Off-season training often involves long hours on the trainer, fighting mental fatigue to complete each session. Unfortunately, thoughts on form tend to take a back seat during this period, while they're of greater concern during the in-season. However, it's crucial to remember that our potential will always be limited if we don't prioritize our efficiency in addition to our endurance and speed.
On the bike, there are several areas we need to focus on to improve our efficiency to the greatest extent. These include:
It's important to buy a bike that fits you and then get fit to the bike. Not try and fit yourself to a bike that doesn't fit you. Once you have a good fitting bike for you, get a bike fit. A good bike fit is key to reducing risk for overuse injury, maximizing power output and getting you in the most comfortable yet aggressive position possible based on your goals.
The biggest factor when it comes to efficiency on the bike is the height of the saddle. You should have a slight bend in the knee at the bottom of the pedal stroke (25-30 degree bend). Too high of a saddle leads to inefficient pedaling. Your hips will drop (even slightly) from side to side as you try to reach the pedals. This is uncomfortable, inefficient and puts extra stress on the knee, increasing risk for knee injury.
Too low of a saddle reduces your maximum power output because you’re not able to get the full range of power with each pedal stroke. This limits your efficiency, power and overall speed. Too low of a saddle can also put added stress on the knee, increasing risk for knee injury.
Consider the key tips and pointers below, practicing them in each of your training sessions. With colder weather and indoor training, now is the time to place laser focus on your cycling technique so your new form is the norm when you hit outdoor training.
Pedal in ovals, this eliminates dead spots in the pedal stroke by pedaling all the way through. By pedaling in ovals our full range of motion is utilized and more muscle groups are recruited. Rather than focusing on hammering down on the pedals, focus on pushing forward and pulling back around and up.
Practice a smooth stroke, pushing forward and down, keeping your toes up and then pulling back up as you hit the bottom of the pedal stroke. Think of the technique like scraping your foot across the bottom of the ground, really pull up using your hip flexors.
Try out 2 x 60 second one-leg riding drills per leg in your warm-ups. This is a great way to work on the efficiency of your pedal stroke while helping to remove existing right to left leg imbalances.
Cadence is unique to everyone, there is no one size fits all. Your natural cadence depends on your size, body type, weight, etc. Most people tend to fall into the 80-90rpm range.
Really low cadences are inefficient. A lower cadence requires more force on the pedals, which is more taxing to the muscular system and leads to an earlier onset of fatigue (think of using a hard gear which causes slow pedaling). A higher cadence and lighter gear works the aerobic system more while a lower cadence and harder gear really works the muscular system.
It's important to practice riding in a range of cadences. This is for a number of reasons, one of which is this helps develop the neuromuscular system and increases your range of ability to quickly shift into a slower or faster speed with ease.
As you ride this week, make it a point to implement what you've learned. Develop good form on the bike, use your gears wisely on the road and strive to develop and maintain an efficient pedal stroke.
ABILITY, KNOWLEDGE AND SKILLSETS
Your ability, knowledge and skillsets on how and when to use what gear are an essential component to delaying your onset of fatigue, as well as, how well you will perform in training and racing. If your skillsets in this area are low, find a cycling or triathlon club and join in on their group rides as soon as you can this season. We learn and benefit more from riding with others and being on the road than we do alone and inside on the trainer. Skills you should understand and practice include when and how to use what gear, improving your bike handling skills and overall confidence on the bike, learning and practicing fueling and hydrating skills and much more.
Maximize your potential by learning and understanding how to develop greater efficiency. Skill refinement never ends. Master the mechanics and speed is a byproduct.