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Drills - Efficiency, Strength & Power

Drills - Not Just for Base Season

Though often relegated to base training phases, on-the-bike drills should have a place in your training plan year-round. Improvements in efficiency, strength and power are of benefit to riders at any level, beginner to professional.


And when you consider how often you turn over the pedals in the course of a minute, also consider the potential effect of even the smallest improvement in your efficiency when carried over hundreds and thousands of times.

Form drills are inarguably one of the best ways to break up the monotony of longer intervals and riders, so sprinkle these in liberally paying particular attention to the drills that most benefit you in terms of personal weaknesses and limiters.

Efficiency Drills

Efficiency drills seek to improve your overall cycling efficiency by addressing pedal economy (pedal speed and control) and muscle efficiency (gradual reduction in muscle stress at similar workloads).

  • Endurance Spinning (ES) - Practice spinning slightly quicker than your natural, self-selected cadence. Ride at a cadence that's at the very top of your comfortable rpm range (often this is your natural cadence + 3-5rpm) and remain there for a solid 5 minutes.

    The goal is to learn to turn the pedals more quickly with less force/muscle stress thereby improving your ability to remain predominantly aerobic over a wide range of rpm. If your HR rises more than a few bpm, you're pedaling too quickly - take it easy and stay relaxed but quick.

  • Single-Leg Focus (SLF)The objective here is to learn to apply power more effectively through the entire pedalstroke by focusing strictly on one leg's activity through the bottom, upstroke, and over the top of the pedalstroke.

    For 90 seconds at a time, devote your attention to one leg before switching to the other. Your cadence may fall slightly, but these drills typically come more naturally to less experienced riders than "one-leggers" (described below). Pay particular attention to lightly pulling your foot across the bottom, lifting your knee lightly upward and then softly kicking over the top of each pedalstroke. 

    Add this drill indoors or outdoors as often as you like, more frequently if you recognize a substantial difference in one leg's strength or coordination.

  • Isolated Leg Training (ILT)Also known as "one-leggers" and similar to SLF drills, the objective here is to learn to more effectively apply power through the entire pedalstroke by focusing strictly on one leg's activity through the bottom, upstroke and over the top of the pedalstroke.

    Completely unclip one foot from the pedal and rest it on your trainer, a stool, or anything that allows it to safely rest without interfering with your other leg's pedaling. Begin with slow cadence (very slow in some cases) and periods of 10-20s per leg unless you can pedal longer without "knocking".

    Don't worry about your temporarily low power - these drills aren't about strength. As you improve, your cadence will increase as will each leg's duration. Pay close attention your kick and pull (described below) thinking more in terms of horizontal or back and forth pedaling especially if you begin feeling deadspots in your pedalstroke or you begin hearing a knocking sound due to those deadspots.


    Keep tension on the chain and switch legs anytime your form degrades; don't practice bad habits just to tack on 5 or 10 more seconds.

    Include this drill indoors 2-3 times each week accumulating 5-10 minutes per leg each workout.

  • Pedalstroke Quadrants (P/KP)Each quadrant of a 360-degree pedalstroke can be emphasized over the course of a complete round of quadrant drills, but in the interest of keeping things more fluid, the 4 quadrants have been combined into 2 opposing muscle actions: up and down, backward and forward.

    • Pistons (P) - Few if any riders need to practice pushing down on the pedals, but improvements in how well your knees move are both beneficial to economy and joint health.

      As you pedal, pay close attention to how your knees track. They should move directly up, directly down - like pistons - with little if any lateral movement, especially at the top of each pedalstroke.

      Focus on one knee for 30-60s before switching sides. 

    • Kick & Pull (KP) - A balanced pedalstroke is dependent upon consistent tension on your bike's drivetrain throughout the entire pedalstroke. Reinforce your ability to maintain tension through the weakest portions of the pedalstroke, the top and bottom quadrants.

      As your knee approaches top-dead-center, lightly kick your toes into the fronts of your shoes, and as your feet approach bottom-dead-center, lightly pull your heels into the backs of your shoes - kick and pull.

      Focus on just the kick for 30-60s, just the pull for 30-60s, then eventually both for 30-60s simultaneously.

  • Form Sprints (FS)Sprints are for everyone, not just sprinters, because they "wake up" muscle fibers that too often don't get trained but will get used.

    Practice high-rpm sprint simulations at low power outputs to reinforce proper sprinting technique by jumping out-of-the-saddle and winding up a light gear. As your cadence reaches its controllable peak, gracefully transition into the saddle where you can shift gears if necessary.

