BY DUSTIN HANCOCK, DPT, RAUSCH PHYSICAL THERAPY
When cycling, there are two things that can improve your velocity: power output and turnover cadence. However, the overall power output can be weakened if at some point during your pedal stroke, you have inconsistencies during that full, circular motion. Inconsistent torque forces, or dead spots, typically occur at the initiation of the upstroke. You can determine if you have dead spots by using a power meter or by doing a test like our Performance Lab’s Bike Right, but a simple indicator if your stroke has dead spots is smashing and hammering of the pedals.
Like most exercise movements, a healthy pedal stroke relies on the stretch shortening cycle (SSC) to be efficient. SSC occurs when a muscle stores elastic energy as a muscle lengthens; this stored-up energy is then used when the muscle immediately shortens. Since SSC is a myofascial and nervous system stretch reflex, if the body has adequate mobility and dynamic stiffness, the SSC will allow for any athlete to access free kinetic energy, i.e. more power for less work! Improving SSC can not only be a huge efficiency booster, it can also help improve joint stability and congruency to save those knees from arthritic changes.
Quick One-Legged Exercise to Improve Dead Spots
Here’s a great neuromuscular recalibration drill that you can do on a trainer to improve those dead spots.
Step 1: Hop on a trainer and warm up with the smooth circular stroke pattern focused on relaxing your legs especially your ankles.
Step 2: When you feel warm and ready, pick up the cadence to 92-95 rounds per minute (RPM) and take one foot off the pedal. Place that foot in the center frame.
Step 3: Maintain the cadence for 30-second intervals, working up to 90-second intervals for three to five rounds.
This exercise ensures the leg pulls up at the bottom of your stroke, allowing the hamstring to apply more power into the equation. It also improves the circular stroke pattern and gets you away from that less effective “smashing pedal” form. Try to apply this exercise to your warm up and see what it can do for your cycling efficiency and overall speed.
Enjoy one more thing to think about on your ride!
Dustin Hancock, DPT graduated from San Diego State University with a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology/nutrition. He went on to receive his doctorate in physical therapy in 2011 from University of St. Augustine, and began his career at Rausch Physical Therapy and Sports Performance in 2012. As a snowboarder and mountain bike enthusiast, Dustin specializes in treating extreme sport athletes. As a physical therapist, Dustin says he looks forward to being a companion every step of the way on his patient’s path to recovery.