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  1. #1
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    Beginner learning to pedal efficiently

    I'm trying to become a better climber and as part of this I've been reading on how to pedal more efficiently. I have a specific question that I couldn't find an answer to by searching. From what I understand you want to be applying pressure throughout your pedal "circle" for maximum efficiency.

    The problem I'm having is when at the top of my pedal stroke I push forward with my toes but if I do that for even just a short while my legs seem to get tired much quicker than if I don't think about doing that.

    It's hard to describe but it just doesn't feel quite right to push forward at the top of the stroke because of how weak whatever muscle it is doing that work, feels.

    Is my technique likely wrong or is it because I'm using muscles that previously weren't used much and they are just really weak and over time I won't get as tired if I keep it up?

  2. #2
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    Are you using clipless pedals? You should be pulling up with the low foot as you go over the top. You should be concentrating on both legs turning circles. If you aren't clipped in you can't turn circles because you can't pull up.
    I'm a member of NSMBA and IMBA Canada

  3. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by rockyuphill View Post
    Are you using clipless pedals? You should be pulling up with the low foot as you go over the top. You should be concentrating on both legs turning circles. If you aren't clipped in you can't turn circles because you can't pull up.
    Sorry forgot to mention that. Yes I'm clipped in.

    I may be focusing a bit too much on the foot that is at the top now that you mention it so maybe it's because it's doing all the work.

  4. #4
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    So, studies have shown that professionals, who should be more efficient as a result of hundreds of thousands of miles, do NOT pedal circles. They don't pull up.

    The only thing they do is "unload" the pedal.

  5. #5
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    Sources? I'm genuinely curious.

  6. #6
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    Beginner learning to pedal efficiently

    There was a thing that the MTB strength guy James posted about how when you push down on the pedals you are using all the muscles in your leg to do it. If I has to guess I would also say your leg is more efficient at pushing down than other directions. Thus it doesn't really make sense that it would be more efficient to pedal circles. What would make it more efficient?

    http://www.bikejames.com/strength/bu...-pedal-stroke/
    http://m.pinkbike.com/news/Which-Mus...roke-2012.html

    There was a thing in the Coggan power meter book where they talked about the very brief rests that BMx bikers get going over obstacles (.75-3s) and how they found those very short rest periods were actually extremely important to these top level pros. I kind of get the feeling that its the same when you pedal as if found I can train to become more comfortable pedaling at lower or higher cadences. Maybe those microrests get trained? Obviously I'm just purely speculating.

    Chances are if you are a beginner there are a lot of other things you'd be much better off focusing on than pedaling in circles. Like making sure you have a good training schedule. Practicing bike skills when you are riding, especially braking (the most obvious differentiator between beginners and others) Etc.

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by Le Duke View Post
    So, studies have shown that professionals, who should be more efficient as a result of hundreds of thousands of miles, do NOT pedal circles. They don't pull up.

    The only thing they do is "unload" the pedal.
    +1

    "Efficient cyclists slightly unweight the pedal on the recovery side, or backside, of the stroke. Inefficient riders let the foot and leg on the recovery side rest on the pedal causing the other leg, the one driving the pedal down, to work harder to lift the dead weight of the recovery leg. Again, this wastes a lot of energy." Joe Friel

    Also, from what I have read, what happens with riding time/pedaling drills, is you train your muscles to 'unload' at the top and bottom of pedal stroke. I have heard this can take as long as 2 years to train into a novice cyclist.

    The drills on link below may help. I will do a few 'one legged' and spin-ups during/after warm up. Some people may devote a recovery ride to drills. The 'toe touch' and 'top only' drill may help you. I would not 'over think' it though.
    Joe Friel's Blog: Pedaling Drills

    One thing to keep in mind if you are considering pedaling drills:
    In Hunter Allen's latest book "Cutting Edge Cycling" Dr. Andy Coggan says "Based on multiple lines of evidence I do not believe cyclists gain any significant benefit by performing cycling drill. Rather, cyclists should focus on maximizing power output while pedaling at a cadence that is appropriate for the cyclists individual characteristics and nature and demands of event."

