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This week’s bike workout is courtesy of Olympian and coach Ryan Bolton, a former collegiate runner-turned-pro triathlete who now coaches athletes that range from beginner to elite. Excerpted from The Triathlete Guide to Sprint and Olympic Triathlon Racing, this cycling set is ideal for early season training, or a time when you’re able to temporarily push “pause” on building fitness—like post-injury or with an uncertain race calendar.
Though on the outside, this may seem like a technique-only set, the beauty of this short-but-sweet session for the indoor trainer is that you’ll actually be working harder than you think, even for under an hour. Because you’ll be spending quite a bit of time in single-leg mode—and assuming you’re doing this inside—your legs will actually be more tired than you’d expect. The more obvious benefit is that by pedaling so much with only one leg at a time, you’ll learn a much more efficient pedal stroke.
The 4 phases of an efficient pedal stroke
When using single-leg drills to create an efficient pedal stroke, you should focus on the following four phases:
- Phase 1 (12 o’clock to 4 o’clock: This is the most powerful phase of the pedal stroke because you can use your weight to aid the major muscles like the quads and glutes to produce force. In this phase, focus on dropping your heel, not pointing your toes; the foot should be 20 degrees from flat at the top of the phase, gradually flattening by 3 o’clock.
- Phase 2 (4 o’clock to 6 o’clock): By 4 o’clock, your ankle should start angling back up to that 20-degree mark, arriving there by the time you hit 6 o’clock. You’re still using the quads and glutes, even as the calves and hamstrings start to take over. At the end of this phase, you will begin transitioning from pushing down on the pedals to pulling up.
- Phase 3: (6 o’clock to 10 o’clock): The most difficult phase in the pedal stroke, here you’ll engage the calves and hamstrings even more. Though it will feel like you’re pulling up through the pedals, it is actually centrifugal force that is pulling your foot up and over. The best thing to do is think about “getting out of the way” to let centrifugal force do its thing, so imagine releasing the muscle rather than engaging the opposite one. Your ankle should still be 20 degrees from flat.
- Phase 4: 10 o’clock to 12 o’clock: At 10 o’clock, think about pedaling over the top of the circle, pushing through to the end of the phase at 12 o’clock. You should have your downstroke ready to go, so try to initiate that action early in this phase and prepare to transition from a 20-degree ankle angle to the slight heel drop in phase 1.
Ideally, do the isolated-leg cycling workout below on a trainer, and have your non-pedaling leg resting on a chair. Keep a comfortably high cadence, and really focus on eliminating the “dead” spot near the top of the stroke by pushing your toes forward in your shoes as you go over. During the first few reps, review the technique notes as you ride to help cement in good form for the rest of the workout.
One-Hour Workout: Endurance Isolated-Leg Cycling Set
20 min. easy spin
1 min. left-leg only (Rate of Perceived Exertion or RPE of 5)
1 min. right-leg only (Rate of Perceived Exertion or RPE of 5)
Be sure to make the switch as quickly as possible.
20 min. easy spin spin
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