Riding a bike might be something that comes naturally once you learn as a child, but riding with optimal power and finesse takes years of training and practice. To pedal like a pro, you must rid your stroke of dead spots and focus on efficiency. Not all cycling pros ride in an identical way -- many find a stroke that works best for them. Training with some of their techniques can help you find the pedaling strategy that works for you, and can help improve your power and speed out on the road.
Before you even think about developing your pedal stroke like a pro, you must have proper bike fit. If the seat is too high, you won't produce enough power; if it's too low, your knees may hurt and you'll have trouble firing the right muscles. The fore and aft position of the seat is also critical to optimal pedaling. You want your knee to be directly over the ball of the foot when your foot is at the 3 o'clock position of the pedal stroke. For optimal bike fit, contact your local bike shop and have a professional fit performed.
The Whole Stroke
Pro cyclists may look like machines as they smoothly pedal and handle their bikes, but they are individuals. As a result, the way they pedal differs from cyclist to cyclist. Some pros, such as Greg LeMond, advocate and employ a technique that uses the entire pedal stroke, not just the downstroke. At the bottom of the stroke, focus on pointing your toe about 20 degrees and pulling as if you're scraping mud off the bottom of your shoes. Advocates of this technique say the movement engages your hamstrings and calves so you recruit more muscles during the entire pedal stroke.
Not all pros use this scraping and pulling up method to produce power. Researchers Jeff Broker, Ph.D., and Jim Martin, Ph.D., provide evidence that pulling up may not be the best technique and could result in injury because it puts undue stress on the hamstrings and hip flexors. You also cannot realistically get your leg muscles to change the way they fire when your pedaling at relatively quick 90-RPM cadences. Instead, as explained in a 2014 issue of The Telegraph, Broker suggests you emphasize the downward stroke, known as the "drive" or "power" phase. This phase begins at the top of the pedal stroke, or 12 o'clock, and ends at 6 o'clock. To achieve the most power, Todd Carver, a biomechanist in Boulder, Colorado, advised Bicycling magazine readers to position their heels parallel to the ground while driving downward, or even dropping them 10 degrees. Carver says the sign of a novice is this lack of heel drop in the power phase. Don't wait until you reach 12 o'clock or more into the power phase to initiate power, either. As you begin to reach the top of the stroke, visualize your knee pushing forward. Avoid moving your pelvis forward and back in response; keep your hips as a stable platform.
Pros' smooth, seemingly effortless pedal strokes are the envy of less proficient riders. One-legged pedaling drills and slow-cadence climbing drills can help you find dead spots in your pedal stroke so you too can smooth it out. A smooth pedal stroke isn't universal among pros, but most eventually develop it because it's less fatiguing than mashing erratically. Smoothness of pedal stroke is also a factor of stability in the knees. For your pedal stroke to be as efficient as a pro's, you need to push your legs up and down like a piston. If your knees stray from side to side as you pedal, you're reducing your cycling efficiency. Strong inner thighs help you prevent wobbling -- but if you find practice and strength training don't prevent your knees from moving laterally, seek guidance from a physical therapist or coach who can determine whether you need orthotics or other adjustments.
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