Cycling Commute: Training Benefits

Tweak your commute this week to reap the best training benefits

by Pete Rognli

cycling commute Credit: Getty Images/Nordic Photos

“There’s a difference between burning calories and boosting fitness,” says Stephanie Orstad, a corporate wellness coach. While cycling to work expends calories, the junctions and obstacles that slow most commutes can leave your heart puttering far below its target rate.

Turn activity into exercise with Orstad’s techniques for building fitness even on commutes that are bedevilled by traffic lights. But always remember that your safety comes first.

Build: Acceleration

The Drill: Go hard after stopping. While a red light might destroy your flow, think of it as a new starting line. When the light turns green, push off the line with intense energy.

Build: Anaerobic Fitness

The Drill: The burst. From a moderate cruising pace, stand and sprint, reaching your top speed. Your sprints should last between 12 and 20 seconds.

Build: Aerobic Fitness

The Drill: Downshift. Crank your cadence up to 120-plus rpm while focusing on maintaining a smooth, circular pedal stroke.

Build: Muscle

The Drill: Upshift. Reduce your cadence to 40 rpm. Point your toes on the downstroke. Drop your heel on the backstroke.

Build: Efficiency

The Drill: Go mono-pedal. Ride single-legged, one foot on the pedal, with the other foot tucked free of the rotating crankarm. Alternate your propulsion leg every 30 seconds or so.

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Discuss this article

isn't mono-pedal a little dangerous on the main road?

Posted: 21/05/2012 at 14:11

Yes. That's just bloody stupid. Do it with the foot clipped in but just don't pedal with that leg. Voila !!
Posted: 21/05/2012 at 14:22

For my money the advice to practice one legged is rubbish - why waste your time training one leg when you could be training both.   Even the pros aren't actually pulling up on their pedals they just unweight the pedal on the upstroke so it isn't resisting the downstroke on the other side.  

 If there is something in it though you'd have to do an awful lot to actually make a difference to your pedal stroke - and realistically is anyone going to spend hours a week riding one legged.  You used to be able to get those power cranks where each was independent so to do it properly I think that would be the way to go - but they've never really caught on.

Posted: 05/06/2012 at 10:27

We do it for 5 minutes alternating every 30 seconds during warmups on a turbo trainer. I think as well as helping your pedaling efficiency, it helps to get comfortable in race position. If you can pedal smoothly with one leg, both legs feels so much easier. Particularly useful on a time trial bike. I would say if you are to benefit then you should be in race position and not just sitting back comfortably.
Posted: 05/06/2012 at 12:00

Honest question - have you got any evidence it helps ?  It seems unlikely (to me anyway) that a few 5 minutes here and there is going to make any difference to pedalling efficiency against hours spent pedalling normally.    

That's assuming that one legged pedalling has the potential to increase efficiency at all - which again I haven't seen any evidence for.   

I'm open to persuasion though - do any serious (ODP etc) riders do significant amounts of 1 leg stuff or are there any studies supporting it ?

Posted: 05/06/2012 at 14:54

My cycling has certainly improved since starting it.. how much of that is down to improved pedaling efficiency I can't say. It did help me develop more of an awareness of the importance of cadence and power loss in my stroke. I'm also fairly confident that one leg drills while tucked in an aero position has helped a lot. Initially it was very uncomfortable and as that became more natural, I felt much more comfortable in that position while pedaling normally. Maybe it helps improve your core strength and flexibility?

Personally I wouldn't do it on a road. On a turbo trainer it mixes up your warmup and might help a little so why not.

Posted: 05/06/2012 at 15:38

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