I often say to my aspiring triathletes, “Your form begins in the swim.”
Just like there are parts of a swimming stroke, there are parts of a pedal stroke: start, power, finish, lift and recovery. The better you master each part, the more efficient your pedal stroke will be. The more efficient your pedal stroke, the more energy you will save on every stroke, which will add up over the course of the bike portion of a triathlon.
Just like in swimming, you should do drills when cycling. Practice drills every time you ride. The best cyclists in the world practice correct form every ride. Bicycling pedal stroke is a motor skill. It is said it takes 5,000 times of performing a motor skill for it to become muscle memory. In swimming and cycling, if you’ve been performing a drill or a part of the stroke incorrectly, it will take time to retrain your body.
Perform drills on each part of the pedal stroke. When doing drills, focus on three things: Do each drill slowly. Do each drill correctly. Focus only on the drill you are practicing.
Perform each drill a short period each ride until it becomes your muscle memory. For example, focus on the lift for 20 strokes on the left leg, followed by the lift for 20 strokes on the right leg, then 20 strokes on both legs. Take a break from the drill, then repeat the pattern a few more times.
The two most common mistakes new riders make are always “mashing” or focusing only on the downward push of the stroke, and “toeing” or pushing only with the front of your foot and not driving down with the heel. Toeing results in muscle imbalances, as well as can lead to knee or hip joint injuries. Also since you are only using half of you leg power, and never getting rest for your legs, this wears down your quads and never really engages your hamstrings. In the end, it may lead to a slower run.
Here are two drills to get you started in the right direction:
Power Phase: focus on the heel down. When pedaling, you will always push down, the power of every rotation. Adding power is the part that most do automatically. When you push down avoid “toe- ing.” Push down and make sure the heel comes down on every stroke. If you need to think about the heel coming down on every pedal stroke, a change in your bike fit is necessary, most likely an adjustment in your cleat placement is needed.
Recovery Phase: Focus on the lift. Again, you will always add the power. The most overlooked part of the pedal stroke is the lift. It’s crucial in giving your lower quads and hamstrings a rest. Spend time focus on “lifting” from the upper thigh on each stroke. You’ll notice the contact and power on your pedal will be later in the stroke, and the leg lifting gets a rest on each stroke. This rest adds up, and you can save energy for later in the bike or on the run. âœª