Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Cycling on One Leg

Anyone who has followed my wife or I on Facebook has no doubt seen a status referring to the dreaded single-leg trainer.  What the heck are we talking about?  The key to cycling efficiency of course!  This used to be the most wonderfully horrid exercise on my training schedule (my opinion of it has eased some since).

A quick poke around the internet will reveal numerous articles describing various approaches to perform these trainer intervals (like this one).  While the timing varies from site to site they all agree on the benefits.  Count me among the believers!  The basic idea is this:
          1. Warm up with some easy spinning.
          2. Unclip one foot, rest it on the trainer.  Pedal with one leg focusing on a smooth stroke throughout.
          3. Alternate feet after a set amount of time or when the first leg gives out.
          4. After several minutes of alternating, recover by pedaling normally (i.e. with both legs)
          5. Repeat steps 2-4 as desired.

I'm not going to lie, the first time I did this was a dreadful experience.  I was barely able to go 30 seconds on one leg and my pedal stroke was junk.  How did I know?  Well, when you remove one leg there is nothing to compensate for the deficiencies of the remaining leg.  You feel your power transferring to the pedals some of the time then feel akward hitches in the stroke the rest of the time.  It is extremely obvious.  My first attempt probably produced 5-10 smooth strokes with my right leg before it began breaking down.  My left? Zero smooth strokes.  Oh, and it hurt.  Quite a bit actually.

Strange thing happened though ...... the next time I was out for a ride and my quads started to fatigue I focused on my pedal stroke from the single-leg trainer intervals.  A smooth and efficient pedal stroke balances the muscle usage a bit better by recruiting the hamstring for the back and up portion.  The result?  A sudden burst of acceleration surged me forward.  Wait a minute, I thought I was fatigued?!?!?  Well, not entirely.  Only one muscle group was tired because I was disproportionately taxing it.  Just think what will happen when I pedal efficiently out of habit!

So, here I am half a year later and while I still somewhat dread seeing "Single Leg Trainer" on my training schedule, I approach it much more optimistically.  My right leg now goes smoothly without a hitch for over a minute, and my left ..... well it can go a minute and it's awful close to smooth (with one annoying hitch still at the 11 o'clock position).  More importantly, I ride more efficiently when I'm just out and about, I don't overuse one group of muscles while ignoring the other, and it does wonders for hill climbing.  All in all it not only makes me a better rider, but a happier one.  So, the next time you're looking for something to kick-start you're riding, try doing it on one leg!  Just remember to maximize the benefit by following it up with an easy spin or rest day.


Lesley @ racingitoff.com said...

Well thank goodness I don't have one-legged treadmill runs on my schedule!

Joey said...

Sounds like my evil plan is coming together. Excellent!