Tuesday, April 14, 2009

19 What Is Your Pedaling Style And Technique?

Readers, let's talk pedaling in this post. It would be great to have all your input as comments.

Basically, what I'm wondering is what each of your pedaling techniques are like. What do you think of when you pedal? Is there a rhythm you follow? Do you count in your mind? Do you sync it with your favorite musical tune that's stuck in your head? Technically, do you believe there is something in your pedaling style that makes it efficient? Did someone teach you this style, telling you that its better? Do you follow a book? Or do you plainly just don't give a damn?

David Kina is a Cat 3 road racer from East Aurora, NY. He's also good friend of mine and wrote me a small thesis on his pedaling style, which you can read below. My response comes after his writeup and it gets really interesting towards the end!!

Oh...and don't forget to share your feelings and thoughts on your personal pedaling style!!



Here is a topic that I think would be great for your blog because I want to learn about other rider's pedaling techniques. Perhaps you could have some physics analysis to add to this topic? I want to know what other racers do because my riding may not be fast but there are many faster riders who may have better hints.

When I first started racing in 2005 I was known for time trialing, breaking away, and chasing in a pursuit or time trial style (I still do favor this type of riding as I broke away in a local training crit and won last year, and I was congratulated on my pursuit abilities at a track). In 2005, I used some pedaling technique advice from an old school coach Eddie Borysewicz. He said in his book to do a soft pedal revolution per leg every 5 pedal strokes. So pedal stroke 1 right leg, 2 left, 3 right, 4 left, 5 rest right, 1 left, 2 right, 3 left, 4 right, 5 rest left. 5 is an odd number of pedal strokes so a racer rests the right leg every 10 pedal strokes and the left leg gets to rest every other 10 pedal strokes. This coach (along with a coaching book of yours that I read in Tim's van in 2007 on the way to Philly also advises using a rhythmic resting technique) says that this amount of rest adds up.

Borysewicz gives some reasoning behind this according to bio-mechanics.The tension of muscles from pedaling causes blood to be restricted to muscles. Hence, relieving that tension for every 5th pedal stroke allows more blood flow to the resting leg.

Borysewicz also said that Jaques Anquetil and other professionals used this technique.

From left - 'Eddie B' and Greg Lemond (Photo Courtesy : Mitchell Clinton)

From my experiences, this pedaling can be tough to learn. I can only count some much to 5 before I start getting bored and need to listen to some music or think about other stuff. So this rhythm needs to become automatic. I have had success with this in the past. The best music that matches this rhythm is Take Five by the Dave Brubeck quartet (shown at the end of post) since the meter is in 5/4.

I have told another racing friend that I used this technique and they did not seem to quite understand that a constant rpm would be used. They asked other racers that have been around for awhile and did not seem to get any indication that this is a popular thing to do. Perhaps this does not seem practical because the 5th pedal strokes are basically like "dead zones" in a pedal stroke and all the rave is to eliminate those?

Note that I don't use this on any uphill where I would be going slower than about 15-20 miles per hour. I do follow this technique only at speeds faster than 20 mph on flats.


The Dave Brubeck Quartet - Dave Kina's musical recommendation to follow Eddie B's pedaling technique



Bicycle pedaling motion is an example of what is known in physics as periodic or simple harmonic motion (SHM).

If your preferred cadence is 97 revolutions per minute, you pedal 97/60 = 1.61 revolutions / sec.

Frequency (f) is the number of occurrences of a repeating event per unit time. Here, your frequency = 1.61 revolutions /sec.

Time period (T) is the duration (in seconds) of one cycle in a repeating event, so it is the reciprocal of frequency. T = 1/1.61 = 0.62 seconds / revolution.

Suppose you followed Eddie B's technique of pedaling by starting out with the left leg, then your left leg rests on every odd stroke divisible by 5 and your right leg rests on every even stroke divisible by 10 (if you started with right, just turn this rule around).

97 RPM (of a single crank) has 194 total pedal strokes (of both cranks). So after 194 pedal strokes and 1 min duration :

Total Time Of Rest To Left Leg = (1+[(185-5)/10]) x 0.62 secs = 11.78 seconds
Total Time Of Rest To Right Leg = (190/10) x 0.62 secs = 11.78 seconds

NOTE : We added a "1" to the equation for the left leg because the left leg rests once in the first 5 pedal strokes. From then on, it rests for every 10th stroke. 185 is the last multiple of 5 before 194 where a left leg rested. We subtract 5 from it because we already accounted for the first 5 pedal strokes by adding the "1" in the beginning.

You can find out the total time of rest for any nth pedal stroke by writing a small and neat computer program through some logic. Writing that logic is upto the programmer to make the best use of computer resources to yield an answer in the shortest time. That discussion is for another time.

