One of my new rides this week, "Precision," is all about breaking down and mastering the Perfect Pedal Stroke -- even if we THINK we know how to pedal -- making sure that we are engaging the best muscle groups to get the job done, as opposed to merely allowing the muscles that happen to be dominant run the show... to the detriment of our entire bodies. (See: my posting over the weekend on muscle imbalances in cycling...).
I've written a ton about the Perfect Pedal Stroke before (check out the link to the left for relevant postings). But now I'm going to give you another way to think about your pedal stroke, similar to the way I've actually been coaching "Precision" itself...
Starting construct: Imagine your seated pedal stroke is a clock. Round, fluid, never-ending.
12 o'clock is at top of the circle; 6 o'clock is at the bottom of the circle; all the other places follow accordingly.
So here's what you should be doing at each segment of the "clock":
9 o'clock to 12 o'clock: "KICKING ACROSS the top of the circle." Drive the knee FORWARD.
3 o'clock (no earlier): push down, pushing through the BALL of your foot
5 o'clock to 7 o'clock: "WIPING the bottom of your shoe across the bottom of the circle."
7 o'clock to 8 o'clock: "PULL UP," lifting your knees directly to the chest.
The forward, wiping, and upstroke motions are really where you're going to get your power. But the key is making sure we are engaging the right muscle groups to get each motion effected. (How do we "engage" a muscle group? Just think about it. Just thinking about a muscle gets it involved... fascinating, eh?). So let us elaborate upon exactly which muscle groups we want working, when...
1) YOUR "KICK ACROSS" THE TOP OF THE CIRCLE
This is a horizontal motion... no up/down. Use your glute and your hamstring to drive the knee FORWARD and extend the hip. Think about maintaining a constant force, a fluid and elegant motion. Note: your pelvis does NOT come forward... only the knee!
2) YOUR "WIPING" BACK STROKE.
Also a horizontal motion, in the opposite direction from the "kick across the top." Here, we use the hamstring and the calf (dropping the heel for more power).
3) YOUR "UPSTROKE"
Remember that if you do not have a stroke upstroke with one leg, the other leg has to work twice as hard (if you're not pulling up with the first leg, it becomes dead weight and cancels out against the work of the other leg!). Sold that it's important yet? Good.
Here, we are using the hip flexor to drive the knee up towards the ceiling. We engage the hip flexor in order to give the hamstring time to recover (since it's firing so much for the other two key power-segments...). Do not let your knees go out to the side.
Try practicing each segment by itself, then start blending them toQgether until you have a seamless, fluid, elegantly PERFECT PEDAL STROKE!
Now, for standing climbs in Hand Position 3, it's a bit different. Still smooth and fluid... but no longer round. Instead, our pedal strokes become like pistons: straight up and down. So it's ALL about the upstrokes. No downstrokes; no mashing the pedals. Just pulling up forcefully, using the hip flexors AND the hamstrings to drive the knee straight up to the chest. Do not let your knees go out to the side.
Questions/comments? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
*UPDATE* Psychological Effects of Heart Rate Monitor Use Study
12/21/2010: Preliminary results were reported at Indoor Cycle Instructor in October 2010. Manuscript in preparation. Once published, results will be made available on this site and at ICI.