Cycling is a much more form-driven sport than most people realize. When most of us learn how to ride a bike as a child, little to no attention is paid to how we pedal. Simply, the goal is to balance and make the bike move forward.
It isn't until adulthood, when some of us continue to ride our bikes, that we realize we've adopted plenty of bad habits. It's common for beginners to want to mash down on the pedals instead of pedaling in smooth circles, and it can be a hard habit to break—it goes against what we've learned and practiced for years and years.
Fortunately, there are ways to improve your technique and get rid of old pedaling patterns to become a faster, more efficient cyclist—and the winter months on the indoor trainer are the perfect time to start.
Part of the reason why competitive cyclists have to learn to pedal all over again is because of clipless pedals. Because your foot is fixed into the pedal, you can push down with the quadriceps and pull up with the hamstrings. The downward portion of the pedal stroke (1 o'clock to 6 o'clock) is more natural because that's how you learned to pedal.
You can change your muscle memory, but it'll take time and effort. Here's the good news:
- With practice, your legs can relearn how to pedal a bicycle over time.
- With more practice, your proficiency at spinning in circles will improve.
- Your legs will remember lessons taught over time.
When we train for the sport of cycling, the focus often centers around building our aerobic capacity, anaerobic capacity, VO2 max and muscle strength. As we ride more often, our gross motor memory for pedaling also improves. Instead of trying to improve each aspect of your fitness at once, use the winter months as an opportunity to concentrate on pedaling efficiency.
The more often you practice pedaling in circles, the more natural it'll feel. Single-leg drills and high cadence workouts will build muscle memory and make your pedal stroke more efficient, which translates to improved speed and power on the road.
Work on these drills a few days out of the week or before each trainer workout to remind your legs of how you need them to operate. Before long, you won't need to think about pedaling at all—it'll be part of your muscle memory.