Are pedal drills pointless? What does the evidence say?

This video is based on clipless pedals but also discusses ‘pulling’ in the pedal stroke. So far, it seems there’s nothing to suggest this makes you more efficent. Does anyone have any studies which Dylan Johnson may have missed?

Back in a time before lockdown I went to a presentation that involved a physiologist from Team Ineos (nee Team Sky). His view was this; yes changing your pedalling action can improve your power and even efficiency HOWEVER any change reduces your time to exhaustion (TTE). So they don’t suggest it or bother with it as a concept.

Did he present what he was basing his view on?

While I can’t support my view with any science following the pedal drills have smoothed out my pedal stroke.

So what does that mean in terms of cycling benefits? I can pedal at a much higher cadence than previously and my basic view is smooth = greater efficiency

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I actually watched that clip earlier. Things I noticed were

  1. the outcome metric was efficiency. I don’t actually ride much at or near V02 max anyway. Either I’m sprinting and well above caring about efficiency when the outcome metric is max power or well below where oxygen usage isn’t the limiting factor anyway. A more appropriate metric for me would be 5k run time, 10 minute uphill cycle or sprint simulation. Something actually relevant to a race.
  2. I don’t even do up my shoes for longer intervals indoors as it is. For sprints I do though & that short interval wasn’t tested to see if clipless pedals increase max power. My guess is they do for a metric that matters in that situation. Ditto a slow cadence climb simulating where you’ve run out of gears.
  3. they either did the tests in complete novices to clipless pedals or people who had already learnt to do it. Really you’d need to test novices on flats & then randomly allocate half of them to learn with clipless for a couple of months (both groups do same training plan) and then compare outcomes, but that would reduce statistical power so you’d need more subjects. The studies were tiny.

Zen and the Art of Triathlon covered this subject back in 2016, episode 625

It was a wide ranging presentation 3 months ago and this small portion from it was “don’t stress it” so I can’t remember.

Good for fine tuning your fit and some mental distraction (long hard efforts just above threshold for me) but not much else with out extreme dedication. I find riding a fixed gear do more than these drills will ever can.

Efficiency means not wasting energy unnecessarily. Riders who can’t pedal mess up the transitions (over the top and across the bottom). So, if you are early or maybe even late at these two sections of the stroke I think drills can for sure help. As @jkc said ride a fixed gear to really improve pedaling. Or God forbid you know someone with power cranks. Give those a whirl. I can almost guarantee you’ll be fatigued after a few miles.

the video references two other videos, this one on pedaling technique:

and this one on cadence:

In one of the videos I believe something like 96% or 98% of the power produced comes from the downstroke. And that elite riders generate more force and torque in the downstroke.

My overall conclusions from watching those videos:

  • bike fit most important
  • use natural cadence, its likely optimal for you and there is no science to support the idea of an optimal cadence
  • don’t worry about pulling up, elite riders generate more downward force and torque and some start earlier (top of stroke) than others