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Pedal Technique for Sprinting in RPM

A few months ago my group fitness manager said word was getting around that some of the participants in Spinning classes were talking about “dipping the toes” during sprints. Being a certified Spinning instructor herself, she wondered where this technique was coming from.

Sprinting in RPM

I’m currently the only RPM instructor at my gym, and I was trained to coach this technique during high-cadence sprints (i.e., 120-140 RPM). All of the other speed coaching cues had either been explained in training or by masterclass presenters:

  • Slide forward in the saddle — changes the joint angles and moves you slightly closer to the axles (i.e., your legs don’t have to move quite as far to make the pedal circle)
  • Lift the chest — helps torso alignment for better breathing
  • Relax the upper body — energy spent tensing the arms and shoulders does not help you ride more quickly
  • Draw in the abs — adds stability and reduces bounciness in the saddle
  • Chin in — keeps the neck and back in alignment
  • Offer the option to reduce resistance if the legs are starting to slow down
  • Toes slightly down – fixed foot — ????

A key component of becoming an RPM instructor is being able to layer your coaching:

  1. Tell participants what to do.
  2. Explain the benefits of what they’re doing (i.e., the “why”).
  3. Encourage and challenge them to continue their efforts.

If someone explains why you’re doing something, you can see value in what’s being done you’re more likely to comply with what’s being asked of you. As for dipping the toes, I had no answer to Layer 2. So I reached out to the RPM head program coach for Les Mills Asia Pacific, Lee Smith, on Twitter.

It’s a specialised focus of track cycling sprinters that was introduced to Les Mills by Justin Grace — a New Zealand Olympian and RPM instructor. There was some education on it back in the day (early 40s I think). What we have done is simplify it but the focus is real for sprinting. It’s specifically a come-forward to bring in more quads and fix the ankles to help quicken the pedal circle. Hip flexors can get a workout too!

Some additional research

(Disclaimer: I’m not a road cyclist nor am I an expert on exercise science.) Fixing the ankle position is essentially the opposite of a pedaling technique called ankling. Here’s an excerpt from a CyclingTips.com article:

The faster your cadence, the more difficult and unnecessary it will be to use the ankling technique. The downwards force on the pedals and the muscle contraction will be so quick in a sprint at 150 RPM that you won’t be able to do this effectively. You’ll notice that track sprinters will often use a high heel action when in a full sprint.

The above article links to another article about pedal torque, which had a convenient animation of the pedal stroke for a sprint:

pedal_toes

Conclusion

The goal of proper pedal technique is efficient pedal output. By varying the body and joint positions on the bike, you get the right muscles working efficiently to help you stay in the work and get the results the class is designed to address. Through my continued training materials each quarter, it’s clear to me that the Les Mills staff are very hesitant to incorporate exercise techniques without properly vetting them through research and experience. Any extra bits of information to help my participants get more out of my classes are certainly useful.

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