    These sprints are only 10s long and are all about leg speed, form and technique. Experiment with which foot leads the sprint and learn how to generate a lot of leg speed in very little time.


Strength Drills

Strength drills not only enhance muscular contribution/activity but they can improve the health of your connective tissues and thus enhance joint stability in your knees, hips and ankles.

  • Strength Sprints (SS) Sprints are for everyone, not just sprinters, because they "wake up" muscle fibers that too often don't get trained but will get used.

    These standing-start sprints consist of slowly turning over a big gear as forcefully as possible in order to recruit as many muscle fibers as you can. They're done from a near stop and in the biggest gear you can gracefully turn over without exceeding 90rpm in 12 pedalstrokes.

    While standing, hold onto your handlebar drops and drive each foot down as hard as you can while retaining the excellent sprinting form you practiced during Form Sprints
    .

    If you reach 90rpm inside of 12 pedalstrokes, choose a larger gear next time and abandon the drill if you encounter 
    any knee pain. You can track your progress by comparing your max and average power output from week to week. 

  • Force Intervals (FI) - Often riders need to create power at very low cadences, e.g. over-geared coming out of a turn, very steep climbs, starting from a dead stop, etc.

    These intervals are also excellent for improving the resilience of your connective tissue gradually and they provide an excellent opportunity to focus on your ability to control the lateral movement of your knees, especially at the top of the pedalstroke. 

    If you currently have no knee issues, use a gear that allows you to hold your Target Power while riding between 50-60rpm. Focus on the top of the pedalstroke as well as the downstroke by kicking over the top and pressing your foot downward.

  • Hill Simulations (HS)These are Tempo/Sweet Spot workouts performed with an elevated front wheel based on the typical grades you'll encounter in your target events.

    By raising your front wheel up to 6 inches above the level of your rear wheel, you can more closely emulate the slightly different demands that gradients place on your muscles even if there's no conclusive evidence of its benefit.

    Try to keep your cadence above 80rpm when seated and above 75rpm when standing.

    Most of your focus should fall on the top and back quadrants of the pedalstroke and this can be achieved by focusing on lifting your knees upward and then gently kicking your feet forward, especially when standing. 

    These simulations are an attempt to increase the level of hill-climbing stress specificity as much as possible without riding actual hills.


Power Drills

Power drills can drastically improve both the number of muscle fibers you recruit during explosive efforts but also how quickly those fibers are recruited. They can also reduce muscle fiber fatigue over long rides by effectively distributing the workload over more muscle fibers. 

  • Power Sprints (PS) - Power Sprints are the culmination of Form Sprints and Strength Sprints and teach you to overcome heavy resistance quickly.

    At a reasonable cadence, 85-95rpm, jump out-of-the-saddle and wind up a big gear but not as big as the gear used during previous Strength Sprints.

    These sprints are only 10s long and should allow you to get in a maximum of 24 pedalstrokes and reach a high rpm, 130rpm or higher.

    Practice winding up a lot of watts in the briefest time possible while maintaining the form and technique you picked up during previous Form Sprints. 

    Experiment with which foot to lead with and don't hesitate to practice leading with either.

  • Advanced Hill Simulations (AHS) - The advanced version of HS are Sweet Spot/Threshold workouts which are still performed with an elevated front wheel based on the typical grades you'll encounter in your target events.

    Raise your front wheel up to 6 inches above the level of your rear wheel and more closely emulate the slightly different demands that gradients place on your muscles even if there's no conclusive evidence of this benefit .

    When specific cadence recommendations aren't detailed in the workout's Description and on-screen instructions, try to keep your cadence above 80rpm when seated and above 75rpm when standing.

    These simulations are part of a continued attempt to increase the level of hill-climbing stress specificity as much as possible without riding actual hills. 

  • Strength Endurance Rides (SER) - Synonymous with Muscular Endurance, the intervals comprising these rides effectively take the place of Force Intervals and further your ability to turn bigger gears for longer durations. 

    Put another way, they'll help you ride stronger in the wind, climb hills at a faster rate and maintain higher paces for increasing periods of time. 

    Strength is only so useful without the ability to sustain it, so make sure you're rested and ready to tackle each of these workouts as they're quite difficult and sure to challenge the strongest of riders but well worth the effort. 
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Comments

  • Avatar
    Deniz Kaplan

    i wish those instructions were incorporated in detail within traditional base program.

  • Avatar
    Todd Bray

    How does one determine which workouts incorporate these drills?

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