Endurance Profile: Smooth Riding

This morning, I worked with my early morning class on improving their pedaling technique.  I throw pedal drills into my rides every now and then, but today’s Spinning Profile was dedicated to form and efficiency.

We all have bad habits on the bike.  Most of us ride the pedals like we are on the Stairmaster, focusing on the downstroke and overusing our quads.  Blame it on the BMX with no toe straps or clips you had as a kid.  Many people have muscular imbalances that cause them to ride with knees out, in or their toes pointed.  Failure to correct these form errors will eventually cause overuse injuries in your riders.  Some of your participants won’t have any obvious technique problems, but will gain better muscle control from these drills. 

So what is a good pedal stroke? A good pedal stroke contains the following elements:

A smooth spinning motion.
No dead spots on the down stroke or especially the upstroke.
Knees in close and parallel to the top tube.
Consistent cadence of 80-100 rpm on flat roads with mild resistance.

By balancing your pedal stroke, you allow more muscles to engage, creating better endurance, economy and balance of strength that may reduce lower back problems and foot problems on long rides.

Throughout this class, connect with the muscles in your legs and visualize every movement.  Try to imagine a smooth light circular motion.  Don’t worry about heart rates today, just focus on a smooth endurance ride at 75% of your max the whole time, including the breaks.

 Now, to the Spinning Profile you’ve been waiting for.  If you want to dowload the playlist, click here.  Don’t forget to come back and leave comments when you’ve tried it!!

1 – I Want to Break Free (4:19) [100 bpm ]

Warm up on a flat road to elevate the heart rate to 70%. This will not be a heart-intensive workout, so take your time and get comfortable. Observe the natural way that you pedal the bike.

2 – Precious Mix (DJ Dan 4 am Mix)(4:49) [80-100 bpm ]

Continue warming up the legs and increasing blood flow.  This is one of your few breaks from the saddle, so come on up and run.  Observe how you pedal out of the saddle. Pay more attention to the quality of your circles and start to look for dead spots in your stroke.  Even standing in Hand Position 2, we should strive to Spin the legs, not mash.

3 – Beautiful Day (4:08) [70-80 rpm ]

Pedal Drill Number One: Shuffling. Forget about pumping your legs up and down. Forget the habits you learned on your cageless, clipless outdoor bike. There is no up and down for the next 4 minutes. Each time a pedal reaches 3 o’clock, pull straight back (parallel to the ground) with the front foot and simultaneously push straight forward with the trailing foot. Imagine the way your feet would glide past each other in roller blades if you didn’t pick your feet off the ground.  This action feels funny at first but if you work at it a bit, you’ll find that it helps a lot, especially on hills. And, after a while you’ll pedal smoother than ever because you’re able to apply power through more of the stroke. This happens because the natural up-and-down pedal action is complemented by the new fore-and-aft motion. Try shuffling for a minute and then take 30 seconds to pedal with full circles before trying again.

4 – Just a Ride (3:20) [90 rpm]

Jumps!  Your first test of improved pedal stroke. Take these very slow, sitting for an eight count of the music then standing for an eight count.  Work on a consistent circle that has the same cadence in and out of the saddle. Think of that smooth lift out of the saddle everytime you come up without heavily mashing down on your lead leg. Feel where the dead spots occur in your circle and work to keep the motion consistent. Rest if your heart rate peaks over the 75-80% range, or if your muscles are too tired to keep the circle constant.

5 – Crazy (2:58) & 6 – The Remedy (4:16) [90-100 rpm]

 Both songs are for Pedal Drill Number Two: Alternate leg pedaling. This strength and skill drill will help to increase power through the top center and bottom dead center of your pedal stroke. Pedal with only one leg for 30 seconds, letting the other become like “dead weight.” Optionally, you can pull it out of the cage and set it on a ball or a chair or hold it up, but this takes up extra time, and makes it difficult to switch between right and left legs quickly.  Update 8/07:  Removing your foot from the pedals has been listed as a contraindicated move in Spinning, meaning you shouldn’t do it.  Please keep both feet in the cages for a safe ride!

After 30 seconds, switch to the other side for 30 seconds, focusing all the effort in that leg and careful not to let your “dead leg” help out. Then use both legs together for 30 seconds and add a small amount of resistance. Repeat the drill with 45 seconds per leg, adding resistance, then one minute per leg. You never realized how little you were pulling, did you? Almost immediately it becomes easier to pedal smoothly during normal pedaling, because you are essentially teaching each leg to pedal in perfect circles. With the final minute and both legs working together, add additional resistance to begin a short hill in the saddle.

7 – Under Pressure (3:57) [60 rpm ]

Continue climbing and adding resistance. If you need a break from the saddle, take it to position 3, but realize that we want to reinforce the habits we are developing in the pedaling drills. Standing uses a piston-like push and pull motion that is counter to the spin technique we are developing. Try to sit the entire song and focus on fluid circles with constant pressure. Revisit your shuffling drill and your single leg drill to find new ways to improve the quality of your pedal stroke. Embrace discipline and perserverance so that you may progress!!

8 – S.O.S. (3:58) (140 bpm)

Optional. If you need a longer break between drills and you want to get out of the saddle, run again or jump. Just don’t forget how much improvement you’ve made already and continue to reinforce the lessons learned. Remember how choppy your jumps were the first time and see if you can apply your new knowledge to smooth things out.

9 – Resonator (7:39) [80 – 110 rpm]

 Pedal Drill Number Three : Cadence Ladder. If you can reach the stereo, pause the music for a minute before starting the drill. Find your natural, baseline cadence against a mild resistance without being influenced by the beat. Once this is established play the music and keep your cadence for one minute. You may need to do a cadence check. After one minute at a steady tempo, increase your cadence “10%” (totally determined by your own perceptions) and hold it one minute. Continue to increase your cadence “10%” every minute for five minutes. Finish it off with your all out effort, mindful that the highest cadence you should ever safely have is 110 rpm, so add resistance if you are going too fast, for 20-30 seconds. Then slow it down and ride the flat road.

10 – Crazy (James Michael Mix) (3:38) [110 bpm ]

Optional final flat road if you have time to let your legs absorb the last of the lesson and see how many new good habits you can set out to adopt.

11, 12 – Dreams of Sea & Sky

Cool Down.  Congratulations!  You are one ride closer to perfection.  Celebrate the accomplishment and be grateful for opportunities to learn and grow and improve. 


5 thoughts on “Endurance Profile: Smooth Riding

  1. If we’re talking about the same “Beautiful Day,” I love to use that song in my classes. Positive, fast, fun. It would be helpful to have an idea of resistance levels in this profile (like 5/10, etc.) as well as the name of the band whose songs you’re using. Much easier to replicate with full info! This is a great profile and I may use it one day soon.

    • Thanks for your comment, Marilyn. I had not realized that my playlist links were not working — this is where all of the information you need to find these songs was located, but I’ll do my best to get that remedied toute de suite! As for the resistance levels, I do not use a scale to inform my students of where their resistance should be. For each movement, there is an appropriate level of resistance that I communicate through physiological cues — mostly heart rate. You could easily choose the resistance level that makes sense to you, remembering that this is an endurance ride, so you’ll probably spend most of the class in the 3-5 range, with a 7 the couple of times you come out of the saddle, depending on how your scale works. This is why I don’t use scales, because everyone’s is different!!! Thanks for visiting and sharing your comments!

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