Pedaling Efficiency is Crucial
05 May 2004
The superiority of African runners from Kenya, Ethiopia and Morocco has been evaluated and carefully analyzed over the last few years: VO2max, anaerobic threshold, hemoglobin concentration do not vary significantly from levels found in athletes from other parts of the world.
What differentiates these athletes is an especially low energy cost—that is, their physical activity is simply more efficient.
They are endowed with a positive physical structure, with long and light lower limbs, allowing them to run faster with the same oxygen consumption per kilo of weight.
In cycling, the efficiency of the pedaling movement has not been studied in depth and has been undervalued by researchers who are more interested in the power of the “motor” (VO2max, anaerobic threshold, strength) than by the economy of exercise.
Yet past cycling tradition placed a lot of importance on the “fluidity” of pedaling, with great use of the fixed pinion both for road and track racing.
The gear ratios used on the flat were much shorter than now and required high cadences, making efficient pedaling essential since it avoids energy waste and helps protect muscle fiber, tendons and joints from problems due to overload.
Lance Armstrong’s recent activity has reawakened technicians’ interest in the biomechanical aspect of the cyclist’s performance, re-evaluating the importance of high pedaling cadence training which is useful for the natural elimination of certain inefficiencies of movement.
As track experts know, cadence changes (especially at high RPM ranges), along with power output variations, are the most effective exercises.
This type of specific training brings out defects in efficiency, obliging the body to make small adjustments that help eliminate them.
Such a process of adaptation requires patience and time (usually one or two years) and must be maintained and repeated during the athlete’s entire career.