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Efficiency drills on the bike

Drills are Not Just for Base Season

Though often relegated to base training phases, on-the-bike drills should have a place in your training plan year-round. Improvements in efficiency, strength and power are of benefit to riders at any level, beginner to professional. These can be carried out on the stationary bike, turbo (wind) trainer, or on the road.

And when you consider how often you turn over the pedals in the course of a minute, also consider the potential effect of even the smallest improvement in your efficiency when carried over hundreds and thousands of times.

Efficiency drills seek to improve your overall cycling efficiency by addressing pedal economy (pedal speed and control) and muscle efficiency (gradual reduction in muscle stress at similar workloads). Here are a few examples

Endurance Spinning (ES) - Practice spinning slightly quicker than your natural, self-selected cadence. Ride at a cadence that's at the very top of your comfortable rpm range (often this is your natural cadence + 3-5rpm) and remain there for a solid 5 minutes. The goal is to learn to turn the pedals more quickly with less force/muscle stress thereby improving your ability to remain predominantly aerobic over a wide range of rpm. If your HR rises more than a few bpm, you're pedaling too quickly - take it easy and stay relaxed but quick.

Single-Leg Focus (SLF) - The objective here is to learn to apply power more effectively through the entire pedalstroke by focusing strictly on one leg's activity through the bottom, upstroke, and over the top of the pedalstroke. For 90 seconds at a time, devote your attention to one leg before switching to the other. Your cadence may fall slightly, but these drills typically come more naturally to less experienced riders than "one-leggers" (described below). Pay particular attention to lightly pulling your foot across the bottom, lifting your knee lightly upward and then softly kicking over the top of each pedalstroke. Add this drill indoors or outdoors as often as you like, more frequently if you recognize a substantial difference in one leg's strength or coordination.

Isolated Leg Training (ILT) - Also known as "one-leggers" and similar to SLF drills, the objective here is to learn to more effectively apply power through the entire pedalstroke by focusing strictly on one leg's activity through the bottom, upstroke and over the top of the pedalstroke. Completely unclip one foot from the pedal and rest it on your trainer, a stool, or anything that allows it to safely rest without interfering with your other leg's pedaling. Begin with slow cadence (very slow in some cases) and periods of 10-20s per leg unless you can pedal longer without "knocking". Don't worry about your temporarily low power - these drills aren't about strength. As you improve, your cadence will increase as will each leg's duration. Pay close attention your kick and pull (described below) thinking more in terms of horizontal or back and forth pedaling especially if you begin feeling deadspots in your pedalstroke or you begin hearing a knocking sound due to those deadspots. Keep tension on the chain and switch legs anytime your form degrades; don't practice bad habits just to tack on 5 or 10 more seconds. Include this drill indoors 2-3 times each week accumulating 5-10 minutes per leg each workout.

Pedalstroke Quadrants (P/KP) - Each quadrant of a 360-degree pedalstroke can be emphasized over the course of a complete round of quadrant drills, but in the interest of keeping things more fluid, the 4 quadrants have been combined into 2 opposing muscle actions: up and down, backward and forward.

Pistons (P) - Few if any riders need to practice pushing down on the pedals, but improvements in how well your knees move are both beneficial to economy and joint health. As you pedal, pay close attention to how your knees track. They should move directly up, directly down - like pistons - with little if any lateral movement, especially at the top of each pedalstroke. Focus on one knee for 30-60s before switching sides.

Kick & Pull (KP) - A balanced pedalstroke is dependent upon consistent tension on your bike's drivetrain throughout the entire pedalstroke. Reinforce your ability to maintain tension through the weakest portions of the pedalstroke, the top and bottom quadrants. As your knee approaches top-dead-center, lightly kick your toes into the fronts of your shoes, and as your feet approach bottom-dead-center, lightly pull your heels into the backs of your shoes - kick and pull. Focus on just the kick for 30-60s, just the pull for 30-60s, then eventually both for 30-60s simultaneously.

Form Sprints (FS) - Sprints are for everyone, not just sprinters, because they "wake up" muscle fibers that too often don't get trained but will get used. Practice high-rpm sprint simulations at low power outputs to reinforce proper sprinting technique by jumping out-of-the-saddle and winding up a light gear. As your cadence reaches its controllable peak, gracefully transition into the saddle where you can shift gears if necessary. These sprints are only 10s long and are all about leg speed, form and technique. Experiment with which foot leads the sprint and learn how to generate a lot of leg speed in very little time.

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