Ahhh, behold the Perfect Pedal Stroke. Here were some of my musings/rantings from Fall 2007 on how to smooth out your perfectly efficient pedal stroke...
11/1/2007: WHAT IS A PERFECT PEDAL STROKE?
Lastly, I have declared November to be the Month of the Perfect Pedal Stroke (PPS, if you will). I will rant about this repeatedly. It will be my month's mission to have all of you riding with flat feet ("like scraping gum off the bottom of your show"), pulling up with your hamstrings in perfectly smooth, circular movements. Some checkpoints to keep in mind for now. Ultimately, these will become second nature if you practice:
1. "How far forward are my feet on the pedals?"
Most people have a tendency to slide their foot all the way forward into the stirrup. You actually want the BALL of your foot on the CENTER of the pedal. This takes the pressure off your arch (note: if you get arch pain, try sliding your foot back). Try tightening the pedal strap with your foot properly aligned to prevent sliding forward by default.
2. "Are my toes pointing down? THEY BETTER NOT BE!"
Of the 200+ students I teach in a given week, I'd estimate that 70 percent ride with their feet pointed slightly. Hell, it's more comfortable! But it's also placing undue pressure on the ankles, and preventing you from maximally working/toning your legs. Flat feet, always. Think about lifting your toes toward the ceiling and extending the calf with the heel down to keep your feet flat.
3. "Pull up, Pull up, Pull up"
I repeat this to myself (silently, to avoid strange looks) even while I'm walking up steep hills. You want to engage your hamstrings by focusing on your upstrokes - the "pull" portion of the pedal stroke. If you pull up forcefully with one foot, the other foot is already halfway around the cycle... Just in time for THAT foot to pull up. Lift the pedals, pulling the knee straight up (top and center, not out to the side).I guarantee that if you start working those circles of repeated upstrokes, you're going to be able to increase your fluidity at stronger resistance levels. And it's going to be awesome.
So, with that, Happy Month of the Perfect Pedal Stroke!____________________________________________
11/11/2007: FAST CHECKPOINTS TO ENSURE YOUR "PPS"
Hope you've had a great first week of Perfect Pedal Stroke Month! (I'm really quite a dork...). One of my Friday AM students told me that she repeats "flat feet, heels down" to herself in all her other spin classes ever since I delivered an epic PPS oration, and that absolutely made my day - and justifies my further ranting.
To remind you all, here are the tenets of the Perfect Pedal Stroke. Check in with them periodically throughout each ride, and I guarantee you'll experience a difference!
*1) "Ball of the Foot on the Center of the Pedal" **
*The first part of the PPS is your foot positioning - an oft-overlooked point. Most people ride with their foot all the way forward in the pedal cage. It's nearly impossible to keep your feet in the proper alignment, if you do this. Pull your foot back and tighten the straps, and periodically
check in with your positioning to ensure that the ball of your foot REMAINS right there in the center (since the tendency is to slide forward, even if you meticulously align yourself to start). You'll have more power on your upstrokes, and less pain/numbness in your toes and arches. *(*NOTE* - If you spin at least 2-3x per week, consider getting cycling shoes with SPD clips. They will keep the ball of your foot exactly where it needs to be. I recommend http://www.performancebike.com/ for stellar discounts. I got $300 shoes there for $45. One pair will last you at LEAST 6-8 years, since you're only wearing them indoors. They will not only make for a MUCH smoother pedal stroke, but they'll utterly change your life.)* You'll no longer have to worry about avoiding curling your toes (which is a common coping mechanism to keep your foot aligned, but stresses the tendons in the ankle and makes for atrocious form!), since your foot will now be kept in the proper pace. All you will have to do from now on is work on those "scraping" backwards motions -- and therefore be able to use more resistance... and burn more calories!
*2) "Heels Down, Toes Lift Slightly Towards the Ceiling... Like Scraping Mud Off the Bottom of Your Shoe."*
Check your heels (down) and toes (up) periodically throughout the ride. Again, the tendency is to shift your feet forward and point your toes down - try not to let that happen. If you're pointing your toes down, you're putting undue stress on the ankles and sides of the knee... instead of
letting your quads and hamstrings do all the work.
*3) "Powerful Upstrokes"*
We want to always be pulling UPWARDS, as opposed to pushing down. It's an uber-efficient way to go. After all, if you pull up forcefully with one foot, the other foot is already half of the way around. Cool, huh? I heard a colleague at a Continuing Ed workshop mention that he likes to use the mantra "Press and Pull" for focusing on those upstrokes. That works for some people... just remember that the "press" part is through the BALL of your foot (with heels down, toes still lifted slightly upwards) and NOT anything to do with pointing your toes. (*Again, cycling shoes make forceful, smooth upstrokes SO much easier to achieve!)
11/21/2007: Trick to Drive Home the Upstrokes... Pull Up on the Downbeats!
I had a minor epiphany during my class this morning that I'd like to share with you. Lately, my rides have been oriented around steep seated/standing climbs to get you to focus on proper pedaling technique while engaging the proper muscles as you *pull up* all the way around a complete circle. To help guide you, I've used music with heavy downbeats - to which I've been cuing you to use the rhythm, so that you don't have to think about anything else but staying with the music. This morning, I looked around the room and saw my whole class climbing in unison... but not in unison with me. Why was that? They were pushing down on the downbeats... when, really, a fantastic way to discipline yourself to truly be *pulling up* is to *make your UPSTROKES be on those downbeats*. It may sound like a subtle point, but give it a whirl and see if it helps.