Perfecting Your Pedal Stroke

An Interview with Movement and Bike Fit Expert Jason Barcoff

As a cyclist and coach, I have grown a love and appreciation for the finer details in cycling including the pedal stroke. Having ridden with and/or coached riders from beginner to professional, I get excited when I see a cyclist with a beautiful pedal stroke. It looks so smooth and efficient that you start to question whether the rider has to exert any effort at all to turn the pedals over! On the flip-side, some pedal strokes look very inefficient if not downright painful. This begs the question, how does one perfect their pedal stroke?

While I have done my fair share of searching for answers on this subject, the science and consensus seem to continually change. So, I thought I would consult an expert in the space where perfecting your pedal stroke begins, bike fit.

Bike fitting is arguably a niche profession of biomechanical and movement experts who essentially help fit your bike to your body. The end result is a more comfortable, efficient and powerful version of yourself on the bike. From there, you are ready to tackle the more nuanced methods of perfecting your pedal stroke including lots of practice!

The expert bike fitter I consulted was Jason Barcoff. Jason is a member of the National Association of E.M.S. Educators, USSA Development Committees, and FMS. He is certified by the International Bike Fitting Institute and currently performs bike fits virtually at Team Wilpers and in person at Bespoke Bike and Ski. I asked Jason a series of questions on the subject and below are his answers. Enjoy!

Matt: What is the “perfect pedal stroke”? Is there such a thing or is this a moving target that we have to focus on getting close to the rest of our lives?

Jason: The perfect pedal technique is unique to each person and the ability to provide consistent, sustainable power is the goal. Using the imagery or concept of pedaling in circles is ok, but the reality is trying to pedal in a perfect circle is not sustainable and will likely reduce efficiency of movement. Even the pro’s do not have perfect pedal strokes and that’s okay. Instead, the focus should be on optimizing your individual economy of movement and economy of power.  

Matt: Why is a proper bike fit essential to developing a good pedal stroke?

 Jason: I often hear from my clients that they are unable to perform said task (relax the shoulders, engage my glutes, etc). Proper positioning on the bike, based on the individual’s mobility, is paramount for the body to provide force / power to the pedals.  Without a proper fitting tailored to the individual, one might never be able to work the specific muscle groups properly to achieve their goals. 

Matt: What are some mental cues cyclists (especially indoor riders) should think about when riding to improve their pedal stroke?

Jason: Classically, the reference of driving from the heel or scraping mud / gum from the bottom of the shoe are terms used often as imagery for a pedal stroke. These work well for some, but I have also found success in relating the pedal stroke to that of the front crawl swimming stroke:  we never pull or scoop water ‘up’ in the back portion of the stroke, but the arm still has to move back over the top.  

Matt: What are some drills riders can do to improve their pedal stroke?

Jason: ‘Spin-ups’ where you pedal 15-20 seconds as fast as you can in a lower gear every 5 min or so can be beneficial, (caveat being you need to have enough resistance, so you do not lose contact with the saddle and end up ‘bouncing’).

Single-leg drills allow for a slightly greater TUT time (time under tension) isolating and working key muscle groups. Cadence should be in the 100’s for 1 min intervals, alternating legs, for a total of 6 minutes (3 min. each leg). 

As you can see, it was a fun and informative interview with Jason. For more practice and tips on perfecting your pedal stroke, please check out my Low Impact classes at Peloton. Until then, have a great day and remember to train hard, train smart and always have fun!

Team Wilpers BODY Series – Hip and Pelvis

Introducing the Team Wilpers BODY Series. Each installment in this series will focus on a different area or region of the body. We will discuss correct positioning, mobility and show you strength exercises that will help increase performance and keep you injury free.

This month we look at the hips and pelvis. Leading us through this series are Team Wilpers Coaches: Carly Graham PT, DPT, FAFS, Emmi Aguillard PT, DPT, FAFS and Ryan Hopkins, founder and owner of SOHO Strength Lab.

Check out the video and accompanying text below as we carefully walk you through some game-changing hip and pelvis exercises and provide the “why” behind doing so.

Part I: Pelvis Positioning by Coach Carly

Hey guys, it’s Carly. In the photo above, you’ll see an optimal hip/pelvis position demonstration. Notice how even a slight variance in hip angle (an inward or outward tilt) can lead to big changes in posture. The goal is to find that “neutral” position and move in and out of it smoothly and with control. 

One of the main functions of the pelvis is to absorb shock during movement and provide stability to surrounding muscles. Being aware of your pelvis’ position and making small, corrective adjustments throughout the day can pay dividends over time. Stiffness, due to poor posture or limited mobility, can lead to decreases in flexibility, pain and even injury. 

Get to know your pelvis by practicing the movements I demonstrate in the video (min 0:00-0:30).

