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Pedaling Motion for Increased Power

by Bruce Hendler - AthletiCamps

How would you like to:
- Increase your power to the pedal stroke using the same amount of energy?
- Improve your ability to accelerate and respond to a pack in a group ride or bike race situation?
- Develop better control of the bike?
- Experience less fatigue over longer rides?

Well now you can! Believe it or not, pedaling a bicycle is a learned habit. Most people think you get on a bike and the pedaling motion basically takes care of itself. Well, yes and no. It does take care of itself, but you can also do a lot of things to improve the efficiency of your pedal stroke. As a simplified analogy, think of a golf swing and how people spend hours and hours and A LOT of money to improve their swing efficiency. Fortunately in our sport, we really dont have to spend that kind of cash and we can improve relatively easily by using a couple time tested methods.

Lets start out with a definition of efficiency:

"...optimizing the energy output on the bike in such a manner as to derive the maximum power into the drive train with the least amount of energy lost as a result of engaging muscle groups that are not directly related to the pedal stroke."

Now in English:
Pedaling smoothly through the two dead spots located at top and bottom of the pedal stroke.
Having a more supple and less choppy rotation (i.e. no mashing), especially when you are tired at the end of a long workout or race.
Learning to relax during the stroke

So what are the best ways to improve the pedaling action? I am a BIG fan of setting up a fixed gear bike. Be careful, were not talking about the increasingly popular single speed. We are basically talking about a track bike for the road where there is no ability to freewheel. Using a fixed gear bike forces you to learn how to pedal because you are at the mercy of the movement of the bike and the fixed gear (i.e. 39x17) selection you make. Personally, in the winter, I ride my fixed gear two to four times per week. I find that it adds something different to my training program, where even the shortest and easiest rides have a purpose constant pedaling action. Sure it took a while to get used to not being able to stop pedaling, but just like everything else we do; I got use to it and now can go out easily for 3+ hours in the hills! Another major advantage of using a fixed gear is increases muscle endurance. Think about it, pedaling for 3+ hours! Just a quick tip if you decide to set one up. Think about purchasing a road bike Rock Shox seat post. It comes in very handy! Trust me!

Another way to improve pedaling efficiency is to take the extreme opposite approach. That is to pedal big gears slowly and deliberately (i.e. slow motion). This also helps you concentrate on the complete 360 degree while at the same time, increasing power. One of the workouts we stress at AthletiCamps are called SFRs (Slow Frequency Revolutions). SFRs are best done on a 3-5% grade with a 40-50 RPMs. They can also be done on a trainer where you lift the front wheel up a few inches to simulate climbing. Think of them as weight lifting on the bike. They are done starting at 1-2 minutes in length with a very low heart rate. Then depending on your goals, are increased in both distance and time.

So there you have it in a nutshell. A couple effective ways to improve your pedaling efficiency. Try adding both of them to your training program and you will see a big improvement next year.

Bruce Handler created AthletiCamps to provide cycling specific coaching and training to athletes and cyclists of all levels. Find out more at


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