stroke is one where for any given power output, there is minimal energy required.”
Through his work with elite cyclists, Dr. Wainwright demonstrated that improving pedaling efficiency can produce gains without requiring a change in power output.
Other studies have shown as much as a five bpm decrease in heart rate at the same power after pedaling efficiency was refined.
Steps You Can Take To Improve Your Pedaling Technique
- Get a proper bike fit-An analysis of your positioning by a certified professional knowledgeable in how varying it can produce increases in power and efficiency and equipped with the technology to measure it objectively.
- Strength and Flexibility Exercise-Perform an exercise program designed to address your strength and flexibility weaknesses and limitations, emphasizing maximizing core and glute strength, and decreasing hip flexor tightness.
- Perform Pedaling Drills Designed to Refine Efficiency
Pedal Stroke Drills
- Spin-Ups: In an easy gear, progressively increase your cadence to as fast as possible while retaining proper position, a fluid stroke, and without bouncing.
- Single-Leg Pedaling: With only one foot clipped in, pedal in a light gear and focus upon smooth transitions and elimination of dead zones in your stroke.
- Pull Back: Concentrate on pulling your foot backward as the pedal approaches the bottom of the stroke, and as you improve, combine with a more forceful push-down.
- Push Forwards: Concentrate on pushing your foot forwards as the pedal approaches the top of the stroke, and as you improve, combine with a more forceful push-down.
Pedaling Drill Tips
- Add pedal stroke drills to your training 2 to 3 times per week.
- Perform drills during your warm-up to save time and activate your muscles to pedal efficiently.
- Once you have improved your technique at a regular cadence, vary your rpm and the power you apply to the pedals.
- Research thoroughly and invest in one of the many pedal stroke efficiency measuring devices available, allowing you to analyze changes you make in real-time and document your progress.
- Much more effectively performed when using clipless pedals.
For me, paying particular attention to pedaling efficiency and effectiveness is a ‘no brainer’! The potential to improve my performance, even increase my power production, without any extra effort. What could be better?
Your thoughts and experience
What tip, trick, drill, or fit suggestion has improved your pedaling efficiency the most? Your fellow virtual cyclists would like to know.
Semi-retired as owner and director of his private Orthopedic Physical Therapy practice after over 20 years, Chris is blessed with the freedom to pursue his passion for virtual cycling and writing. On a continual quest to give back to his bike for all the rewarding experiences and relationships it has provided him, he created a non-profit, and through its work and the pages of this site, Chris is committed to helping others with his bike. His gain cave is located on the North Fork of Long Island where he lives with his beautiful wife and is proud of his two college student children.