Getting back to the problem, if you rode a 25 mile flat course (40K) at an average speed of 25 miles/hour, your time taken to complete it is 1 hour = 60 minutes. Total pedal strokes = 194 x 60 = 11640.

Total Time Of Rest To Left Leg = 11.78 seconds rest/minute x 60 minutes = 706.8 seconds/hr
Total Time Of Rest To Right Leg = 11.78 seconds rest/ minute x 60 minutes = 706.8 seconds/hr

All in all, you rest each leg 706.8 seconds/hr or 11.78 minutes/hr in the 40K TT. That's a total of 23.56 minutes/hr of leg rest!! If this is the case, Eddie B is a genius. But you'll have to perform this like a flawless robot to get it exactly right.

I doubt any human can achieve this ideally, since the body cannot calibrate alternating "rest" to this exactness for 1 hour. I don't believe the human muscle, the human brain and the various motor neurons in the nervous system can allow for this.

If one were to study your muscle activation patterns using Electromyography (EMG), would your resting leg on every 10th stroke be "really" resting? Will the muscle cells of the resting leg give out zero action potential readings during circular movement? Or is this 'resting leg' technique just a perception of rest? If the resting leg muscles are really being activated as shown by EMG, that would mean that calcium ions are interacting with the myofibrils of the muscle fiber to induce contraction via sliding filament mechanism. This process uses ATP which is the cellular energy currency in the human body. This would then mean that the muscle is not in a state of energy balance at all as it is producing net ATP to give this "oomph" to the muscle. Hence it is not technically at "rest". [See : Exercise Physiology : Basis Of Human Movement In Health and Disease by Stanley P. Brown, Wayne C. Miller and Jane M. Eason]

Something to think about....

Eddie also mentioned that Jacques Anquetil used this technique. Let's say I'm not ready to believe it for now. :)


What Muscles Are You Using To Pedal?
Cycling Biomechanics : CONI Manual
Myth And Science In Cycling : Crank Length And Pedaling Technique (University of Utah)

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  1. Anonymous1:33 AM

    There is no such thing as a meter of 5/5. You mean 5/4. (5 quarter notes per bar).

  2. Wow...this discussion is already hurting my head Ron. I guess I never really thought this deep about my pedaling. But neither am I competing on the local race circuit.

  3. Anon : I would think so too, right? Dave probably made a typo, so I'll correct this. Thanks!

  4. Interesting analysis here. Does the heart rate decrease by any finite amount at each leg rest? That would be a better gauge of recovery I suppose, than looking at the muscular phenomenon on a micro cellular level. Just a thought..

  5. Wow, this is a really cool theory. I'm just beginning to learn and start training for races and I found the discussion to be very insightful - I like how much science is involved here.

    If the human body can repeatedly and consistently "rest" on every fifth stroke, I would think this would allow the racer to give more in the longer term. I'm curious, like you said, what "rest" really means for a pedal stroke.

  6. Nico : I think what Eddie B might have meant is "relieving" the tension on either leg at every 5th stroke. Thats a better choice of word than saying rest. The word rest to me signifies a state of homeostasis in the muscle.

  7. Rod Diaz4:48 PM

    Hi, Rod here, Cat 3 racer (mostly sprinter). Only trained cycling for the last 4 years, before a misc. athlete (fencing, soccer, volleyball, and other non-endurance sports).

    My coach's advice for long steady efforts is similar to this, but the count is slightly different - count 15 "downstrokes" with the right leg, rest one, and switch to counting 15 on the left, rest, count 15 "upstrokes" on the right, switch. Etcetera. We practice it a lot on the trainer in the winter, with sub-threshold and TH workouts (10-60 min).

    It does work for me in giving the legs a bit of a rest, but it's mentally draining for me. TT's are difficult for me since my makeup is more of a sprinter's (Coggan's power profiling slopes to the right sharply), and I find it hard to return to the proper effort and cadence after the "rest" stroke at the end of long intervals under high tension. My pedaling is not very smooth so this might contribute to this; much pushing and not enough round pedal strokes.

    Maybe not that oddly, another of my coach's athletes who's a much better time trialist finds that the counting takes his mind away from the pain and makes him focus on proper cadence and technique. He uses much longer counts - 30 or so if I remember correctly.

    So I guess everyone could give it a shot and see if it works for them.



