Per­fect YOUR Pedal Stroke

Peanuts, cir­cles, mash­ing, pulling up, left/right bal­ance…? Sim­ple ped­alling has be­come very con­fus­ing.

Bicycling (South Africa) - - FRONT PAGE - BY MARK CAR­ROLL

Cy­cling’s a sim­ple process: you get on the bike, you turn the ped­als, the bike moves for­ward. But in mod­ern cy­cling, even some­thing as sim­ple as ped­alling has be­come a de­tailed sci­ence.

So how much tech­nique is re­ally in­volved in ped­alling? Are there ben­e­fits – say, more power at the same heart rate – if you im­prove your tech­nique? What about ped­alling with both left and right leg pro­duc­ing the same power out­put? Does it make a dif­fer­ence?

It’s all been a talk­ing point for a while now. But is our think­ing flawed? Time to take a closer look at some of the ma­jor ped­alling the­o­ries – and see if we can tell our left from our right.

The­ory 1: ‘ IM­PROV­ING PED­ALLING TECH­NIQUE MAKES YOU MORE ECO­NOM­I­CAL AND EF­FI­CIENT.’

Ex­cept for the rider who throws his or her up­per body all over the bike, this sim­ply isn’t true. Your aer­o­bic fit­ness and the make- up of your mus­cle fi­bres will de­ter­mine your econ­omy and ef­fi­ciency – be­cause your ped­alling ac­tion is con­strained: you’re clipped into the ped­als, and driv­ing the crank in a fixed ro­ta­tion. You can’t mod­ify stride length, as you can in run­ning, or cor­rect your stroke, as in swim­ming.

But there are some ba­sic ar­eas to be aware of and to fo­cus on when ped­alling:

Keep a sta­ble pelvis. In­cor­rect set- up can af­fect this; but so can lack of fo­cus.

Avoid a ‘ thud’ at the top and bot­tom of the stroke by ‘ scrap­ing’ through the bot­tom, so there’s a smoother tran­si­tion from left leg to right.

The­ory 2: ‘ YOU MUST AL­WAYS PULL UP ON THE PED­ALS.’

Stud­ies have shown that the more pow­er­ful the rider, the greater the power vari­ance be­tween down­stroke and the up­stroke. To ride faster, they need to push down harder – not pull up harder.

In re­al­ity, the up­stroke makes a neg­a­tive con­tri­bu­tion to power pro­duc­tion. The down­stroke leg is help­ing to push the up­stroke leg. In a study by Coyle et al, the re­searchers com­pared elite cy­clists to sub- elites, and found the elite group cre­ated “larger propul­sive torques by cre­at­ing sig­nif­i­cantly larger forces in the ver­ti­cal di­rec­tion on the pedal dur­ing the down­stroke, and by not at­tempt­ing to pull up dur­ing the up­stroke”.

To il­lus­trate: in or­der to ride at a steady 300 watts, the down­stroke leg may need to pro­duce 400 watts, with 100 watts ‘lost’ in push­ing the up­stroke leg. This loss is due to mus­cle make-up, the weight of the leg, and in­er­tia. Try­ing to force this ac­tion can ac­tu­ally re­duce ef­fi­ciency, for two pos­si­ble rea­sons:

Ac­tively pulling up desta­bilises the pelvis, and hin­ders the pro­duc­tion of force in the down­stroke leg.

The brain is un­able to co- or­di­nate up­stroke and down­stroke mus­cles si­mul­ta­ne­ously; it just works bet­ter when it only needs to fo­cus on push­ing down.

The­ory 3: ‘ YOU MUST PRO­DUCE AN EVEN, 50/ 50 POWER OUT­PUT IN BOTH LEGS.’

De­spite what you think, the hu­man body is not sym­met­ri­cal; i.e. the left side is not a mir­ror im­age of the right. There can be foot-size dis­crep­an­cies, leg-length dis­crep­an­cies, prona­tion dis­crep­an­cies; they all af­fect power- out­put bal­ance.

So, for ex­am­ple, if you try to chase an even, 50/50 out­put by push­ing harder with your ‘weaker’ leg (or tap­ping off on the ‘stronger’ leg), it may have a neg­a­tive im­pact on per­for­mance if the is­sue is sim­ply that one of your legs is shorter than the other.

This is not to say that some im­bal­ances can’t be im­proved, or even to­tally rec­ti­fied, through mus­cle-im­bal­ance cor­rec­tion, stretch­ing, re­hab, etc. 50/50 may still be out of reach, but as­sess­ment and cor­rec­tion of im­bal­ances can cer­tainly help your ‘weaker’ leg pro­duce greater force – nat­u­rally.

YOU CAN’T MOD­IFY STRIDE AS YOU CAN IN RUN­NING, OR COR­RECT YOUR STROKE, AS IN SWIM­MING.

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