    Dr. Coggan is probably talking about seasoned riders - I would think drills would help to a point as you are starting out.

    Jave - one more thing - is your seat height set up properly? A low seat height will keep you from getting top foot over efficiently.

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by Le Duke View Post
    So, studies have shown that professionals, who should be more efficient as a result of hundreds of thousands of miles, do NOT pedal circles. They don't pull up.

    The only thing they do is "unload" the pedal.

    Another genuinely curious person who is interested in sources for this information. I have searched and found no studies regarding this aside from Bike James, and his seem biased to say the least.

  9. #9
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    "Chances are if you are a beginner there are a lot of other things you'd be much better off focusing on than pedaling in circles."
    Yeah, just forming good basic habits should be plenty to work on; good seat height and bike fit and good basic pedaling form, cornering/braking/shifting (many amatuer racers don't study cornering/braking/shifting at all, get a book, even a car racing book like Ross Bentleys 'Speed Secrets' or Vic Elfords 'High performance driving handbook'), not pushing huge gears at a slow cadence... and putting some time in the saddle regularly a couple of times a week including hills, with adequate rest days, good nutrition, stretching too.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by J.B. Weld View Post
    Another genuinely curious person who is interested in sources for this information. I have searched and found no studies regarding this aside from Bike James, and his seem biased to say the least.
    Some books with chapters on the subject are these two. High Tech Cycling in particular is well worth reading. Cutting Edge Cycling has a few good sections also.

    ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    High Tech Cycling Edited by Edmund R Burke (2003)

    Amazon Link:
    Amazon.com: High-Tech Cycling - 2nd Edition (9780736045070): Edmund R. Burke: Books

    Chapter 4: Optimizing the Crank Cycle and Pedaling Cadence by Alejandro Lucia, Conrad Earnest, Jesus Hoyos and Jose L Chicharro

    Chapter 5: Cycling Biomechanics: Road and Mountain by Jeffrey P Broker

    Cutting Edge Cycling by Hunter Allen and Stephen S Cheung (2012)

    Amazon Link:
    Amazon.com: Cutting-Edge Cycling (9780736091091): Hunter Allen, Stephen Cheung: Books

    Chapter 8: Pedaling for Peak Efficiency

    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Pedalling Load Forces During a Crank Revolution
    The diagram below shows the pedal load spread over a single crank revolution for a US National Team cyclist.


    Figure 5.8 Pedalling force throughout the pedal stroke with a round chainring.
    High Tech Cycling edited by Edmund R. Burke - Chapter 5 Cycling Biomechanics: Road and Mountain by Jeffrey P Broker Page 131

    When you look at how the pedalling force of each leg is distributed over a single crank revolution it isn't even. The vast majority of pedal load is produced during the downstroke between 2 o'clock and 6 o'clock. There's a single large peak of power and torque delivered at that point. The rest of the crank revolution produces very little load in comparison. After the main downstroke some pedal load is created at the top and bottom of the pedal stroke.

    Circular Pedalling
    "Cyclists may move their feet in circles during pedalling, but applied force and developed torque in no way appears circular. The clock diagram clearly illustrates how pedal forces and torque vary during a pedal cycle. However, as described in the discussion of gravitational, inertial, and muscular contributions to pedal loading, the muscular component of pedal force does somewhat represent pedalling circularity. The direction of pedal force application throughout the cycle, derived from muscle contributions, is nearly perpendicular to the crank throughout the entire pedal cycle. However, the magnitude of the forces applied at various stages within the cycle is far from equal.
    ...
    Elite Versus Recreational Cyclist Pedaling Technique
    "Cyclists of all abilities exhibit negative effective forces (i.e., forces applied to the pedal perpendicular to the crank but in opposition to crank rotation) during the upstroke (180 to 360 degrees) in steady state cycling. As we have recognised at the Olympic training center, cyclists correctly sense that they lift or pull the leg up during recovery but do not lift the leg as fast as the pedal is rising. Thus, the pedal actually helps lift the leg.

