Take-home training session: leg speed

Pedalling quickly and efficiently is a core cycling skill. You’ll be able to ride quicker, with less strain, and you’ll expend less energy. Here’s how to do it

Many cyclists believe that in order to go faster, they must push a bigger gear. But this isn’t always the case and it could lead to serious problems.

Grinding away slowly in a big gear will put a lot of strain on your ankles, knees and hips as you push and pull through each pedal stroke. You will also tire quicker as your muscles work harder to create the strength and force needed to turn the wheels.

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If you’re out on your own, pedalling quicker in a smaller gear will serve you far better. Your legs will be under less stress, your muscles will feel far more comfortable, and your energy levels won’t dwindle as fast.

The session

This session is designed to work on your leg speed and your pedalling efficiency. If you’re 
not used to pedalling at such a high speed, it’s probably best to do this on a turbo-trainer, rollers or a Wattbike.

While the efforts are high, there should be no resistance. Remember, this session is to increase your leg speed so you become used to it. Forget about your power to start with.

0-10mins: Effort 1
Get your legs spinning and start to think about your pedalling action. If you can, take a note of your cadence. Count every time your right foot reaches the top of the pedalling stroke. The average cadence for a cyclist is around the 85rpm mark.

10-15min: Five 30-second efforts in zone 4, followed by 30-second recovery in zone 2

(First 30 seconds) zone 4
Make sure you’re in a gear with very little resistance as you 
start to up your effort. Increase your pedal stroke and try and count your cadence. It should be around the 130rpm mark. If it’s significantly lower, you’re not pushing hard enough.

This is a big effort, but it shouldn’t be impossible. Your legs should start to slightly burn towards the end. Here, you are forcing your legs to spin quicker and getting them used to working harder in an easier gear. Pedalling at 130rpm is a lot, and is virtually impossible to maintain on the road, but this session will encourage your legs to spin quicker when out on the road.

your bike
It’s important your bike 
is set up correctly. If it’s 
not, spinning so 
quickly could cause 
knee and hip 

(Second 30 seconds) zone 2
Once your 30 seconds are up, drop back down to Effort 2 and try to keep to a steady cadence, around the 90rpm mark. You might find that this feels quite slow compared to what you’ve just been doing. Great, that’s the idea. While this isn’t an aerobically testing session, your legs will need a break from turning so quickly.

15-25min: zone 1
While your legs won’t be cooking, they wouldn’t be used to such fast pedalling, so it’s very important to warm down. It will also give your heart rate a chance to drop and your mind a chance to calm down, as this session is rather frantic.

For 10 minutes, try and 
keep to a cadence a little lower than what you were doing in your zone 2 recovery period.

The six levels of intensity

Training Zones

Zone Effort You can…
1 Easy speak comfortably
2 Slow chat easily
3a Steady hold a conversation (just)
3b Brisk one sentence at a time
4 Threshold short sentences only
5 Hard only get the odd word out
6 Very hard gasp!