Efficient Cycling

by | Dec 9, 2014 | Cycling

By Steve Karlsson

With the arrival of winter, most of us are moving indoors to do our riding. As such, the timing couldn’t be better to discuss 4 important workout techniques to improve pedaling efficiency on your bike.

What do I mean by efficiency?:

From the Journal of Science and Cycling: “Efficiency: the ratio of work generated to the total metabolic energy cost. It has been suggested to be a key determinant of endurance cycling performance.”

Also, efficiency relates to the precision with which an athlete, in any sport, is able to move their limbs. The more efficient that your movement patterns are, the less energy is required for the activity. We all want to save energy, right?

1. High RPM Pedaling

Better and more efficient pedaling mechanics through high speed pedaling.

How: On your trainer or a flat road (the gearing should be light; with low pedal resistance). Start at 85-90 RPMS and accelerate while staying in the saddle, keeping your hips smooth, with no rocking. Concentrate on pulling through the bottom of the pedal stroke and pushing over the top. After this initial ramp up period, you should be maintaining 110-120 RPM for the entire time prescribed for the workout. Your heart rate will climb while doing this workout; but, don’t use it to judge your training intensity. An example might include after 15-20 warm up riding, complete 6 x (45sec High RPM Pedaling followed by 45sec recovery riding). The recovery would be at your normal cadence, with an easy gear. These sets of High RPM Pedaling are great to add to a long endurance trainer ride at the end of your warm up.

2. One Legged Pedaling

Improve pedaling mechanics. Expect increased power over top-dead-center and through bottom-dead-center of the pedal stroke.

How: For safety, please do this on a trainer. The length of each interval is the amount of time spent pedaling per leg. This workout should be performed at a moderate intensity level – don’t try to pedal too hard while doing this interval because you risk injury. While pedaling, visualize scraping your toes through the bottom of the pedal stroke (like you are trying to rub mud off your shoes). Over the top of the pedal stroke, push your pedal forward just before you reach top dead center. You may adapt to better pedaling slowly, but stick with it and continue to focus on correct pedaling throughout the entire year. Most intervals should be 30-60 seconds of one legged pedaling per leg, and you can expect to perform 3 intervals for each leg before having a rest period of 5-10 minutes. Normally, a coach will prescribe 3-5 sets during one workout.

3. Big Gear Intervals

A great way to transfer strength gains from the weight training room to your bike!

How: This workout should be performed on a long, moderate (5-8%) climb or on a trainer with your front wheel set 12-15cm above the normal horizontal plane, simulating a climbing position. Pedal cadence must be low (about 50-55 RPMs) and the heart rate intensity is not important (because your legs are moving slowly, your heart rate will be low). Perceived exertion would be a 7 to 8 out of 10 effort level. Large gears like 53×12-15 are required to produce the low cadence and high tension. Correct form must be strictly maintained during these intervals. Keep your upper body absolutely smooth and relaxed while concentrating on correct pedaling form (over the top and through the bottom of the pedal stroke). Your workout might resemble the following: 20 min warm up riding + 4 x (8min big gear riding + 6min easy recovery riding) + a cool down.

4. Sprints

Sprints develop acceleration, and improve efficiency. They also improve the effectiveness of your fast-twitch muscle fibres, and improve your body’s ability to use the high-energy adenosine triphosphate (ATP) stored in your muscle tissues.

How: Sprints are always performed at 100% maximum output. On a trainer or flat terrain, you should be rolling along at a moderately fast speed (depending on your fitness level) and in a light gear. To begin the sprint, jump out of the saddle, (accelerating the entire time), and then return to the saddle after a few seconds (focusing on maintaining high pedal speed, with smooth and efficient form) for the entire sprint. These sprints should be 8-10 seconds in length. Full recovery between sprints is very important: to allow for rebuilding of ATP in the muscles; and, to ensure a quality sprint workout. Normally, 5-10 minutes allows for enough recovery before adding another sprint to your workout. You can incorporate sprints by performing one sprint every 10 minutes; completing 4-8 sprint reps throughout an endurance ride on the trainer, or on flat terrain.

Steve Karlsson is a Personal Best Multisport Coach. He and his colleagues have worked with One Health Clubs, providing expert advice regarding endurance and multisport training.

Email steve@personabest.ca if you have questions or want to find out more about the multisport programs that are now offered at One Health Clubs.