    Compared to recreational cyclists, elite cyclists generally have reduced negative force effectiveness during the upstroke, and typically the region of the upstroke during which they exhibit these negative effective forces is reduced. Usually, this counterproductive region is reduced by the cyclist generating positive effective force early in the upstroke (past the bottom of the pedal cycle) and before the pedal reaches the top of the cycle. The magnitude of the negative effective forces during upstroke increases - gets more negative - as cadence increases (the pedal rises faster). Effective forces during the upstroke are less negative and less counterproductive at higher work rates (cycling power) for a given cadence, and may even be positive during sprinting and climbing."
    High Tech Cycling edited by Edmund R. Burke - Chapter 5 Cycling Biomechanics: Road and Mountain by Jeffrey P Broker Pages 132 and 133


    Power Oscillations During the Crank Revolution
    If you take both legs pedalling together the total power output over a single crank revolution takes the form of a sine wave, which is a series of peaks and troughs. There are two peaks per crank revolution as each leg produces its maximum pedal load in turn. There are also two troughs per crank revolution where very little power is produced in comparison.


    Figure 5.11 Varying power output over a single crank revolution showing differences between cyclists from different disciplines.
    High Tech Cycling edited by Edmund R. Burke - Chapter 5 Cycling Biomechanics: Road and Mountain by Jeffrey P Broker Page 137

    Pedal Forces During Mountain Biking
    During our 10 years of pedaling mechanics testing, we noticed that some elite mountain bikers exhibited markedly more uniform pedaling (generating larger effective forces at the top and bottom of the pedal cycle) than cyclists in other disciplines. Similar observations of sprinters revealed the opposite - they seemed to employ a "mashing style", generating the most torque during the downstroke.
    ...
    Mountain racers exhibit more uniform pedaling technique (i.e., more constant net crank torque) than cyclists in other disciplines as measured in the laboratory. Whether mountain racers employ these techniques while riding on single track trails is unknown. If the premise that mountain racers acquire these skills because of exposure to conditions requiring more uniform torque generation - such as climbing in loose soil - is true, then we would certainly expect these pedaling skills to emerge off road, and perhaps even more so."

    High Tech Cycling edited by Edmund R. Burke - Chapter 5 Cycling Biomechanics: Road and Mountain by Jeffrey P Broker Pages 135 & 137

    The upstroke is an important part of the pedal stroke, even though it doesn't produce much power. It's where the muscles get a chance to recover before making their next effort on the following downstroke.

    Limited Blood Flow During the Crank Cycle
    "Takaishi and colleagues (2002) adopted an integrative approach to the pedalling cycle using surface electromyography (EMG) and near infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) to estimate muscle fiber recruitment and blood flow, respectively, in the main quadriceps muscle involved in the pedal thrust, the vastus lateralis. Their results showed that, in noncyclists exercising at moderate to high power outputs (~200w) and at low cadences (50rpm), blood flow and oxygenation to the vastus lateralis (and most likely to all quadriceps muscles) is significantly restricted during the first third of the crank cycle. At this point in the pedal stroke, knee flexion and quadriceps contraction is the greatest as the leg moves through the pedal stroke and leg extension. Blood flow occlusion presumably occurs in the microcirculation (arterioles and venules) and is attributable to the increase in intramuscular pressure that occurs during muscle contraction (see Figure 4.1). Their data also revealed a compensatory, transient increase in blood supply and oxygen transport after the pushing phase, when the vastus laterialis recovers from the contraction.

