One foot at a time

This week’s PowerMax indoor training session at the Boulder Center for Sports Medicine was relatively easy, but I laid down some base and learned a little something about one-footed pedaling.

Quick definition
Threshold power is the amount of power you can sustain for an hour. It’s the main indicator of your long-term pedaling performance. An elite road racer can belt out 500 watts. I can maintain about 240.

All PowerMax workouts are based on your threshold power. The coach specifies what percentage of your threshold you should be producing at any moment, and the machinery adjusts to keep you in the right zone.

Last Wednesday’s threshold intervals and over-exuberant sprints demolished me. Tuesday’s three-hour hike/ride blew me out. I showed up this Wednesday tired, dehydrated and ready for another beat down.

Luckily, this was a pretty easy protocol:

– Seven 2-minute intervals near threshold power

– 12 minutes of low-resistance pedaling drills

– Seven 1-minute intervals near threshold power

Lester explains that the Loch Ness Monster might appear during the rest period. That would be a good time to sprint.

Coach Lester Pardoe is building our bases, gradually exposing us to more and more time at threshold power. In a few months our threshold intervals will be much longer, and we’ll be spending more time above threshold. This will increase our thresholds, and it’ll make us more comfortable closer to red line. Don’t worry: I shall rule the Super D kingdom with benevolence.

I did the prescribed work — with no show-off sprinting action — and it felt easy. Maybe I should increase my threshold power? Naw …

One foot at a time
During our “off” phase, Lester had us pedal with one foot for 30 seconds, the other foot for 30 seconds, both feet for 30 seconds (repeat).

I actually do a fair amount of one-footed pedaling, usually on the climb to my house. That’s very low cadence, and I focus on applying power all around the stroke. I alternate 10 strokes on each side. It seems to work OK.

Wednesday’s drills were at much lighter resistance and higher cadence. I tried to pull up on the upstroke, and it basically sucked. After maybe 15 seconds my hip flexors and the fronts of my ankles burned, and my stroke got clunky and junky.

Lester suggested we focus on pushing across the top of the stroke. No scraping mud at the bottom. No pulling up. None of that business. Just drop your heel, push across the top and make the power stroke as long as possible. Just like with both legs.

That was much better. Duh. I wonder if I can do this with flat pedals.

Riders’ choice
When only five one-minute intervals remained in the workout, Lester said, “We have five intervals and five people. Each of you gets to choose what we do.”

The other riders had us do things like: faster cadence than normal; 30 seconds fast, 30 seconds slow; standing the whole way.

My choice: 5 seconds pinned out of the saddle, 10 seconds cycling up and down in attack position as if you’re pumping bumps (repeat)

That was fun, and it felt more like mountain biking.

Expecting a beat down next Wednesday.

Know more. Have more fun!

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12 replies
  1. leelikesbikes says:

    Check out the Mountain States Cup and Winter Park series.

    I’ve been out of the race scene for a couple seasons, but I hope to return this summer. I want to be that guy on the podium holding his little twin girls.

  2. Ronan says:

    This looks very interesting how do you measure your wattage?
    you go to a gym? or use a bicycle computer?

  3. leelikesbikes says:

    At the Boulder Center for Sports Medicine, you attach your bike to a CompuTrainer system. It measures wattage, speed, favorite food and all kinds of other stuff.

    At home I have a cheapo Performance trainer with a built-in power meter.

    On the trail I have these dang mountains. The way I see it, if I’m going up, I’m making enough power!

  4. Scott says:

    Hi Lee,

    Pushing across the top of the stroke is starting to make a lot of sense to me. My take is that the top push automatically shifts your weight and power off of the “back” foot. By pushing across the top, you are simultaneously, without thinking, lifting the back foot. When I say lifting, I don’t mean pulling, but just getting the weight off as much as possible. I’ve never seen any graphs in scientific publications where anyone actually achieved a net “up” force on a pedal at cadence.

    In the alternative, when one consciously pulls on the back foot, that can be achieved by force against the saddle. Such technique doesn’t automatically contribute to the power stroke.


  5. Ralf says:

    Hi Lee,

    Scott knows what he is talking about.
    Studies with elite road racers have shown that they don’t pull up with their back foot. All they do is unweight the leg on the upstroke, so that the leg on the downstroke doesn’t have to lift that dead weight.
    Another thought – applying power all around the stroke only works well with a rather low cadence and makes sense as strength training. Pedaling smoothly with a high cadence is more about very complex inter- and intramuscular coordination. It is very hard to influence the different phases of the stroke consciously. The only thing that helps (apart from a natural talent) is getting a feeling for a fast, yet smooth and relaxed stroke. If you are interested, I can tell you some exercises for that.


  6. aussie chris says:

    If there is no pulling on the upstroke then I am at no-to-little disadvantage in flats + 5.10s on my enduros. I can push across the top, but if it is accompanied by a dropped heel, then, again, no disadvantage over clips.

  7. leelikesbikes says:

    There *is* pulling at very low rpm, especially if you’re accustomed to clips.

    At high rpms, though, it’s becoming more and more clear that there is, indeed, no pulling. Or at least no effective pulling. If you’re a good pedaller, you can keep your feet engaged with flat pedals. If you drop your heels and push across the top, it seems flats are just as good as clips.

    That’s how it seems. I think I will do this week’s PowerMax class with flat pedals. It’ll be interesting to see what the power meter says.


  8. Ralf says:

    Hi Lee,

    you are right, there is pulling at very low rpm and it is a good strength training (especially one footed). But beware – it’s easy to overstrain your tendons – I’m speaking from experience 🙁
    Anyway, as you said, it’s about fun and you don’t have to worry about your upstroke unless you want to kick some butt at an XC race – or the Sunday race.
    For Aussie Chris and others who are worrying about the disadvantages of flats. Check out this guy. He set a new 24 hour altitude record for road bikes (21060 meters) this year. He usually uses flats and Birkenstock sandals. For his world record he switched to “sophisticated” outdoor sandals!


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