TRIATHLON PERFORMANCE COACH JESSICA MARSHALL OF SKYLINE SPORTS HELPS US UNDERSTAND WHY WORKING ON CYCLING TECHNIQUE IS CRUCIAL TO DEVELOPING SPEED ON THE BIKE.
How much time in your training do you spend doing the following things?
1. Spinning at over 100rpm (or even 120 rpm??)
2. Spending time concentrating on different parts of how you pedal (and not just pushing down)?
3. Pedalling with one leg?
4. Considering how your hamstring and glute strength affect your cycling?
When I started, I used to just ride. Just hop on the bike, get out on the road, and go as fast as I could go from one place to the next, and back again. Hope that I would do the time faster next week, and continue on that path: until one particular coach came along. He asked me why I was bothering riding in the big ring when I couldn’t yet get full speed in the small one.
I’ve considered this, more than once over the last 8 years. And the more time that I research, the more coaches that I speak to, the conclusion is the same: you can get equal or even more performance from working on your pedal stroke and cadence than pushing your body to the limit every time you go out.
“I learned to push the pedals like a weapon, but it became clear when I got my first “real” road bike with clipless pedals that cycling wasn’t all about the push.”
CADENCE: As triathletes, the most important factor for our cycle training is the bit that comes after it: the run.
Come off track a little bit for me here. With running, the basic formula is speed = stride length x cadence. If you’re like me and have short legs, there’s not a lot you can do about your stride length, so you need to turn those legs over faster to get more speed. The rules are very similar with cycling; and we want our cycling cadence to match that of our run.
Please note that this is a simplistic view and doesn’t take into account physiology or personal strengths and weaknesses, but it’s a damn good starting point.
There is a lot of research out there than pens a range of the “best” cadence… 85 – 100rpm is what you will find most of. Those who have been cycling longer you will find at the higher end, those who are beginning will aim around the 85 mark. Being able to spend 3 hours (plus or minus) over a half iron distance at 100rpm will absolutely be tough, but if your run cadence is similar it can act to reduce the fatigue from the bike leg and assist you to run faster.
Churning butter at 50rpm will put out a lot of power, and some people even find this easier than spinning around at 100rpm. But if this is your comfort zone and your legs feel like trash post ride session, and you always struggle to hold form on race day for your run, I recommend you have a crack at training for cadence and your pedal stroke.
During training, I now try to stay out of the big ring. If I want to go faster, I pedal faster. Even with compact cranks like on most road bikes these days, your 39 tooth chain ring and 12 tooth gear can see you moving at over 30kph (18.64mi) and if you’re anything like me, that’s pretty quick for a training ride. It doesn’t look pretty on Strava, but the favours that you are doing yourself come race day far outweigh the bragging rights of a training ride in the end. Only the most disciplined can put it all together in the real race.
“I’ve considered this, more than once over the last 8 years. And the more time that I research, the more coaches that I speak to, the conclusion is the same: you can get equal or even more performance from working on your pedal stroke and cadence than pushing your body to the limit every time you go out.”
PEDAL STROKE: When I started triathlon I was on an old dual suspension mountain bike with my runners. I learned to push the pedals like a weapon, but it became clear when I got my first “real” road bike with clipless pedals that cycling wasn’t all about the push.
Just think of it this way… if you’re only pushing, you’re not being as efficient as you could, and potentially fatiguing only one set of muscles when you can spread the load!
Why not have a go at this session which I like to call ‘The Dragon’ (see below)? Don’t be put off by the name! Note that this is not a workout that looks good on Strava. You will not cover a great distance, but you will feel the workout just the same as a QOM ride.