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Cycle with Sean Kelly at SportActive

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Pedal Like a Pro and Ride Like the Wind

Watching the pros pedalling is almost like watching a work of art unfold as they ascend mountains and descend into valleys. To reach this level they have practiced for hours and days. 

Pedalling-cadence-sportactive-cyclingThe better you can pedal, the better and smoother your rides.

To improve your pedal cadence, you need a strong core, a good bike setup, and develop a good pedalling/cadence technique. This leads to more efficient bike riding. The idea is that by maintaining a smooth natural pedalling technique no matter your speed, saves and optimises your energy levels. Let’s explore this in more depth.

Pedalling Should be Smooth

For good cadence technique you must be in control of your upper body with little movement. Any unnecessary movement when cycling is a waste of energy and impacts your overall ride. A strong core will assist in controlling upper body movement. This is achieved in two ways:

Use a Circular Pedalling Technique - Turn the pedals using a circular motion rather than pushing the pedal down hard at the 5 past 12 position. Many cyclists tend to push down hard rather than form a circular pedal stroke which opens the door to unnecessary movement. This stabbing technique often results in using your upper body to form the pedal stroke sometimes pushing from the shoulder wasting energy in the process. Instead, imagine the pedals turning in a smooth circular motion and move your legs accordingly.

Strong Core – To achieve stability in the saddle it is vital that you have strong core. This is essential to every aspect of your cycling. As well as keeping your upper body stable, you will avoid injury and back pain, and be a stronger and better sprinter and climber. Your core’s importance cannot be overstated.

Improving Core Strength

When starting core exercises it is good practice to take professional advice in the first instance. Do not overexert when performing core exercises as this can cause injury. When developing your core, these selected exercises  will help you get started, improving the right muscle groups. Good core strength will allow you to improve the stability of your upper body. This helps you utilise the muscles in your legs to maintain a good smooth pedal/cadence.

Bike Setup and Bike Fit

A proper bike fit is an added essential to pedalling correctly. If the saddle is too high, your pelvis will rock, making smooth cadence impossible. If your saddle is too low, your pedal strokes will tend to adopt the stabbing motion we discussed previously.

Consider the following three factors when setting up your bike fit:

1. Saddle height

The ideal way to get the correct saddle height is to use a professional bike fitter.
If you don’t’ have that facility this is an alternative. Get someone to watch you ride as you pedal on a turbo trainer to see if you’re rocking your pelvis. If you are, adjust your seat in small adjustments until you stop the rocking motion. If you do not have a willing volunteer, straighten your leg when sitting on the seat so your heel touches the pedal in the six o’clock position. It is important not to overstretch your leg. This is not an ideal way to do it as mistakes can creep in so you may need to do this several times to get it right.

2. Saddle Handlebar Drop

The other aspect to look at is the drop between your handlebars and the saddle. This is determined by your anatomy. If you are a bit bulky you will have a different setup to a more flexible rider. It is good practice to speak to a bike fitting professional. This will make your riding position more comfortable giving you a smoother pedal cadence as a result.

3. Cleat Position

Finally, take a look and your cleats. Position your cleats, so the balls of your feet are directly over the pedal spindle. This will help you push down on the pedals with maximum power. When adjusting cleats, the secret is to ensure there is no stress on your knees when you turn the pedals. A small adjustment to your cleats can make a significant difference so it may be a case of trial and error to get the perfect cleat position. Having one leg slightly longer than the other is not uncommon. If this is the case, consider using a shim between the cleat and the shoe to compensate. 

Cadence Drills

It is good idea to fit a cycle computer with a pedal cadence sensor to the bike as this will make it easier to measure how fast your revolutions/cadence per minute is (RPM). They are low cost and more accurate than using a manual method.

This is an exercise to use to improve your pedalling cadence technique:

  • Warm up.
  • 2 minutes @ 80 RPM – Choose a relevant gear and focus on moving the pedals in a smooth circular technique keeping your upper body stable.
  • 2 minutes @ 100 RPM – Increase RPM ensuring you maintain technique and upper body stability
  • Repeat the exercise two to three times depending on how you are feeling.
  • Warm down.
  • To measure your success consider videoing your training session to see if you have any upper body movement.

Try and factor cadence drills into technique-based training sessions. Like all training techniques practice regularly.

When riding normally either on the road or on a turbo trainer, try and maintain a cadence between 75-85 RPM.

Final Thoughts

When coming to the end of your ride, you may notice pedalling becoming less fluid and unstable. This is mostly due to fatigue and the lack of concentration on your pedalling technique.

As such, slow down, and keep focused on smooth pedalling. It is a good feeling to achieve good pedal cadence technique, maintaining it throughout your ride.

sportactive-cycling-pedalling-cadenceUse cadence drills to improve.

Submitted: 11/10/20
Sources: GCN, Bike Radar

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