4 Drills to Improve Pedaling Efficiency

Marc Lindsay
by Marc Lindsay
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4 Drills to Improve Pedaling Efficiency

If you want to get faster or ride for longer distances without increasing your training miles, improving your pedaling efficiency could be the ticket.

By working on your technique and removing any dead spots where power isn’t being produced during the pedaling motion, you’ll become a more economical cyclist — meaning you’ll use less energy to move at the same speed.

To get started, incorporate a few of the drills below into your training routine at least twice per week. It’ll take a lot of practice to perfect these drills, but after a few months, you should begin to see results out on the road.

Drill 1: Spin Ups

Why: An efficient cyclist can maintain higher cadences comfortably. By pedaling at a higher number of revolutions per minute (rpm), you’ll rely less on leg strength and shift your focus to pedaling efficiency instead.

The drill: In an easy gear, gradually increase your cadence (from your normal cadence) for 30 seconds or until you begin to bounce on the saddle. Pedal at the highest cadence you can maintain for 10 seconds then return to your normal cadence. Pedal for 1–2 minutes and repeat 10 times.

Tip: This drill is good to do on a stationary trainer or spin bike with a weighted front wheel. The extra weight will force you to spin at an rpm that’s higher than you might otherwise choose.

Drill 2: Single-Leg Pedaling

Why: Common areas of weakness during the circular motion of pedaling are the forward push phase near the 12 o’clock position (top dead center) and the pull phase, from 6–10 o’clock. Practicing single-leg drills will force you to pedal in full circles and prevent your sedentary leg from assisting.

The drill: Complete this drill on a stationary indoor trainer. Unclip one foot from your pedal and rest on the frame of your trainer or on a short stool. Pedal in an easy gear for 30 seconds with the other leg. Clip your other foot back in and pedal with both feet for 1–2 minutes at your normal cadence. Repeat with the opposite leg, completing 10–15 repetitions on each leg. Increase the number of reps or the duration as the drill becomes easier.

Drill 3: Forward and Back

Why: This drill works on the two areas of the pedal stroke where a loss of power is most likely: the forward phase at the top of the pedal stroke and the pull phase, which occurs at the bottom of the pedal stroke and begins just after the push phase.

The drill: Spend 5–10 minutes of your ride focusing on your feet. This can be done at any time, but make sure you’re in an easy gear and not moving at high speeds. Work on pushing your foot forward in your shoe each time you reach the top of the pedal stroke. Since your feet are always doing the opposite of one another, concentrate on the pull phase (6 o’clock) with one foot and try not to concentrate on the push phase at all. Instead, think about pushing one foot forward and pulling up with the other. It may seem awkward at first, but once you get this down, you should be able to include the other phases of the pedal stroke fairly easily.

Drill 4: Out of the Saddle

Why: Since standing while pedaling can increase torque and power output, out-of-the-saddle efforts are particularly helpful when you’re sprinting to the line or huffing up a steep gradient. The downside to standing is that it’s less efficient, so you’ll need plenty of practice to make it as economical as possible.

The drill: Practice on a climb with a mild gradient, about 4–6%. As you get out of the saddle, concentrate on rocking the bike away from the leg that’s straight. As you begin to push with the opposite leg, use the arm on the same side to pull up. This will lean the bike to the opposite side, creating a natural rocking rhythm from side to side. Your body should not lean with the bike, but instead remain in a neutral position. Aim for intervals of 3–5 minutes. Repeat three times.

About the Author

Marc Lindsay
Marc Lindsay

Marc is a freelance writer based in Scottsdale, Arizona. He holds a master’s degree in writing from Portland State University and is a certified physical therapy assistant. An avid cyclist and runner of over 20 years, Marc contributes to LAVA, Competitor and Phoenix Outdoor magazines. He is the former cycling editor for Active.com.


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