9 Tips to Transition Toward Spring Cycling

Cycling Using Specific Muscles Firing Exactly Right

If you've been doing lots of cross training or strength training, then you need to turn that general fitness into cycling fitness. Even if you've been riding frequently, you can improve your pedaling economy, efficiency and power. The following drills help in the transition to spring road riding:

Improve Your Pedaling Economy

Experienced cyclists pedal with a smooth, round stroke, applying power over most of the stroke. When you pedal, concentrate on four different parts of the stroke:

  • Top: As you apply power imagine that you are pushing your knee forward toward the handlebars or kicking a soccer ball. You should feel your glute (butt) muscles contracting to open the hip.
  • Front: Apply power downward. You should feel your quadriceps (thigh) muscles straightening the knee.
  • Bottom: Apply power backward with your foot pointed slightly downward. Imagine that you are scraping your toes across the floor. You should feel your lower calf muscles flex the foot.
  • Back: Don't try to pull up on the pedal (which is inefficient); rather, just lift your leg so that your other leg doesn't need to push it up. You should feel your hamstring (back of thigh) contracting.

One-legged pedaling on the trainer is an excellent drill to improve your stroke. Unclip one foot and rest it on a stool, box, etc. Pedal at 50 to 60 rpm with the other leg for 30 to 60 seconds. Then pedal with both legs for a minute to recover (don't bother to clip in). Pedal again for 30 to 60 seconds with the same leg, and then with both legs to recover. Repeat sequence three to six times then switch legs. Each week try to add five seconds to the duration of the one-legged repetitions.

Find Your Optimum Cadence

Many pros ride with a cadence of about 90 rpms because that puts less power into each revolution, thus fatiguing the muscles less; however, pedaling that fast may raise the heart rate. Try to find your optimum cadence somewhere between 80 and 100 rpms. Pedal at a constant speed on the trainer (or constant power if you have a power meter) and experiment with different combinations of gears and cadence to find out where you can maintain the constant speed (or power) with the lowest heart rate. That's your optimum cadence.

More: Intro to Bike Gears

Work On Your Spin

Once you've found your optimum cadence you want to work on pedaling there with a smooth round stroke. Concentrate on feeling the different muscles activating in different parts of the stroke like they do when you pedal one-legged. Ride for a few minutes in that gearing. Then shift to a lower gear and ride at about 80 rpm. Every minute increase your cadence by 10 rpms. When you get to the maximum cadence you can sustain without bouncing, say 120 or 130 rpm, hold for a minute. Then work back down by 10 rpms per minute. The goal is to learn to pedal smoothly across a range of cadences.

Build Your Power

You can improve your power on the trainer by doing intervals in the sweet spot, just below the maximum effort you could sustain for 30 minutes. How hard is that?

  • If you train by perceived exertion you should be riding hard enough that you can't talk, but you shouldn't be gasping for air. Your legs should be talking to you, but not complaining loudly.
  • If you ride by heart rate, your sweet spot is 93 to 97 percent of your lactate threshold. Lactate threshold is the average heart rate you can sustain in a 30-minute all-out time trial.
  • If you ride by power, your sweet spot is 88 to 94 percent of Functional Threshold Power (FTP). To find your FTP do a 20-minute all-out time trial. Your FTP is 95 percent of your average power for the time trial.

The appropriate sweet spot intervals for you will depend on your fitness. Warm up for at least 15 minutes including some hard pedaling. Then try to ride three to five intervals in your sweet spot zone (SS) with recovery between each. Do as many intervals as you can while staying in the SS. If you start to have trouble maintaining that effort, then stop. If you can do three intervals, then train until you can do five intervals in the SS. When you can do five intervals, then increase the duration of both the SS and recovery.

For variety you can simulate climbing by putting a block of wood (up to four inches) under your front wheel.

Sweet spot intervals are hard work and you should do no more than two SS workouts a week. Once you can ride outdoors you can also do these on the road to improve your power.

In addition to sweet spot intervals, practice sprinting to increase your power, even if you don't race. When you ride, nerves activate the muscle fibers in your cycling muscles and as you ride harder more nerve fibers are enervated. You want the nerves impulses to your muscle fibers to be precise and optimally coordinated. You can improve this by sprinting.

Ride at a your optimal cadence. Every five to 10 minutes, shift to a very hard gear (for example, 53x15) and sprint as hard as you can for 10 to 30 seconds. The goal is to improve your neuromuscular coordination.

More: Miracle Intervals on the Indoor Trainer

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