Pedaling the bicycle is what cycling is all about! Why would you not want to be the most efficient at this one thing? It is what I have focused on the most this year! Testing what works and what does not work.
Quiet Upper Body
I believe one of the most important things (that is not stressed enough in the proper pedal stroke) is keeping a quiet upper body. You may have heard “keep a quiet upper body” but why?
Keeping a quiet upper body sets the rest of the pedal stroke up for success. I started by pedaling up a hill and as soon as I started to get sloppy (head moving back and forth – happened very quickly as explained in my previous post about hill climbing) I either turned around and went down or got out of the saddle to continue to climb. No sloppiness allowed!
After keeping a quiet upper body it all runs down from there…
Have your hip, knee and ankle in a line, this is your most efficient and powerful position! Unfortunately, not all of us do this. It is a good idea to set yourself up on a trainer and either use a mirror or a spotter to watch your natural pedal stroke.
I think we have all seen the bow-legged cyclists heading down the highway; don’t let that person be you! This type of pedaling technique is inefficient and can even lead to knee injuries… trust me! (I used to be “that” guy!)
Pedal in a circle!
Doesn’t everyone pedal in a circle? No, they actually do not!
It is easier said than done! Your goal is to accomplish a smooth circle that applies force all around the pedal stroke. Let’s break it down…
Your down stroke happens between 1 and 5 o’clock, if we were comparing your pedal stroke to a clock.
This is where most of the power happens. Most of us do not struggle here, we all know how to push down. Your heel should be even to the ground or even slightly below your toe by as much as 20 degrees.
The pull back happens between 5 and 7 o’clock.
This motion should feel as if you are scraping mud off of your shoes. You will be engaging your calf here and pointing your toe down approximately 10 degrees.
The lift up happens between 7 and 11 o’clock.
Your goal here is to lift the pedal up and start pulling toward the sky and later the bar top. Have your ankle at approximately 20 degrees. This is where your knee is going to want to push to the outside (bow legged). Do not let this happen, keep a strong core.
It feels as if you will be lifting the pedal up here and generating a lot more power than you actually are! What you actually are doing is lifting the weight of your leg and making it so your opposing leg is not lifting it up with the down stroke.
At a slower cadence you actually are generating power on the upstroke.
The set up happens between 11 and 1 o’clock.
Drive your foot forward. Your ankle should be transitioning from 20 degrees to 0 degrees here. It is a good idea to have someone film your natural pedaling technique.
Train Each Phase Then Integrate
Each of these phases mentioned above should be focused on separately and then integrated. It is very difficult to combine them all at once.
I have been focusing on perfecting my pedaling technique for an entire year and I am still not where I want to be. It is difficult! For me it is very quantifiable as I have a computrainer that rates me on efficiency.
Improve Your Pedaling Technique
There are several ways to improve your pedaling technique.
Spin on your way downhill – Try to achieve a high cadence in a small gear downhill without bouncing on your saddle. Again focus on a quiet upper body and a strong core.
One leg drills – Pedal with one foot. This will force you to pedal all the way through and develop your “smooth pedal stroke” muscles.
Rollers – When you feel like you have good balance try out some trainer rollers and this will do wonders for your pedaling technique. It will force you to pedal smoothly or you will fall! I do not suggest rollers for the beginner cyclist. They are difficult and frustrating and you should start on trainer.
Fixed gear – Kid style! Fixed gear bikes force you to pedal in circles or you will get bounced around.
If you were to focus on one thing in the next few months this would be it! Your greatest efficiency gains are in your pedal stroke! In average human standings… I went from 0 to pretty awesome just by improving my pedaling technique.
I still focus on my cycling technique nearly every ride. When I began I could hold a good technique for 15 to 30 seconds before I started to get sloppy and my hip flexors were screaming. It takes time and focus to build up, but it is worth it! Your muscles develop faster than you would think and in no time you will be flying up hills and along the flats efficiently and with a quiet upper body.
Striving to achieve the perfect pedaling technique is worth the time and energy, I promise!