How Pedaling Technique Works

Full-stroke Pedaling

Bikes with clipless pedals, like this one, help you achieve greater efficiency and power when using full-stroke pedaling.
Bikes with clipless pedals, like this one, help you achieve greater efficiency and power when using full-stroke pedaling.
Polka Dot Images/Thinkstock

In a normal pedal stroke, you push down at the beginning and then pull your foot up at the end. The full-stroke motion technique applies energy from the beginning of the stroke and turns it into momentum and energy that propels the bike through the ending pull-up phase. To get an idea of how full-stroke motion works, imagine the face of a clock with each time corresponding to a different foot position on the pedal. At 2 o'clock, you push down with your foot, triggering the primary energy-creating phase of the pedaling cycle. Your leg should push straight down from 2 until 5 o'clock. Then, your foot and pedal transition from pedaling downward to the follow-through or upward phase, which lasts from 5 until 8.

Eight o'clock to 11 is the upward recovery phase. With your right leg at 8, your left leg is at the 2 o'clock power phase. You apply all of that left leg power (simply by pushing down) to the rear wheel, which moves the bike forward and helps your right leg move.

Full-stroke pedaling continues momentum at every time on the clock, pushing you smoothly through the dead zones of 12 and 6. These places are the very top and bottom of the pedal stroke, where no energy is generated, leaving you to find the energy -- either through pushing your muscles or using your own momentum -- to push through.

Here's how to power through those dead zones. At 5 o'clock, begin to pull your foot back a little as you pedal, so that you feel a slight tightening of your hamstring. Now, as you move your foot back and up on the pedal, imagine that you're scraping the ground with the ball of your foot, which should be parallel to the ground with your toes pointing downward. Why? This all serves to move the energy from your leg to your foot, and then to the bike as your foot pedals upward.

Proper position is key to making sure this technique works. You should raise your heel upward to allow for a more direct application of force. This reduces strain on the arch of your foot during the prime power phase, and the ball of your foot should be turned slightly upward. And since this repetitive motion may lead to muscle fatigue, many long-distance riders continuously move their ankles around in tiny circles to spread the tension.

But what kind of pedals are the best for you?