Cycling with one leg at a time (or using powercranks) seems to be on topic these days. I’m a big fan of them and did them when I was racing bikes and tris.
When I started to race bikes in 1981, I was living in South Lake Tahoe, CA and got input from Rich Elder (Hook), Marcel Niger (Caveman) and Bob Roll – the latter I’m sure you’ve heard of if you’ve ever watched cycling on OLN or Versus. I started cycling to strengthen my legs in the summer for skiing the next winter. I was a skier – loved to ski -skied every day possible, since I could walk – started skiing between my dad’s legs the winter I was two, on little red skies with bells on the tips. Yes, like an elf! My ski coach suggested I ride my bike in the summer to bulk up my quads – I was 6’1″ and about 135 pounds. I could use some bulk! Some say I still can…..
There was a Tuesday night series of races around the lake, three different courses. One at North Shore (which I can’t really remember except it was “Y” shaped with two turn-arounds), one in the Washoe Valley (a loop course on the west side of HWY 395 by the five mile dead straight section of road between Carson and Reno), and one near Markleeville (on Old Cal 88 and Diamond Valley Rd.) These were great races to start bike racing. They were handicapped and self seeded, with three minute intervals from 15 minutes down to 0.
Rich and I skied together in winter and started riding together that summer. When the races were first suggested to us, we were both unsure, but thought we’d give it a try. Our first race we started 12 minutes ahead of Marcel, expecting him to catch us, and he didn’t. He did get to within a minute or so though. The second race we started 9 minutes ahead of him, again expecting him to catch up, but he didn’t. He got to within a minute again though. Each week we started 3 minutes closer to scratch, until we started with the scratch group – that week Marcel decided to start 3 minutes behind us, all alone! Seems like I’m writing about how great a cyclist Marcel was! Maybe I’m straying off topic, maybe not. He did one leg drills.
When Rich and I started cycling, our intention was to get stronger for skiing, little did we know we’d find more success in our first summer of cycling, then we did in 18 years of skiing. Marcel helped and gave us a bunch of suggestions to help us improve. One of those suggestions was one leg drills. We had fun racing each other around the hills on the south shore. We did our one leg drills up Old Echo Summit, a funky one lane road covered with debris and boulders that parallels HWY 50. It was hard, but like everything we did, we made it fun.
What did we get out of one leg drills? Well there were several things. Let’s say you’re a beginner cyclist or triathlete like we were, one leg drills will make sure you aren’t dominant with one leg, and if you are, help even out your stroke. It helps you get the feel for the pedal stroke, and where to apply the greatest force. It helps you strengthen your hip flexors so one leg isn’t lifting the other. If you’re someone who is overly conscious of pedaling circles, it helps you realize the most powerful part of the stroke. If you’re someone who just pushes down with a bobbing upper-body, it teaches you to pull through and lift up. For most people, one leg drills are very important and should be a regular part of your training routine.
I understand for athletes who are at the top of the sport of triathlon, let’s say the top 100 or so Olympic hopefuls, one leg drills or powercranks may be too much added stress for the psoas and hip flexors when combined with the fast running needed. But, for everyone else, one leg drills are a valuable piece of the puzzle to increase the efficiency of the pedal stroke and help you ride faster.
I’ve heard most of the arguments against this and except for the very few, a certain amount of one leg drills in your program will help you. I have personal experience as an athlete, mentor, advisor, friend and coach over the last 29 years that makes me extremely confident in my opinion. If you are not Whitfield, Gomez, or a Brownlee, maybe you should add one leg drills to your routine. Odds are, if you are one of these four, you’ve done them!