  8. Rod, thanks for the comment. Obviously as the periodicity of the relief (or rest) gets higher, the amount of relief each leg gets also lessens. I'm not an expert at this, but looking at it from a numbers point of view, I would think one would have to train really well to perfect this rhythmic pedaling technique. In the end, if you overshoot your optimized pacing, lactic acid is going to fill up the muscles and your downstrokes weaken, and since you take rest strokes in the pedaling anyway, the net amount of effort you put into the pedals decreases as a whole...little by little. Its tough to concentrate on maintaining the rhythmic resting..unless someone trains miles and miles with it until it becomes second nature.

    There are some others I have heard from who use breathing to sync with their pedaling. Still others use clockfaces, rolling the barrel technique, wiping the shit off their feet technique etc etc.

  9. Ron : Good point on the rest theory. I would think that something as little as a change in upper body movement during the momentary 'resting' phase can upset that phase (?), if you know what I mean. This requires a tremendous amount of co-ordination and I don't think these are learnt easily overnight.

  10. Phil : I'm not sure on upper body. It seems that significant upper body would affect the angles between the thigh and the torso, which may interfere with amount of power delivery to the pedals.

    I have not emphasized a lot on pedaling technique personally. Infact, I believe being aerodynamic will make you faster cyclist than any specialized pedaling technique, whose contributions are probably very negligible. Scientifically, it has not been proven that improving pedaling mechanics can shave your time to make you faster.

    But I'm willing to hear it from the rest of you. What pedaling techniqes do you guys follow, and what are your beliefs?

  11. It's hard to imagine that one can do that!

    As a road-bike newbie, my pedaling style is simply to match up with my breathing. If I'm out of breath, I will shift to lower gears.

    By the way, I think for every turn of pedaling, each foot has its own rest on half of the turn.

  12. Wildeny : I guess you could call your pedaling style following the path of least resistance to breath. Not sure what tools you use in your biking, but I would also use a heart rate monitor to see how hard my body is working on a particular gear and workload. Even though the numbers may not be in real time, I can get a reasonable guess to how hard it is for my heart.

    So in essence, what I'm saying here is if you shift down as your breathing gets harder, you may notice that your heart rate may actually climb to sustain a higher cadence, with lower force. But thats only if you are increasing your cadence. In this case, the muscles are contracting and relaxing in quick succession,
    requiring a high ratio of aerobic/anaerobic metabolism to energize the workload. Sometimes I feel high cadence just makes my heart work more, thus consuming more energy, even though my muscles won't fatigue out that fast. But I may not have to worry about that if I have significantly trained, because then the heart gets stronger and more efficient (higher stroke volume per beat) which leads to lower heart beats.

    Don't worry about your breathing for now as I think with training, your lungs get stronger. How much, I don't know...but you'll definitely see yourself breathing more efficiently...

  13. I tried the technique out last night while training for a time trial. Instead of resting periodically, I found that I pedaled harder on the counted strokes alternately on each leg. My speed went up from 35k to over 40 and I wasn't able to lessen my effort as long as I was employing the technique. Finally after almost 10 minutes I felt cramps coming on and had to return to my normal pedaling routine.

  14. I have only skimmed your blog... need to go back and read full...however... I know that in my head when riding..especially when struggling to go fast, hang on...and not get dropped... I have a count of eight...in my head....1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 1, 2, 3...and on and on it goes... perhaps that just means I'm crazy and nothing more :)

  15. DonO : One suggestion. Try this on a fixed gear bike and see how that feels.

  16. It is certainly interesting for me to read that article. Thank you for it. I like such themes and everything connected to them. I would like to read more on that blog soon.
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  17. Anonymous8:31 PM

    Eddy's advise is the best I've ever heard, "Ride lots."

  18. Fred Mauney The Phoenix12:01 AM

    Cozy Bee Hive, I believe we've spoken before..as for my peddling...I just pedal one pedal at a time in doing so I've crossed 10 peaks of 10,000 ft and one twice of 12,000 ft the Independence Pass out of Aspen,CO. I've crossed deserts of 140 degrees and going right into the humidity of the Mississippi River. All this while pulling not just my own weight but carrying close to my weight and also pulling a 4X6 ft American Flag. Go to PhoenixCharities.com A senior on disability, no support team and on nothing more that a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. The USPS was in own the Lance Armstrong doping fraud. If your ready for the Big Time..make sure you've got enough insurance to take care of your family.. And I'll will give you a series of stories that will connect the DOTS

  19. n crowley5:55 PM

    If you knew the secret of Anquetil's TT technique, you would understand why he needed this technique. It had no dead spot sector 11-1 o'c, he could apply maximal torque there. Instead of resting the leg on each count of 3 or 5 or more depending on cadence, you change the leading power leg and your speed will go up while your non leading power leg gets some recovery time. This technique also ensures each leg supplies equal power to the cranks.


Thank you. I read every single comment.