    All professionals involved in training cyclists should keep in mind that muscle blood flow is first occluded and then overcompensated for following the compression period. Cycling is an aerobic sport (except sprint or short velodrome events) in which top level performance largely depends on the amount of oxygen transported to the working muscles. Interestingly, oxygen appears to be most readily available to the main muscles only 50% of the time, when they are in their relaxation phase during the pedal upstroke. Besides the blood flow restriction caused by increased intramuscular pressure suggested by Takaishi's findings, blood flow through the iliac arteries, which irrigate all leg muscles, can be reduced during hip flexions, particularly when cyclists adopt aerodynamic positions, such as during time trials (Schep et al. 1999).

    Regardless of other factors such as economy / efficiency, neuromuscular fatigue, or lactate washout, fast pedalling cadences (>90rpm) probably have an important advantage in that duration of restricted blood flow to quadriceps muscles is shorter. In addition, for a given power output, the force applied on the pedals is reduced at fast cadences, and the required muscle contractions are less forceful (Faria 1992). At these faster cadences, one would would expect less blood flow occlusion in microvessels caused by intramuscular pressure. Finally, Takaishi and coworkers found blood flow occlusion to occur at low absolute power outputs (~200w). However, elite cyclists are often required to generate much higher power outputs (> 350 to 400w) and perform more forceful contractions during the most important phases of professional road races (Lucia, Hoyos and Chicharro 2001a). It follows that blood flow occlusion might be even more marked in those with the best trained muscles with a higher reliance on blood oxygen supply."
    High Tech Cycling edited by Edmund R. Burke - Chapter 4: Optimizing the Crank Cycle and Pedaling Cadence by Alejandro Lucia, Conrad Earnest, Jesus Hoyos and Jose L Chicharro Pages 94 to 95

    ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    There are a few areas you can work on with your pedalling. The main thing is that pedalling should become completely automatic, just as natural as breathing or walking with no need to think about it. This is achieved through repetition - riding lots. Think of your pedal stroke as a metronome, constant and fluid. It's easiest to practice this by doing long road miles and spending time on the turbo trainer where you have fewer distractions. What you're aiming for is a nice constant cadence that feels comfortable, which you hold throughout every ride, probably somewhere in the 80-90rpm range. Watch some Tour de France youtube videos and focus on how the riders are just turning the pedals over. That's what you're aiming for.



    Visualising your pedal stroke is one way to help to keep to a steady rhythm. It's more of a mental technique than a reflection of what your muscles are doing. How you visualise pedalling is up to you. Some people like to imagine they're pedalling circles. Another one that you'll also frequently see people imagining is that they're trying to scrape some dirt off the bottom of their shoe by pulling it backwards at the bottom of the pedal stroke.

    I tend to imagine that I'm pedalling a triangle - a savage downstroke stabbing the pedal downwards, a short backstroke and then a relaxed straight line as my foot travels back up to the top of the triangle for the next pedal stroke before it begins again.

    For offroad riding it's important to be able to maintain rear wheel traction when climbing. A good practice pedalling drill is to find somewhere slippery (eg: a section of deep mud, deep sand etc) and then try and ride through it repeatedly whilst concentrating on the rear wheel. You can feel how the rear wheel loses and regains traction on the slippery surface. By modulating your power delivery through the pedals you should be able to keep forwards momentum, finding grip.
    Last edited by WR304; 05-07-2013 at 03:10 PM.

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by WR304 View Post
    Some books with chapters on the subject are these two. High Tech Cycling in particular is well worth reading. Cutting Edge Cycling has a few good sections also.


    Thank you.

  12. #12
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    I found that rollers helped me to gain a smooth pedal stroke. High speed spinning, on rollers, really showed when you needed to unweight the upstroke, and how to push down and pull through the stroke. Plus the hours of spin help with muscle memory, so I don't have to think about spinning when I'm riding.

  13. #13
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    Lot's of great info here.

    I would add a huge +1 for rollers. Spend some time in the winter on the rollers. Work on your cadence. Try to keep it about 5 or 10 rpms above your neutral cadence.

    When I find the sweet spot on my rollers, I feel like I can push a harder gear at a good cadence with less effort. I can feel the tension, but the smoothness of the stroke takes the effort away. Maybe it's the force!

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