No matter how strong a cyclist you are, most people are highly inefficient when it comes to turning calories into power and speed. Most triathletes are between 20 to 25 percent efficient on the bike, which means 75 to 80 percent of the energy they burn while cycling is lost to radiated heat. Unless your athletic background includes years as a pro cyclist, you're likely closer to the bottom of the range.
It's important to improve your cycling efficiency, or economy, because it's a direct predictor of your overall race performance, especially in longer races. The key benefit is pretty straightforward: You're faster with less effort and can reserve more energy and leg strength for the run.
So how do you increase your cycling economy? The single best way to get better at turning the pedals is to ride more, which is certainly why pro cyclists are the most economical. But if adding a higher volume of cycling to your long list of triathlon activities isn't a realistic option, then you need to shift your focus to more time-efficient methods.
Improve Your Pedal Stroke
Improving your pedal stroke is one of the easiest ways to become more efficient on the bike. When you smooth out your stroke you get more out of each revolution because you slightly extend the power phase--the area from 12 to 6 o'clock. Considering that you turn the pedals 5,000 to 6,000 times per hour, every improvement can add up.
This is where cycling drills, such as single leg drills, fast spin sets and spin-ups, usually come in. All are very beneficial and should be built into the warm-up and cool-down of every bike trainer session to gradually improve your pedal stroke. The challenge is that these drills are all short in duration and take a long time to make a measureable impact.
So how can you close the gap between your pedaling efficiency and the pros' without adding lots of time to your training schedule? Simply incorporate training sessions with a specific focus on pedal stroke regularly into your weekly training plan. Because this is strictly intended as an aerobic workout, you can build it into your training regardless of where you are in your season. Here's the drill:
1-Hour Cadence Training Session:
- Warm up for 10 minutes. Include a couple of easy single leg drills and fast spins.
- First Set: Start with your cadence at 90 RPMs in a moderate gear and increase it by two RPMs every two minutes for 18 minutes then spin easily for two minutes.
- Second Set: Start with you cadence at 92 RPMs in a moderate gear and increase by two RPMs every two minutes for 14 minutes and then spin easily for two minutes.
- Third Set: Start with your cadence at 94 RPMs in a moderate gear and increase it by two RPMs every two minutes for 12 minutes and finish the hour with a two-minute, easy spin.
You'll need a cadence meter for these sessions, and the sets should only be done on a trainer because it's easier to control and safer than dodging traffic. If you're a bit time restricted, then simply cut out a set or two. Try to get in at least 30 minutes to achieve some benefit from this session.
This routine is great during the base building phase and on active recovery days between hard sessions. For best results, focus on transferring your cadence work on the bike into a quick cadence on the run.
If you incorporate this workout once or twice a week on your easier days, you'll soon be pedaling like a pro.