Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Powercranks - the first workout.

After some time off the bike, it’s now time to slowly move into the prep period before getting into some serious base miles down the line. This season, I’m introducing something completely new into my training routine, Powercranks. For those of you who never heard of them, they are cranks that hang neutrally (not opposite one another) and require both legs to make the “perfect” circle to get the crank around. If you’re not pedaling equally with both legs, you start to develop a gallop-type stroke or stall at a deadspot.

Today, was my first Powercranks workout, and after pedaling just for 30 minutes, I learned several things about my pedal stroke that I hope to improve in the months to come.

As I mentioned above, I’m in prep mode, so the workout I did today wasn’t as much about pushing a lot of watts or getting the legs worked, as it was about training my brain – something much harder. The plan was to pedal relatively easy for 30 minutes with some one-legged drills in between and see what happens during this virgin session.

Throughout the workout, I worked under the presumption that every pedaling error I made with Powercranks, I would have likewise made on regular cranks, but it would have gone unnoticed due to the other leg being able to compensate.

As recommended, I started with the shortest crank length possible on my Powercranks – 145 and began pedaling at a low cadence in a high gear just to get used to the motion of both legs moving independently. I was able to pedal relatively error free for the first six minutes. I did go out of sync a few times, and it was immediately noticeable as I felt one of my legs doing more work than the other because it was starting to do more work while waiting for the other leg to catch up. Or alternatively, it started turning too fast.

After six minutes, I did one 30-second drill with each leg, followed by a minute of regular pedaling and then another minute-long drill with each leg. Granted, considering I was on Powercranks, the whole workout was like one single-leg pedaling drill, but I found it helped to focus on each leg separately to get the motion correct and to get used to throwing my knee over the handlebars – a common way to describe a proper upstroke.

By the time I was done with the above, I found one weakness that I felt needed work. It was easy for me to start pedaling slowly and then pick up speed, but it was much more difficult to slow the cadence down, as my legs would slow down at different rates, resulting in an uneven pedal stroke and even causing me to stall at the top a few times.

Having discovered a weakness, I figured I’d work on that specific skill for the remainder of the workout. So I proceeded to pedal for several minutes, taking my cadence up 10-15 pedal strokes and then practicing bringing it down 10-15 strokes. After a few tries, it became easier to slow down the cadence without much break in the pedal stroke, but this is definitely a skill I that will require more work because if that’s how much stroke I’m losing each time cadence changes in a ride or a race, there is a lot of wasted motion and energy that can be put toward something better. Say, a winning sprint! It also required a lot of mental concentration when it was time to slow the legs down, something that cannot be wasted on pedaling in a race.

In the last few minutes of my 30-minute workout, I did another set of single-leg drills, which proved very informative, as my legs were now a bit fatigued. All of a sudden, I realized that having shorter cranks to start practicing with Powercranks was highly beneficial, as my stroke was short and I was able to turn a much smoother, efficient circle even at the end of the workout.

Additionally, as I went from pedaling with my left to pedaling with my right, I started hearing a lot of noise and clunks, which suggests that as in everything else, my left leg is the dominant one in cycling. This is likely an imbalance I’ve been riding with all these years, but now that I’ve been able to diagnose and have the tools to address it, getting equal output from both legs is something I can work on.

The plan going forward is to continue with 30-minute sessions for the next week or so, then go to 45-minute sessions, then hour-long sessions and finally be able to ride outside without stalling. Ideally, I’d like to be able to do most of my base training on Powercranks this season and continue using them for parts of my build phase.

Stay tuned for more!

[Originally published at on Oct. 11, 2011]

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