At least once a week, it is important to devote some time to improving pedaling efficiency and skill. When pedaling with both legs, the leg that pulls the foot through the bottom of the stroke, up the back and over the top, gets lazy because the opposite leg is pushing the pedal down, a much more powerful and natural action than pulling the pedal up! If the “lazy” leg does not help bring the pedal up and over the top, it is simply dead weight and increases the resistance your muscles must overcome to move the bike down the road. Learning to complete a 360-degree circle with each leg creates a better, more efficient rider. The key 'feeling' a rider wants during the pedal stroke is a constant pressure on the pedal at all times during the entire circle.
An excellent drill for this purpose is the Single Leg Drill. This exercise helps to refine pedal stroke and promote pedaling efficiency, coordination, and strength. Additional benefits of this drill include: improving ability to sustain a higher overall cadence during rides at a race 'goal speed/pace;' learning how to feel and reference all aspects of the pedal stroke (to more effectively vary motor unit (muscle) recruitment, specifically the quadriceps and hamstrings, and spread out the workload); improving neuromuscular coordination and strength which eventually will turn into greater power production and efficiency at 'goal speed;' and, learning to 'float' a leg, e.g. shutting one leg off while pedaling so that it can rest, a valuable skill that can be employed in racing situations.
Please note: Although not portrayed in this video, you should ALWAYS include a thorough warm up period prior to beginning this drill. A proper warm up ensures that you will reduce the likelihood of injury while also increasing the potential benefits.
How to Properly Perform the Single Leg Drill
(NOTE: For video purposes, I have unclipped my left leg from the pedal to illustrate engaging only the right leg. During a spinning class, students are instructed to simply let the left leg go “dead” and work only the right leg. This effort would not be visible on video. Another option, although not feasible in a gym due to space limitations, is to set a chair next to the bike and rest the non-working leg on the chair. This option, does not allow for easy transition between legs.)
After warming up for 10 to 15 minutes, alternate 30 seconds of spinning with your right leg only, 30 seconds of spinning with your left leg only, and one minute with both legs. This is not an aerobic workout, so riders should not focus on elevating heart rate into some particular training zone. Instead, focus should be placed on creating smooth circles with each leg.
When riders first start doing this drill, many find a “dead spot” at the top of the pedal stroke, where the foot seems to stall-out. By practicing this drill, the stall can be eliminated. Riders should slowly work their way up to doing around 10 minutes of Single Leg Drill per leg per training session.
For those new to this drill, gearing and volume should build slowly. It is best to start with an easy gear (for neuromuscular development) and then progress to a very big gear for force development. Riders should start with short repetitions of 30sec and build up to 2-5 minutes per leg. Cadence should also vary. As a general rule, keep cadence below that point when your stroke begins to 'break up.' That cadence is typically around 90rpm and can be calculated by checking cadence for 15 seconds and multiplying by 4. To check cadence, hold hand over one knee and count how many times in a 15 second time period the knee hits the hand; a count of 22-23 is optimal. To avoid constantly hitting dead spots, a rider can slow to a lower cadence and then increase over time he improves.