My collegiate career as a steeple-chase runner gave me power on the bike, so I always had strength to spare during my nearly 10-year career as a professional triathlete. But I spent years butting my head against the wall in cycling because I wasted all that strength in an inefficient pedal stroke. Thankfully, the solution to my problem turned out to be pretty simple: single-leg work. And while many of today’s advanced power meters analyze the efficiency of a rider’s pedal stroke, you don’t need one to reap the benefits of single-leg drills.
You also don’t have to take my word for it. In a 2011 study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, researchers gave already well-trained cyclists a single-leg workout routine over a two-week period. While they didn’t address participants’ form, the researchers concluded that single-leg intervals let cyclists to do more work per leg with less perceived exertion and leg pain.
Winter is the best time of year to start doing single-leg drills. Work them in twice a week after taking time off to reset, but before you start building base mileage. Bonus: They’re most effective on a trainer because you can focus 100 percent of your effort on creating perfect circles with your legs. So consider weather-enforced trainer time a gift in disguise.
Build a strong technical base for your upcoming season with the three single-leg workouts below.
If riding inside, rest your non-pedaling foot on boxes placed by your cranks. That’ll help keep your position on the saddle neutral. Resist the urge to put your foot on your trainer’s clamp by the back wheel—it can cause a drastic shift in your riding position and could even get your foot caught in your spinning spokes.
If you’re riding outside, let that non-pedaling leg dangle. But be sure it doesn’t get caught in any moving parts.
Each of these workouts is written assuming that it takes 5 to 15 seconds to clip and unclip your shoes. Don’t stop the watch while switching—getting faster at unhooking and hooking your foot is an added bonus.
Do one or two sets as part of your everyday warm-up, or do the full workout twice a week for best results.
Total time: 30 min
1:30 left leg, 1:00 both
1:30 right leg, 1:00 both
Total time: 32 min
1:15 left leg, 45 sec right leg, 2:00 both
1:15 right leg, 45 sec left leg, 2:00 both
Descending time, increasing effort
Total time: 36 min
2:00 left leg, 2:00 right leg, 2:00 both at 7/10 effort
1:15 left leg, 1:15 right leg, 1:15 both at 8/10 effort
45 sec left leg, 45 sec right leg, 45 sec both at 9/10 effort