Pedaling Drills for Road Biking: How to Use Cadence and Efficiency to Ride Faster
Imagine a cyclist pushing straight down on a big gear as hard as he can. When he reaches the bottom of the pedal stroke, rather than swiping the pedal back, he continues pushing down. What happens? His butt pops off the seat and suddenly he’s standing up. Now imagine that he’s spinning an easier gear at a high cadence. He doesn’t have the muscle control to stop pushing at the bottom of the pedal stroke, his hips pop up, and his butt bounces all over the place. Spinning at a high cadence does not cause inefficient movements in the pedal stroke, it just highlights them. If a cyclist can’t spin in an easy gear at over 100 revolutions per minute (rpm) without looking like their butt is filled with Jiffy Pop, then they can get more benefit out of doing pedaling drills than hill repetitions.
Isolated Leg Drills (ILD)
This drill is best done on a spin bike or a trainer but can be done on a flat, low-trafficked stretch of road. Put the bike in a relatively easy gear, and then unclip your left foot. The left leg must out to the side or be bent back out of reach of the cranks, which is why isolated leg training is easier on a stationary trainer. Ride down the road pedaling with only your right foot, trying to keep the pedal moving at the same speed through the rotation. After 30 seconds, clip the left foot back in and pedal easily for 30 seconds. When the second 30 seconds is up, repeat the drill with the left leg by unclipping the right.
To further root out dead spots in the pedal stroke, try isolated leg drills in a hard gear. The pedaling leg must push hard through all phases of the pedal revolution to keep moving fast enough to prevent the bike from toppling over. It doesn’t look cool, but the information you gather will be invaluable when it comes to improving pedaling technique and sharpening your muscle memory.
Focus Box Pedaling
The pedal stroke is divided into four quadrants: the top (from 11 o’clock to 1 o’clock), the downstroke (from 2 o’clock to 4 o’clock), the bottom (from 5 o’clock to 7 o’clock), and the recovery (from 8 o’clock back to 10 o’clock). Do another set of isolated leg drills in an easy gear. In each repetition, focus on one quadrant of the pedal stroke (right top, left top, right down stroke, left down stroke, and so on). Try to maximize power output in that phase, and practice a smooth transition into the next.
Shift down into a very easy gear, and begin pedaling like crazy. Start with a target cadence of over 100 rpm, but the drill is best done at a cadence of over 120 rpm. If a cadence meter is not available, count how many times one knee reaches the top of the rotation. You will probably find that your butt is bouncing around like a jumping bean as the leg muscles can’t get their act together to fire and stop firing when they need to at such a high cadence. Focusing on a circular pedal stroke will eventually allow you to reach high cadences with your bum planted firmly on the saddle. The idea behind doing drills is to work skills into muscle memory and make them automatic. The best cyclists practice until the changes are second-nature. Doing the preceding drill progression should iron out any wasted movements in your pedal stroke.