How can you tell if your a pedal stomper?! Here are some indications that you might be mashing on the pedals, and not riding as efficiently as you could be.
-You always ride in the big ring in the front, regardless of the terrain.
-You foot turnover or cadence is slow and maybe even grinding (below 70 rpm), with a strong resistance on the gears.
-Your chain slips or you've needed to replace the chain because you've stretched it out.
What's the difference between a pedal stomper and what we'll call a spinner? The difference is your cadence, which is the number of revolutions your feet make in one minute. When you are pedaling at a higher cadence, about 80 and above, your legs are spinning quickly, and you're using more of your cardio system. When you a pedaling at a lower cadence, below 80, you are using more of your muscle strength to propel you forward. As triathletes, we want our legs to be as fresh as possible for the run, so it's beneficial for us to spend as much time as we can at a higher cadence. Of course, there will be hilly bike routes that may require us to grind up some hills at a lower cadence, which is ok, but it's good to be aware of our cadence, and intentionally use it to reach our goals. In fact, in your training, you may want to ride in a gear that's a little bit harder than necessary, thus a little lower cadence, which would build your muscular strength on the bike, and then when you ride in an easier gear/higher cadence during a race, it'll feel easier. It's good to spend time practicing all ranges of cadence from 50 - 100+.
How do you know your cadence? You can buy a cadence sensor for your bike that's inexpensive, or you can just go by feel. For me, lower cadence, below 80, feels slow and grinding, while 80+ feels like I'm just lightly dancing on the pedals. So, how can you go from a pedal stomper to a spinner? Here are some drills (these are easier done on a trainer or bike path, but can also be done riding on roads):
-As a warmup to each ride, do 4 x 1 minute high cadence 100+ (low resistance) spin-ups to wake up your legs, and practice high cadence. You want to put enough resistance on your gears that you're not bouncing out of your seat.
-On your rides do some higher cadence intervals, do 5 x 2 minutes at cadence 80+ with 5 minute recovery at a cadence of your choice, and increase the length of the interval each time you ride. The first few times you do this or the spin-ups, you may feel breathless, but eventually you'll develop the cardio to support this high spinning.
-Practice switching into your small ring in the front, prior to getting into a hill, and focus on spinning up the hill at a higher cadence.
-If you're training for a race that's going to be hilly, or you want to build muscular power on the bike, you can ride in a harder gear than necessary, on flats or up hill, and do the same intervals as listed above. These types of workouts can be straining to the knees, so I wouldn't recommend them more than once a week or every other week.