Turning the Cranks

I talked my wife into going back and reading the Fat Cyclist posts from a month ago. It was only a matter of minutes before the tears formed in her eyes. That made me feel a little better about how emotional I got when I read it. But yeah, I think she’s starting to get it—how I can read so much about cycling so much of the time. Heck, she might even let me buy a Fatcyclist jersey now, which would be appropriate since I just showed my highest body fat percentage ever at our company wellness testing the other day. I may as well have the jersey and look the part, right?

But yeah, on to the main topic: Pedaling. Yes, Pedaling.

I’ve read, and agree with just a few facts about pedaling. Here they are, links included:


Elite cyclists pedal more efficiently than amateur cyclists
, avoiding wasted muscle contractions and blown energy.
Elite cyclists don’t pedal in circles; they “mash” in the sense that they apply greater downward force and less upward force compared with amateur cyclists.
There is no proper muscle firing pattern for pedaling. Different cyclists use different patterns and even slightly different muscles for pedaling. Yes, they all rotate two crank arms, but they do so using different muscles and muscle patterns.

Okay, but did you notice that in the first and last articles, despite supplying evidence that it doesn’t work, the articles instructed the reader to vary his pedaling pattern and pedal “more efficiently” in circles. It’s almost as though they ignore the very scientific tests they’re quoting. I’m starting to think that’s how the magazines stay in business—they keep us slow.

It makes me wonder if the truth is just too simple. The obvious answer to the question, “How do I pedal more efficiently?” is “develop efficiency through building an ‘aerobic’ base.” Think about it: You use slowtwitch muscle fibers over and over again until your body completely adapts to the movement. But that sort of thing gets boring and tedious. It gets old, particularly if you’re doing it on a trainer.

I can honestly say that I had my fastest season on the bike when I took the time to build a base first. I didn’t even spend a huge amount of time doing it—less than five hours a week. It wasn’t the easiest thing in the world to do—four-plus hours on a trainer every week for months on end takes a little mental fortitude. But at the end of the training block, I was really enjoying myself. I actually looked forward to climbing on the trainer and doing my workout every couple of days.

Then, when I raced after that, it felt natural. I’d almost say it felt effortless, except that I was sweating and panting through the race. I found I was able to really compete, and I enjoyed that even more.

There was just one problem: I realized that riding the trainer endlessly, while great for refining your pedaling efficiency, doesn’t seem to prepare you for climbing. But that’s a subject for another time.

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2 thoughts on “Turning the Cranks

  1. Boz

    Yes, that trainer base is so useful in that, I feel, you don\’t have to rely on muscle memory to go fast again. The conditions on the trainer are ideal, and you can pedal at your optimum pedal stroke. And you are so correct, at least in my personal experience, climbing can\’t be simulated accurately on a trainer. You just have to ride hill to get any better.

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