Perfect your pedal stroke13 July, 2013 0 comments
Perfect your pedal stroke for better cycling performance
You might think there’s nothing easier than pedaling on a bike – you learned it as a child, didn’t you? But the exact way in which you circle your feet can have an effect on your cycling performance. Of course, you don’t need to learn specifics to be able to ride your bicycle and enjoy it, but a better stroke will get you further with less difficulty and more power. It’s a lot like swimming in this sense – brute force is beneficial but it takes technique to rise to a higher level as an athlete.
The perfect pedal stroke (as the perfect anything!) is a subject debated among experts, and elite cyclists may therefore have different approaches to it. If you are just beginning to learn about improving your pedal stroke, however, there are some basics you can definitely benefit from. Read on!
Firstly, make sure your saddle height is correct
As a prerequisite to an efficient pedal stroke, you should make sure that your saddle is the right height for your build. If it’s too low, your knees may start to suffer, and if it’s too high, you won’t be able to apply force effectively. Therefore, make sure you follow these guidelines when setting up your bike – when you sit on your bike with the pedal at 6 o’ clock, there should be the slightest bend in your knee, and with the pedal at 3 o’ clock, your knee should be over the ball of your foot.
Align your hips, knees and ankles
For an efficient pedal stroke, you want to direct as much energy directly onto the pedals as possible. Thus you should make sure that you don’t spend unnecessary energy on extra movements with your legs. Imagine viewing your pedal stroke from the front – your hips, knees and ankles should line up during the whole stroke. Try to avoid any movement from side to side.
Aim for smooth circles
Although during short and intense bursts of effort even elite cyclists prefer focusing mainly on the downward push, during longer rides a smooth circular stroke becomes more important and is less fatiguing for the legs. Therefore you should aim to reduce jerky pedaling and instead focus on equal pressure throughout the stroke. This doesn’t mean you have to stress pulling up the pedal during the upstroke, but just that you aim to reach a smoothness in the circular motion.
Examine the motions of your feet
The angle of your feet isn’t the same throughout the stroke. Generally, your toes should point slightly upwards during the downstroke and downwards during the upstroke. To make your feet do the right thing, you can imagine pulling your feet through the bottom of the stroke as similar to scraping mud off your shoe. During the phase at the top of the stroke, it may help to focus on pushing the knees towards the handlebars. Since the motions of your feet are quick during cycling, it is good to anticipate these motions and start them early, so you can be sure your brain manages to send a signal to your legs in time for action.
Researchers have determined that mountain bikers have the smoothest pedal strokes of all. This is because mountain bikers often have to deal with loose gravel, and maintaining a smooth motion is a way to avoid sliding on the surface, as it ensures a constant grip. Therefore, riding offroad can be a good practice for achieving a smoother stroke, and this skill can then extend to all your cycling practice.
Don’t treat all situations the same
As mentioned earlier, sprinting can benefit from a more forceful downstroke than long rides. Additionally, you may want to adjust the position of your feet according to the situation. During a full sprint, you can raise your heels higher to engage force. During hill climbs, a lower heel can increase your climbing ability once you get used to the technique.
Do some specific training
If you want to improve the smoothness and efficiency of your stroke, it is good to focus a bit on its details. One option is to train pedaling with one leg at a time for some minutes - you can either do this on a stationary bike by setting your other leg aside, or outside by only applying force with one leg while you ride. Alternatively, you can try to concentrate on one part of the stroke at a time for a few minutes, taking turns to focus on upstroke, overstroke, and backstroke respectively. These exercises that you can easily incorporate into your workouts will contribute to a smooth and balanced stroke.
Remember that everyone is individual
The anatomy and preferences of each cyclist can be different. Therefore, if a movement doesn’t feel natural after a while, it may not be for you. For example, individual flexibility and biomechanical characteristics can determine the most comfortable and efficient heel height for you during a stroke. It is great to try out different tweaks and ask for advice, but at the end of the day everyone has to find a way that suits them best.