Cycling is the sport that can easily be picked up as an adult. In fact a few years back many triathlon elite recruiters ranked potential athletes based on their run and swim talent alone. Cycling could be ignored for this purpose. The thinking is that if they have the engine they can always be taught to ride the bike as technique is not as crucial an element. However, just as in swimming and running we can still do drills to improve our pedaling technique. Proper technique can save you energy and utilizing the proper muscles can save your quads and ultimately get you better performances.
Here are my top three cycling drills that you can easily incorporate to any ride but especially indoors. Not to mention that this will add variety to your indoor trainer riding. I live in Boulder, Colorado and one winter during a long ride I got passed by a pro cyclist on a long downhill. I quickly got on his slipstream and stayed with him. Once we got to the flats I kept up and he turns to me and says "go ahead man, I'm going to be doing some drills". Really? Maybe I can do them with you I said. As you can see drills are not reserved for the beginner cyclist. Below are my top four drills. All of these drills should be performed for one minute on and one minute off. Do not use a big gear. The objective is pedaling technique and not the use of high forces and strength.
1. One leg cycling.
As the name indicates you ride using only one leg. You can unclip and place your leg on a chair if done indoors. My pro friend basically unclipped one left and let it hang. If you are a beginner you may definitely want to try this indoors first as it will be safer. Or when on the road and not feeling like unclipping you could just concentrate on one leg and let the other hang without applying any force. The tricky part of this drill happens at the top of the circle where you have to learn to transition from bringing the foot up to bringing the foot down. The other transition comes at the bottom of the circle. Be as smooth as possible and move your foot in a circular manner instead of up and down.
2. Top and bottom drill.
This drill is a progression of the one leg cycling drill. You use the top and bottom transitioning skills learned with one leg cycling but use them while riding normally with both legs. The objective is to apply pedaling forces but only in the top and bottom 45 degrees and ignore the 45 degrees on each side. Again try to be as smooth as possible and transition smoothly.
3. High spinning.
Ride as high a cadence as possible without jumping up and down on the seat. The better your pedaling technique and the better your transitions learned in drill one and two the higher this number should be as soon as you start bouncing back off. Over time this should improve to a fast smooth cadence.
4. Learning to use the gluteus.
Start off the saddle for 10 seconds and pay attention as to how your gluteus is firing as you ride off the saddle. Now slowly sit back down and try to keep your gluteus engaged while you pedal. This is a mental exercise as you see and your position is important as it requires a certain lean forward and foot position. Try to take the pressure off your quads and use your hamstring and gluteus chain a little more. The more you do this the more it will become normal and your quads will thank you.
Enjoy your cycling.
Luis Vargas was born in Colombia, attended high school in Puerto Rico and received a Master's of Science from Arizona State University. He has lived in Boulder, Colorado for 24 years. Luis founded SmartTriathlonTraining.com and is a USA Triathlon certified coach. He has coached triathlon online for 13 years and will be guiding 21 athletes in Kona this October. He was a former collegiate swimmer and soccer player before starting triathlon and competing in the Hawaii Ironman 7 times with a PR of 9:34.