Last month I wrote about my cycling session with Dr Barney Wainwright, applied sport scientist at Leeds Beckett University, who adjusted my bike position, introduced me to the benefits of pedalling effectively (you can read the post here) and armed me with some simple pedalling drills as my homework. There were gains to be made. And the fundamentals were pretty simple.

Here’s a quick update…

Going back to (pedalling) basics
If you read my last post, you’ll remember I came away from my session with a newfound understanding of how an effective pedalling technique could improve my cycling – from my speed and power output to conserving energy. Using the Wattbike Pedalling Effectiveness Score (PES), I learned that my pedalling technique couldn’t have been less effective. Given that I’d never previously given a second thought to how I pedalled, I was excited to get started. The only way was up!

Next, I needed something tangible to help me improve my pedalling effectiveness and this came in the form of pedalling drills to use on the Wattbike. Note: If you were at the Cycle Show in September and heard Dr Wainwright’s talk, you may already be familiar with them.

During my recent session with Dr Barney Wainwright

Easy pedalling drills
For someone who’s not particularly ‘techy’ the drills are reassuringly basic. They simply break your pedal stroke down into parts that you can isolate individually before bringing the full pedal stroke together.

Wainwright suggests incorporating the drills into your training three times a week (doing them during your warm-up is an easy win). Ideally, you’ll want to use a Wattbike and monitor your PES for improvements, although theoretically you could complete the drills without one, forfeiting the feedback. That said, the PES allows you to adjust your foot placement during the drills according to your results – for example, on the push forward, my score improved when I dropped my heel slightly.

During each drill, focus on your leg left only first, then switch to your right leg.

Drill one: Pull back

  1. Concentrate on pulling your foot backwards as the pedal approaches the bottom of the pedal stroke.
  2. Once you’ve mastered this movement, try alternating legs one at a time: left, right, left, right.
  3. Once the movement becomes more natural, focus on combining the pull back with a more forceful push down. Observe the effect on your PES.

Drill two: Push forwards

  1. Concentrate on pushing your foot forwards as the pedal approaches the top of the pedal stroke.
  2. Once you’ve mastered this movement, try alternating legs: left, right, left, right.
  3. Once this becomes more natural, focus on combining the push forwards with a more forceful pushdown. Observe the effects on your PES.

Finally, bring everything from both drills together in a full pedal stroke. Simple.

Wainwright’s top drill tips:

  • Once you’ve improved your technique at your ‘go-to’ cadence, practice the drills at high and low cadence and high and low power outputs
  • Have plenty of recoveries and keep the session short
  • If you struggle to improve your PES, there may be underlying issues (such as bike set-up and positioning) affecting your ability to develop a good technique

I imagine some of you may be thinking, why bother, you’re a cycling novice, surely improving your pedalling effectiveness isn’t worth the small time investment? But I’d argue, wouldn’t it be nice to avoid being dropped on rides, to be able to power up that hill easier, increase your power output and cycle faster, all without any extra effort? Personally for me, it’s a no-brainer. I have my sights on some Cols in Annecy and Mallorca next summer and I’ll take all the gains I can get!

My results so far
I’m not going to lie, as with all sport-related ‘homework’ I find the drill sessions a bit of a chore – it takes a decent amount of concentration to remain in the optimum ‘green’ zone while you practice them. However, during one single session of drill work my pedalling effectiveness score went from a hideous 45 to a consistent 67. Considering the ideal is 70-80, and 75 ‘optimum’, this is significant.

So, I’ve seen the benefits and I know it’s worth the very short time investment. During the same time period my power output has increased and I’m cycling at a higher wattage. It’s likely this is a combination of my improved bike position and increased fitness on top of pedalling more effectively, but either way, I’m happy!

A screenshot of my Wattbike PES score during a mixed drill-and-training session. (N.B I took this sitting upright on the bike, which has negatively impacted my Polar View profile and leg balance.)

How does this transfer to a road bike?
Although I haven’t been out on my Planet X since Mallorca in August, my husband, who’s been religiously doing his drills three times a week and cycling on the road for same amount of time, saw a pretty rapid improvement in his cycling, both on the road and on the Wattbike. Hills have become easier and he can push harder.

On the Wattbike his PES naturally now hovers around the 70-75 mark, even at a high power output, so he believes he’s transferring this effectiveness to his road cycling too.

Me? I’ll be using the winter months to improve my base fitness and I’m committing to continuing the drills to improve my PES. I have a Wattbike Atom coming from my husband in January (the upside to a significant birthday milestone!) so watch this space. I’m coming for you, spring!