Training: Where do you start on your quest for that energy efficient smoothness?
We have all seen it at our local club ride or on TV, athletes with a seemingly effortless pedal stroke, turning an incredible cadence, power flowing to the pedals without any wasted motion or energy. Smooth and efficient transfer of energy from body to bike results in quicker times in the bike leg and leaving more reserves for the run leg. Armstrong harnessed a quicker and more efficient pedal stroke to help in his domination of the last three Tours. Competitors could not overlook his obviously quicker and more efficient pedaling style. Yes, we have seen it, read it, and heard it but have we practiced what is seemingly a key to success in the cycling discipline?
Triathletes spend incredible amounts of time and energy into refining swim stroke technique and an energy saving running style. The pedaling stroke is often overlooked; after all we have all been riding bikes since childhood. This is akin to saying you won't drown and that's good enough. And since the bike leg is always proportionally longer in time than the other legs of a triathlon, it starts to make sense that efficiency on the bike may warrant some serious thought and effort in your training regime.
Where do you start on your quest for that energy efficient smoothness? First off has to be bike fit. All talk about pedaling dynamics doesn't matter if your bike fit doesn't allow you to use your muscles in an effective manner. Correct fit makes learning and utilizing good pedaling mechanics much easier and will keep you more efficient (and injury free) in the long run. Proper bicycle fit will allow you to use the most of the correct muscle mass to apply force to the pedals.
The next step is to develop an efficient application of force. What this involves is applying force to the pedals during then entire 360 degrees that make up the pedal stroke. You can utilize a simple drill to help teach your nervous system and ready your musculature to apply force all the way around. This one legged pedaling drill will make you aware of deficiencies in pedal stroke and will stress the muscles in your legs that are not being used to their potential. Set your bike up on an indoor trainer and place a chair on each side of your bicycle. After a warm up period, place one foot on a chair, make sure that your hips are still square, and pedal a short interval with one leg only. Concentrate on the top and bottom sections of the pedal stroke, the areas where it is the most difficult to apply force. You should attempt to slide your foot forward inside your shoe as you clear the top of the stroke and slide your foot back inside your shoe across the bottom. As your foot starts to come up again, just try to carry the momentum back to the top. You are not attempting to apply an upward force, you are just unloading the weight of your leg from the pedal so that