Single leg pedal stroke drill
Goals: 1) To teach a muscle firing sequence to create a circular pedal stroke
2) To work range of motion of the hip flexors
3) To increase smooth cadence
Synopsis: Pedaling isn’t natural. People think pedaling is natural because the crank controls the path of the foot. What you don’t see in that model is the force at the pedal. The point of the one leg drill is to teach the body to only push in the direction the pedal is moving by slowing it down and paying attention to which muscles can be used to do that at any point in the circle.
Masking problems: I’ve had many riders who struggled with the one leg pedal stroke drill say that they are smooth in a larger gear. They’re not, the inertia of the system is masking problems. The point of this drill is to remove the factors that mask problems – this happens in stages.
Step 1: muscle groups:
When I first built my plate loading test rig to better understand forces within the pedal stroke, I found I could not push the pedal forward smoothly over the top. This was the first time there was no inertia in the system to continue the pedal’s forward movement. Moving the pedal forward over the top requires two muscle groups, the quads which extend the lower leg from the knee (forward force), and the hip flexors which lift the femur from the hip (upwards force). The problem is you have two hip flexors, the iliopsoas and the rectus femoris. The rectus femoris attaches at the top of the patella, the vastus lateralis (quad) goes over the patella and attaches at the tibia. The two muscles won’t fire at the same time. Learning to push the pedal forward is a matter of learning how to isolate the iliopsoas to lift the pedal – it’s not very hard. If you lift your foot in front of you with your knee straight, you’ll notice tension at the top of the patella – that’s your rectus femoris. If you lift your knee in front of you with your lower leg relaxed, you’ll notice a muscle between your pelvis and femur working – that’s your iliopsoas. Now that you know where that muscle is and what it feels like to fire it, you can concentrate on only using it to lift the pedal.
Step 2: It’s not familiar:
Your body will return to what’s familiar – pushing a pedal around a circle is not familiar, standing is. You’ve learned two things from standing. 1) weight on the feet if normal. 2) all the weight goes on the bottom. Weight on the pedals on the down stroke is power – that’s good. Once the pedal gets past 6:00, weight on the pedal is subtracting power. When you start the one leg pedal stroke drill you’ll find the leg you stand on the most drops to the bottom and wants to stay there – you’ve learned how to stand. The point of the one leg pedal stroke drill is to develope motor skills based on pedaling, not walking or standing.
Below is the readout of a Pioneer power meter which shows force vectors. This is a pretty normal scan, note how much down force there is at the bottom. This is someone who learned how to stand, and that’s how they support themselves on the bike.
Step 3: Keep it slow:
There is no inertia in this drill, it’s about teaching your muscles to always be pushing in the right direction. With almost no resistance at the wheel it should feel more like tracing a circle than powering the bike.
A word of warning: In normal life you use your iliopsoas to walk up stairs. Bringing the pedal up to 12:00 is three times that, and it’s at your end range of motion. Do not overdo this drill when you first start out, or you won’t be able to put your pants on the next morning. You’ve been warned…