How to improve your pedalling technique

It may seem like there’s only one way to turn a pedal, but here’s how to fine-tune your riding

Clock09:40, Monday 11th March 2024

A good pedalling technique means you can ride more efficiently, wasting less energy with each turn of the cranks. Good pedalling technique means having a smoother stroke, avoiding energy losses, and keeping the rest of your body stable in the saddle. It'll make you look more pro, and it might even prevent you from getting an injury.

To nail your pedalling technique, you need to work on both your equipment and your body. From bike fit and cleat position to core strength and flexibility, this guide will cover all the things you need to consider.

Read more: 5 drills to improve your bike handling

An example of pedalling 'souplesse' on an orbea bike

Push, don't pull

When using clipless pedals, try not to pull up on the pedal stroke. Relax and let the other leg do the effort, allowing your foot to naturally return to the top of the pedal stroke without pulling it.

It’s all about embracing the natural cycle of a pedal stroke and you should focus on pushing power through the pedals.

An ill-fitting bike is going to make it tricky to pedal smoothly

Make sure your bike fits

A good workman never blames his tools. However, in this instance, the bike could be the problem. A bike that doesn’t fit you correctly can have a big impact on your pedalling technique. Here are a couple of things to check:

  • Saddle height - as a guide, you should be able to pedal with your heels on the pedals without rocking in the saddle.
  • Handlebar height - your body should be about 45 degrees to the ground, and your arms should be about the same.

For a more detailed guide to getting comfortable on your bike, have a look at our steps to achieve a perfect bike fit at home.

Stretching can be pretty strenuous if you're not used to it

Try stretching

How often do you stretch? For most riders, the answer is ‘not enough’.

Five to ten minutes of stretching every other day can make a huge difference, improving your flexibility which leads to that all-important improved pedalling technique. If you’re new to stretching, check out this video for some help.

Cleat position can make a big difference to comfort and efficiency

Check your cleat position

It's often overlooked, but cleat position is important. Once again, it’s something a bike fit can help with, but it's also something you can set up yourself at home.

If you're unsure how to set your cleats, have a look at our guide for setting your cleat position right.

Quality shorts will have better materials and construction

Invest in some quality cycling shorts

If possible, invest in high-quality cycling shorts. They’ll go a long way to improving comfort on the bike and will help to prevent saddle sores. Trust us, your rear end will appreciate it!

As an added bonus, a good set of shorts will benefit your pedalling technique too as you won’t need to shuffle around in the saddle as much as you desperately search for a comfortable position.

Read more: Why you should invest in cycling bib shorts

Do some cadence drills

Poor pedalling technique can’t always be blamed on equipment or set-up. Sometimes it is just down to a rider’s poor technique. The good news is that it’s something that can easily be improved with a little effort.

Try this simple cadence drill the next time you're out on a ride:

  • 2 minutes @ 120rpm
  • 2 minutes @ 50rpm
  • 2 minutes @ 120rpm
  • 2 minutes @ 50rpm
  • 2 minutes @ 120rpm

This is a great way of activating and engaging those muscles that you use when you're pedalling and will improve efficiency during hard, intense efforts. Try the drill on a recovery day or when you're too tired to do a long, intense ride. During everyday riding, try to find a cadence that works well for you, anywhere between 75 and 105 revolutions per minute.

Core strength can help you achieve a smooth, supported pedal motion

Work on your core strength

Many cyclists neglect core strength. Let’s be honest, as a group of people, cyclists aren’t exactly known for their planking ability. That being said, core strength can lead to big improvements on a bike.

For a start, it’s important when you’re riding to keep a strong upper body, which will result in an efficient and smooth pedalling style. Core strength will also prevent any unnecessary rocking of your upper body, a big waste of energy that can hamper your pedalling style.

Try to work on your core strength a few times a week when you're not on the bike. We’ve got a great video explaining various core exercises here.

Hank and Si keeping it smooth

Stay smooth

Being smooth is key – don't chop at the pedals or 'pedal squares'. Aim for a fluid, round pedalling motion. It’s more of a challenge at the end of a long ride, but try to relax and keep that smooth rhythmic style. Like everything, practice and time will help with this.

Related Content

Link to Team time trial: 20-minute HIIT indoor cycling workout
YouTube video CVvL_gfGP6g

Team time trial: 20-minute HIIT indoor cycling workout

This HIIT spin bike workout replicates the varied intensities of a team time trial effort

Link to The full pyramid: 30-minute HIIT indoor cycling workout from GCN
YouTube video eNyVyngn0l8

The full pyramid: 30-minute HIIT indoor cycling workout from GCN

A 30-minute HIIT workout for developing anaerobic fitness, led by Manon Lloyd

Link to How to replace a gear cable on a road bike
YouTube video Y1VhqidLJ78

How to replace a gear cable on a road bike

A new gear cable can reduce friction and improve shifting. Here’s how to change a gear cable on a road bike

Link to Over/under threshold intervals: 35-minute HIIT indoor cycling workout
YouTube video a22l-aeYhB0

Over/under threshold intervals: 35-minute HIIT indoor cycling workout

Join Manon Lloyd for this tough over/under threshold workout which replicates race efforts and improves endurance

Subscribe to the GCN Newsletter

Get the latest, most entertaining and best informed news, reviews, challenges, insights, analysis, competitions and offers - straight to your inbox