How to Improve Pedaling Efficiency

One-leg Drills

Lance Armstrong descends with the peloton during Stage 17 of the 2010 Tour de France.
Lance Armstrong descends with the peloton during Stage 17 of the 2010 Tour de France.
Brynn Lennon/Getty Images

Everything about a bike implies "two." There are two wheels, two pedals and two handlebar grips. Even the name "bicycle" has "two" ("bi") built into the name. So it might come as a surprise that one-leg drills are one of the top ways to improve pedaling efficiency.

Most cyclists can underuse one of their legs during a race. By training each leg individually, you can ingrain efficient pedaling habits into both legs without unknowingly letting one leg pick up the slack. Cycling trainers also find that one-leg drills help you increase your overall cadence. Cadence is your pedal rotation speed, which is calculated in revolutions per minute (RPM). Ideal RPM can vary from person to person, and while there is some disagreement among athletes as to what constitutes the perfect RPM, most agree that somewhere in the 80 to 100 RPM range is best for racing. Seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong usually pedals between 105 and 110 RPM [source: Journal of Applied Physiology].

Beyond improving cadence and leg strength, other benefits of one-pedal drills include:

  • Being able to concentrate on every aspect of the pedal rotation
  • Keeping your training routine fresh
  • Improving neuromuscular coordination
  • Learning how to shut off one leg during a race -- if needed for rest

[source: Trifuel]

One-leg drills should be done on a stationary trainer. First, pedal with both legs to warm up. Then, rest the leg that's not in use somewhere out of the way. When you first start your drills, you will want to practice each leg a short amount of time -- such as 30 seconds on each leg -- but you will want to get in six to nine minutes of overall practice on each leg during that training session. Approximately five minutes of easy recovery riding between each set is beneficial.

Keep the practice duration, bike resistance and RPM at a lower rate when you first start training with one-leg drills. For instance, you may want to begin around 60 RPM. By beginning slowly, you'll be able focus better on your form, duration and resistance over the course of your training.

Fasten your toe-clips -- our next drill will challenge you mentally and physically.