The Common Way of Pedaling
There is no doubt about the fact that all things being optimal as it relates to the bike you ride, it’s setup, as well as how fit you are to ride it, the way you pedal will determine your overall cycling effectiveness and efficiency. No matter that you own a decent entry level bike or an expensive, high-performance bike like the Trek Madone 6.9 SSL used in on our testing, if your pedaling technique is inefficient you will not be able to reach your true cycling potential. In essence, as much as we would like to, it is our legs and how we use them what provides the ultimate results. Indeed, a good pedaling technique can help you achieve reasonable performance consistency between the bikes you own or ride. In addition, inefficient pedaling is not only slow, it is also painful! This is especially true when you are working hard to achieve decent positioning in your group rides or races.
Because of the fact that from the time we are kids, we learn to ride a bike without being attached to it, the primary way of pedaling we have ingrained into our muscle memory is to push those pedals as best and hard as possible. As a matter of fact, the large majority of the cycling population in the US does not use any other form of pedaling technique other than pushing down exclusively on those pedals! More complex actions that combine pushing and pulling are learned as cyclist gravitate towards higher levels of competitive cycling. Within those levels, through desire for improvement, coaching, and systematic training, cyclists learn to apply efficiency to their pedaling technique. Regretfully, these cyclist encompass a diminutive percentage of a cycling population where millions of riders know nothing better that to push down on their pedals.
The Physics and Physiology of Pushing Down of Pedals
There are solid reasons why strictly pushing down of the pedals instead of partially doing it the way Elite/Pro cyclists do, is detrimental to your ridding. When you push down on the pedals and do not lift with the opposite leg like an elite and or a Pro cyclist does, you are fighting three opposing forces:
1. The resistance to motion posed upon the wheels by your weight, that of the bike as well as the % grade of the slope. A 0 or positive % grade hinders your forward motion, a negative % grade aids it.
2. The weight of the opposing leg as it is carried up by the pedal.
3. The muscular opposition of that leg to contraction.
Physiologically, as we push on the pedals, we have seven muscles of which the ones that carry the brunt of the pedaling work are those of the Quad group. In other words, we are talking about a highly focussed load that has to be dissipated by a small group of muscles. When you are descending, the burning sensation of the Quads as they do their work is not a problem, even though they are working indeed. When we are climbing, it is a different story. That burning sensation develops as the Quad muscle group fights the opposing forces we discussed above and the effects of that sensation are debilitating. In addition, you are causing stress to the knees that eventually could produce chronic pain.
The stress to the Quads is even bigger during a triathlon, when depending on the distances to be dealt with, Quads that are already stressed by the swim, will continue be stressed during the bike stage and will be stressed again throughout the running stage.
From the posture and aerodynamics position perspective, strictly pushing down on pedals to overcome considerable opposing force, causes excessive upper body side to side motion. There is also the typical non-fluid bottom out hesitation of the pedals.
From the tempo perspective, it is very hard to maintain a high and fluid tempo while overcoming considerable opposing force.
You may have not known that so many stressors and their effect are present during the execution of the pure push down pedaling technique. However, considering the fact the performance and joy cycling is directly proportional to the quality of your pedaling, more time and attention should be paid to its improvement.
The way Elite and Pro cyclists pedal
Elite/Pro cyclist use a combination of 75% pulling with 25% pushing down with a sweep back to a lifting action. All of this is accomplished in perfect harmony in order to effectively execute their “race level” pedaling process. With it they can generate on demand power spikes of up to 1,500 watts off the saddle and close to 1,000 + watts on the saddle.
Because they apply propulsive power by lifting across 75% of the lifting arc, Elite/Pro cyclists almost or completely eliminate the effects of the second and third opposing forces related to pushing down on the pedals. In addition, when they are dealing with a low power descent, many of them show by the position of their feet, that they are hardly pushing down on the pedals.
With the Elite/Pro technique, 13 muscles including the Abs group, are activated during the lifting process and 7 during the pushing process. Although this causes a better distribution of the pedaling load, there is partial utilization and stress of the pushing muscles, thus, there could be some minor Quads burning during extreme and extended periods of use.
From the posture and aerodynamics perspective, their body position has hardly no upper body motion and their posture is compact and sleek. However, it takes quite a bit of time and practice to develop a very efficient and effective Pro pedaling technique. In addition, Elite/Pro cyclists have to be constantly on guard to keep it that way by preventing the pushing down action to take over. If it does, it will negatively affect its power generation and fluid action.
A Short Cut to Better Pedaling
Lift Propulsive Pedaling takes the complexity out of achieving pedaling efficiency by solely using 100% of the lifting arc. LPP eliminates the pushdown portion of the opposing leg while increasing the efficiency to produce up to 900 watts of power on the saddle power. LPP is extremely similar to the Elite/Pro technique during the standing position.
In the case of LPP, there is a specific bio-mechanical position that you can dial-in on the bike, which along with the right lifting action, produces a synchronistic pedaling motion between the lifting leg and the descending leg. The physics behind this synchronistic action are discussed in the LPP Technique section of the http://www.lpptraining.com membership site.
Since LPP is a derivative of the Pro technique, the large majority of the pedaling action of the feet of the LPP cyclists and 100% of the body stabilization and aerodynamics are identical to those of an Elite /Pro cyclist. The only thing that separates both techniques is the slight drop of the heel of the descending foot of the Elite/Pro cyclists, as they perform the push down and sweep of the pedals. Both LPP and the Elite/Pro technique the same tempo sweet spot (90 t0 110 rpm). Finally, within its performance envelope, LPP delivers a slightly higher efficiency for power generation than the Elite/Pro technique.
With LPP, 13 muscles including the Abs group, are activated during the lifting process. This causes a better distribution of the pedaling load with absolutely no utilization or burning of the pushing muscles. This is especially useful on a triathlon, where you completely rest the Quads after the swim stage and use them again during the running stage.
It took time and concentrated effort to work out the “best practice” of how to achieve LPP’s synchronistic efficiency and its ensuing pedaling effectiveness. This best practice is indeed the key to its outstanding propulsion generation capacity.