Focus on Form: Offseason Cycling and Running Drills

<strong>Work on your cycling form using an indoor trainer.</strong><br><br><em>Credit: Mike Powell/Allsport</em>

The Bike

During the winter months, try to refrain from making every indoor cycling session a movie experience.

Watching a movie once a week for your long ride is fine, but don't do it every time you hop on the trainer. I suggest athletes do form drills on the bike at least once a week during the winter months. Just like swimming, we can improve our efficiency on the bicycle with some drills.

Form Drills for Cycling

Isolated Leg Training
This drill will improve your ability to make smooth circles and improve your pedaling economy.

Put your bike on a wind trainer and set the resistance low. Place a chair or stool on either side of your bike, so that you can place your foot on it while the other foot pedals by itself.

After warming up for 10 to 15 minutes, alternate 30 seconds of spinning with your right leg only, 30 seconds of spinning with your left leg only, and one minute with both legs. This is not an aerobic workout, so don't worry about getting your heart rate into some particular training zone. Instead, focus on making smooth circles with each leg.

When you first start doing this drill, you might find that you have a dead spot at the top of your pedal stroke, where your foot seems to stall-out. By practicing this drill, you can eliminate that stall. This is called the Isolated Leg Training or ILT drill. Slowly work your way up to doing around 10 minutes of ILT work for each leg during a single session.

Next season: In long training rides or races, unweight one leg for five pedal strokes and let the other one pedal smooth circles, then switch legs. This reminds you to pedal efficiently, while giving your legs a break. Try it. I think you'll find you won't lose speed, and it feels as if your legs get a rest.

Form Spins
Too many athletes get on an indoor trainer and pedal for endless time at a single speed. Vary your leg speed with Form Spins.

Warm up for 10 minutes, spinning 80 to 90 rpm, with the trainer on a light setting. (This can be done on rollers, too.) Then, spin four minutes at 90 rpm, three minutes at 100 rpm, two minutes at 110 rpm and one minute at 120+ rpm.

You can do this as a long warm-up, or you can repeat it a couple times as an entire workout. You should be trying to keep your butt on the bicycle seat—no bouncing—and your toes should be relaxed. Can you wiggle your toes at high rpms?

Next season: Once a week, on a mostly easy ride, include a couple of form sprints, spinning at 110+ rpm for 10 to 20 seconds. It will help keep your fast-twitch fibers fired up and breaks you out of the rut of pushing big gears at 80 rpm all of the time.

Leg Balancing
For those who have CompuTrainers, use the spin-scan feature during your warm-up for indoor training rides.

Try to balance leg power at 50 percent for each leg. Many have one leg stronger than the other, and this will help balance the situation.

Next season: After having spent the winter trying to balance the work load between both legs, on the indoor trainer, you will be more likely to have a balanced system on the road. This might prevent one leg from becoming fatigued before the other one, and helps prevent an injury because your stronger leg is trying to compensate for the weaker one.

The Run

Many endurance athletes think of the treadmill as a torture device used for white mice and other lab animals. The thought of running on a treadmill when the weather is lousy will drive most runners to wear massive amounts of clothing just so they can run outdoors.

I understand the desire to be outdoors; however, I suggest doing one run each week indoors, concentrating on form. If you live where the weather is always nice and you never have the need to run on a treadmill, you might give these drills a try inside on a treadmill, anyway. The drills might improve your form, and they are nice for variety. They're also a good way to fit a short workout into a lunch break when you're pressed for time.

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