Improve your pedalling efficiency with this one-hour cycling workout - and why it’s so effective explained

Do if… you want to maximise on the fitness you already have and develop your pedalling efficiency

Male rider completing a cycling workout which targets pedalling efficiency
(Image credit: Future)

Most of us riding a bike want to get faster, be it for racing, making your way up the Strava KOM leaderboard, or increasing the average speed of your ride. Improving pedalling efficiency is a great way to achieve this, but is often an area of training which gets neglected and is seldom given enough specific focus. 

This cycling workout targets pedalling efficiency with six 15-second efforts where the goal is to spin your legs as fast as possible with about eight minutes rest between each effort.

The workout

To download the session click on the embedded graph above. If you’re not already set up on TrainerDay it’ll ask you to register for an account - it’s free to do so and it’s free to download the session.   

Simply explained

When we pedal, we are producing power. To go faster, we need to produce more power, physiologically speaking anyway. Power itself is made up of two elements: torque and angular velocity. The torque is the force that we apply (think about a torque wrench - the higher the torque the more force you are applying to that poor seat-clamp). 

The angular velocity is the speed at which that torque is applied - in other words, your revolutions per minute (RPM). If we are able to increase our speed (angular velocity) whilst maintaining the same torque, we can produce more power. 

This session essentially helps you be able to turn your legs at a faster speed and is beneficial as a lot of people ride at a cadence that might not be most efficient for them.

Let’s geek out…

So, how does this session help you do that? Well, when we pedal, we experience something called muscle coactivation. This occurs when you push down on the pedals with your quads (the agonist muscle group), yet you experience resistance from the hamstrings (the antagonist muscle group). 

This happens for several reasons, but is predominantly because the hamstrings are trying to help stabilise the knee. So, when you push 100 watts down, you may also be encountering 10 watts negative force, resulting in a net forward positive power output contributing to forward momentum of 90 watts. 

Several studies have investigated this in depth and found that well-trained professional riders experience far less hamstring muscle activation during the downstroke of the pedal phase than amateurs who train less, therefore producing a higher positive power output. So, in our 100 watts example, minus 10w reduces to minus 3w (not exact relative figures). 

Doing these high cadence drills (where novice riders may struggle with 100+ RPM and experienced riders can push north of 200!) can help in reducing this muscle coactivation.

Golden rule

Don’t worry about bouncing on the saddle. These efforts feel very alien to conduct and quite often, as you reach a higher RPM, it feels uncomfortable and you bounce up and down on the saddle as the muscles try to fire in the right pattern at a high speed. This is normal and will reduce as you get used to these efforts and develop a more efficient pedal stroke. 

Sunny out? How about…

Male cyclist completing a cycling workout outside.

(Image credit: Future)

These efforts are very easy to do outside: find a nice, flat stretch of road. Starting at a ‘walking’ pace, select your smallest gear. Then, rev out! Pedal as fast as you possibly can for 10 to 15 seconds. The rest periods between the efforts can be longer or shorter, depending on the overall ride that you are doing as the physiological effort of rev outs is low, therefore recovery is quick. 

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