One of the goals of the Base period is to improve your speed skills -the unique techniques of your sport(s). At first these are learned by isolating them and making the movements slowly. As the movement pattern becomes ingrained the movement becomes faster and more complex as it is combined with other critical movements.
Pedaling a bike seems like it ought to be simple and require little in the way of skill. That’s not the case! In any group ride look around and you can pick out the riders who have good pedaling skills and those with poor skills. Efficiency – how much energy is wasted–or not – is what this is all about.
Athletes who are efficient at pedaling a bike are especially good at the top, bottom and recovery side of the pedal stroke. At the top they transition efficiently from pedaling up and back to pedaling forward and down. At the bottom of the stroke they do just the opposite without wasting energy. Riders who are not very good at pedaling make these transitions too late. This wastes a tiny amount of energy in every stroke. In one-hour you may make 5,000 to 6,000 pedal strokes. That is potentially a lot of wasted energy.
Efficient cyclists slightly unweight the pedal on the recovery side, or backside, of the stroke. Inefficient riders let the foot and leg on the recovery side rest on the pedal causing the other leg, the one driving the pedal down, to work harder to lift the dead weight of the recovery leg. Again, this wastes a lot of energy.
Note that we’ve not said anything about the front side of the pedal stroke. This side is easy to get right. Pushing the pedal down does not require much in the way of skill. The problem is that inefficient riders focus only on the down stroke. They “stomp” the pedals typically with a lot of excess, side-to-side, upper body movement. This also wastes a tremendous amount of energy.
Let’s get rid of the energy wasters in this Base period. Drills will help you to pedal better. Following are the common ones we do with all our athletes. *They may be mixed together in a single workout or each may be done by itself as a workout.
Isolated Leg Training (ILT)
This is the quintessential pedaling drill, the one you should do a lot in the early weeks of Base training phase. It’s done on an indoor trainer. Unclip one foot and rest it on a chair next to the bike so you are left to pedal with only one leg. With the bike in a low (easy) gear turn the crank at a comfortable cadence. The first thing you’ll notice is that getting through the top of the stroke, the 12-o’clock position, is difficult. Focus on smoothing this top transition. At first you may only last a few seconds before the hip flexors fatigue. When that happens switch to the other leg. When it fatigues clip both feet in and pedal for a few minutes applying what you have learned in the single-leg pedaling. Repeat the drill several times throughout the workout.
One-Legged Drill 45:00 Session
Isolated Leg Training—Trainer, road or stationary bike.
WU: 10:00 spinning easy
MS: 10 x 3:00 = (or start with 5 x 3:00 and build to 10 in later sessions)
Alternate 30 secs Right leg; 60 secs both legs; 30 secs Left leg, 60 secs both legs; then repeat—As you get better, you may increase time on isolated legs and decrease time on both legs.
(Non-working leg is resting on a stool or hanging straight down if on the road) for a total of 30:00.
Keep comfortably high cadence throughout. Focus on eliminating the dead spot at the top of your pedal stroke by pushing toes forward at the top of each revolution.
WARM DOWN: 5:00 Spin easy at comfortable cadence.
9 to 3 Drill
Try to drive pedal straight forward from 9 to 3 o’clock, without going up to 12 o’clock (impossible, but you get the idea).
Shoe Top Drill
Pedal with foot against the top inside of your shoe trying to avoid touching the insole, or bottom of your shoe.
Toe Touch (Toes Forward) Drill
Try to touch toes to end of your shoes at top of downstroke. Stay as relaxed as you can while doing these drills. No tension in feet, legs, hands, etc.
Gum Scrape Drill
Practice spin ups during any biking session.
After easy spinning warm up shift to a low (easy) gear and gradually increase your cadence higher and higher until it is so fast that you begin to bounce on the saddle. Then return to a normal cadence. It should take 30 seconds or so for each “spin-up.” The bouncing is because you have reached and gone slightly beyond your optimal high cadence. You bounce because your foot is still pushing down at the bottom (six-o’clock position) of the stroke. And since the crank arm can’t get any longer, as you push down your butt comes off of the saddle. This drill is best done with a cadence meter on your pedal so you know what your top-end cadence is. The goal is to raise your highest, optimal cadence by learning to transition smoothly at the bottom of the stroke. If you regularly practice high rpms (95+) then your optimal 90 cadence will feel much easier to maintain.
*High-cadence drills. Throughout a workout insert high-cadence intervals of a few minutes each. During each of these intervals increase your cadence to a level which is just slightly uncomfortable and then maintain it for the length of the interval. Use a low (easy) gear. Recover between the intervals for several minutes while pedaling at your normal cadence. Over the course of several weeks extend the duration of each interval and the combined interval time for the workout.
Spin Ups Session
WU: 15:00 easy to moderate gear/effort.
MS: Repeat 5-10 x 2:00 intervals
2:00 = Slowly spin-up (gradually go faster and faster pedaling in EASY gear) to MAX RPM <cadence> over 30 seconds. When you begin to bounce, back off just a bit, then maintain for about 15 seconds. Recover completely during remaining time (1:15). Repeat several times. Stay RELAXED throughout!
WD: 10:00 relaxed easy spin 90RPMs.