Home > Training

How triathletes can perfect their pedal stroke through one-legged drills

Simple drills you can utilize in a warm up to improve your pedal stroke

Andrew MacNaughton’s biggest claim to fame was probably the fact that he was the first triathlete to ever win a triathlon using aero bars – he beat Mike Pigg to win the Crawfishman event in Louisiana in 1987, which started the triathlon-bar revolution in the sport.

Through the 80s the Canadian who has made Los Angeles his home for over 30 years was renowned as one of the sport’s best cyclists. It was him who turned me on to one-leg drills as a way to work on your pedalling power when I first started training with him in 1985.

Pedal around the clock

The idea with one-leg drills is to train yourself to push through the entire pedal stroke. Picture your foot is working its way around a clock as your foot makes one revolution. From 1 to 5 o’clock you are pushing down on the pedals. From 5 to 7 o’clock you are pulling back. (“Imagine you are trying to pull your foot out of the back of your shoe,” MacNaughton would say to me.) From 7 to 11 o’clock you are pulling up – this time feeling like you are trying to pull your foot through the top of your shoe. The hardest part of the pedal stroke to master is the final phase, from 11 o’clock to 1 o’clock, where you are pushing your foot forward.

Since he lives in LA, almost all of the riding I did with MacNaughton was outdoors, so we used to do our one-leg drills on the road. Sometimes they would be on a flat road for 30 to 45 seconds. Other times they would be up a slight hill for up to a couple of minutes.

Indoor sets

These days I try to incorporate one-leg drills into indoor sessions. They are a great way to enhance a warm up and give you something to think about and work on during an interval set or steady ride. As you are doing the one-leg drills, try to focus on keeping the pressure on the pedal all the way around each pedal stroke. You’ll hear, or feel, any dead spots (when you aren’t keeping pressure on the pedals – usually that 11 to 1 o’clock phase) because there will be a bit of a “thunk” when your foot has to catch up.

Here are a few sets that you can incorporate into your next session. You should do about a 10 minute warm up before getting started, then give yourself a few minutes after the set before you get into an interval session. Use the recovery (SRI – seconds rest interval) to give yourself time to click out or into your pedals. These sets are designed as a bit of progression, too.

1) 5 x {30 seconds left leg only/ 15SRI; 30 seconds right leg only/ 15SRI; 30 seconds fast spin with both legs} – 10 mins total

2) 4 x {45 seconds left leg only/ 15SRI; 45 seconds right leg only/ 15SRI; 1 minute fast spin} – 12 mins total

3) 2 – 3 x {30 seconds left leg/ 30 SRI; 30 seconds right leg/ 30SRI; 1 min left leg/ 30SRI; 1 min right leg/ 30SRI} – 10 to 15 mins total

4) 1 min left leg/ 1 min right leg; 1:30 left leg/ 1:30 right leg; 2 mins left leg/ 2 mins right leg; 1:30 left leg/ 1:30 right leg; 1 min left leg/ 1 min right leg – 14 mins total