Part II: Hip Mobility by Coach Emmi

Hi team, Emmi here. It is very important to understand  the way the pelvis is designed to move.⁣⁣ It is designed for MOBILITY in all three planes of motion: front to back, side to side, and rotationally. ⁣

First, you will see me demonstrate hip flossing. Make sure that your pelvis is what is moving, not your low back or thigh. ⁣

Second, I demonstrate hip CARS. These should be slow and controlled. This exercise is very important for joint mobility and neuromuscular control of your body’s movement in all directions. ⁣

Pelvic mobility and control is critical for proper form and mechanics in running, cycling, and swimming! Demonstrations in video (min. 0:30-1:40).

Part III: Hip Strengthening by Coach Ryan

Coach Ryan here. We round out this installment with some hip strengthening exercises. Hip strength is very important in running and cycling because this region is essentially our engine. Maintaining pelvic orientation with respect to the ribcage is essential for encouraging optimal function up and downstream of the pelvis (think shoulders and legs).⁣

First, I demonstrate a low load, hip bridge march. This is an exercise where we develop strength and endurance of pelvic musculature and awareness of hip position. This emphasizes coordination of the posterior chain and the hamstring’s interaction with the underside of the pelvis.⁣

You can do this exercise as part of your warm-up before a training session, or, included in your strength circuit. I like to go back and forth for 20 reps (10 per side) with a 2 second up, 2 second down tempo.⁣

Second, you’ll see me do the slow march. This exercise focuses on developing the muscles of the hip that are located on the front of our body (quads, hip flexor complex) and is critical when it comes to maintaining proper pelvic positioning.⁣ The slow march is perfect for a comprehensive warm-up or in a strength circuit. I like to go for 1 minute per round with a 2-3 second pause per rep.⁣ Demonstrations in video (min 1:40-3:41).

Give these exercises a try. If you are interested in a full Team Wilpers strength program to compliment your training, check out our private coaching services at Team Wilpers Coaching. For questions please send us an email at trainsmart@teamwilpers.com

Thanks team and as always … Train Hard, Train Smart and Always Have Fun!

Q & A with Team Wilpers Bike Fitter, Pedro De Arriba

At Team Wilpers we are passionate about helping athletes achieve their fitness goals. For cyclists, a good place to start is ensuring athletes feel good on their bike. A comfortable rider is a happy, strong and confident rider. With this guiding principle, we have assembled a team of experts to conduct virtual bike fittings. What was once thought of as service for expert and professional cyclists, a bike fit can now be done in the comfort of your own home. For more information click here

We sat down with Team Wilpers’ Bike Fitting extraordinaire, Pedro De Arriba, based out of Gran Canaria, Spain, to help us answer 5 of the most frequently asked questions about bike fitting. Pedro has worked with thousands of cyclists, from beginners to pros, and brings over a decade of bike fitting experience and biomechanical cycling research to every fit session.

TW: We have a lot of questions come in about knee pain. Can you elaborate on your experience with this?
PA: Poor bike positioning can definitely lead to knee pain and this is something we discuss quite frequently. Fortunately, this is also one of the easiest things to fix. When your knee is properly aligned and tracking correctly, you are more likely to have a pain-free ride. Additionally, proper positioning allows you to build strength in the musculature around the knee, thus preventing future injury.

TW: Do I need a bike fit if I am not experiencing any discomfort?
PA: Yes. It’s always good to check that everything is ok. Sometimes it’s difficult to read your own body and a professional “check-up” can help discover things you may not notice until it’s too late. If you’re spending a lot of time in the saddle, being proactive is definitely the way to go. 

TW: How often should I have my position checked?
PA: My suggestion is to reach out to your bike fitter once a year. Physical changes are ongoing and expected. Body weight fluctuations, strength gain or loss, imbalances due to a new job, flexibility limitations, injuries – all these things come into play. Additionally, when introducing any new components (seat, shoes, pedals, etc) or a new bike you would want to touch base with your fitter.

TW: How exactly does a virtual fitting work and how should I prepare for my bike fitting appointment? 
PA: Appointments are conducted via FaceTime or the video platform of your choice. We will call you on the day and time of your appointment at the phone number you provide.

It’s important to set yourself up in a space that has good lighting and sound. Prepare to have your camera on a stable surface with a good view of yourself both on and off the bike.

We will spend time discussing your physical issues, goals and equipment, then watch you ride. Next, we’ll make adjustments to your position and finish with a follow up email summarizing the changes and issues we addressed. 

Here are some tips/reminders for your fitting session:

-We need to see you both on and off your bike from head to toe. 

-On the bike, we’ll need to see you from the side. Off the bike, we’ll need to see you standing up as well as laying down.

TW: What tools should I have on hand?

PA: Please make sure you have the proper tool required to adjust the cleats on the bottom of your cycling shoes.

 

To book a virtual fitting with Pedro or any of our amazing fitters, visit https://teamwilpers.com/services/bike-fit.