‘How can I get my speed up Sarah? No matter how hard I try my legs won’t go any faster!’



What a great subject to pick for my first blog on sportive riding. We all see top riders racing in the world championships, the Olympics and like me in the Paralympics and we wonder how they pedal so fast!



Well, here are my top tips for trying to increase your leg speed. They should help you go that little bit faster in sportives such as the Marie Curie Cancer Care Etape Mercia, which I am involved in this year.



1. Cadence – people often think that by pedalling the largest gear you can, you will go fast. In actual fact, speeding up your pedalling or cadence will in most cases make you go quicker and become more efficient. The first thing to focus on is to fix your core muscles so you don’t bounce in the saddle. You should also be using your legs like pistons, picking up the revs as you do. There are a few simple exercises you can do to help increase your cadence. Short bursts of 30 secs to 1 minute of a slightly higher cadence than you are comfortable with, followed by 2-3 minutes of you normal cadence. Gradually increase the high cadence portions and decrease the low cadence portions until overall you are more comfortable at that higher pedalling speed. This can be done on the road or on the turbo.



2. Relax – it’s really easy to be tense on a bike. You have a lot to think about when riding but being tense can waste the energy you are trying to put through the pedals. Keep your grip loose on the handlebars and try to relax your shoulders too, all the effort you are putting in will then be isolated to your legs and this should help. Tour De France winner Bernard Hinault once said that when you are tense holding the bars, soften your grip by pretending to play the piano. Don’t get too carried away and take your eye off the road though!



3. Pedal in circles – this may seem obvious but you will notice that many people try to stamp on the pedals. Stamping on the pedals might feel like you are putting more effort in but in only pushing down you are wasting the other half of the pedal stroke – the upstroke. Try and focus on a relaxed circular pedal motion with equal force on the upstroke as the down stroke this will help you maximise the distance you can travel with each revolution.



4. Copy the pros – There is a reason children learn so much from copying other people and we shouldn’t forget that this can actually apply to us at any age! Watch a pro race and take note of the pedalling style, the fixed ankles, the fluid hip motion and the body position on the bike. By watching and trying to copy you will be surprised at how much you can change. Riders who come from a track background like Geraint Thomas, Brad Wiggins and Mark Cavendish have a fluid pedalling style. You cant go too far wrong in watching them or one of the women like Lizzie Armitstead.



5. Check your mirrors – It may sound strange, but try using a mirror on the turbo. It will help you check you are making the technical changes you are intending to. Foot position, body position and pedalling action can all be seen by a well placed mirror in the garage and it’s a practice that worked wonders for me when training for the Paralympics!



Thanks for reading and I look forward to giving you more tips next time!



Dame Sarah Storey is the ambassador for the Marie Curie Cancer Care Etape Series. Etape Mercia (etapemercia.co.uk) and Etape Pennines (etapepennines.co.uk) are still open for entries and there are a limited amount of free places available in both events if you pledge to raise £250 for Marie Curie Cancer Care.

  • Dave Smart

    “equal force on the upstroke as the down stroke.” Sorry Sarah, that is a physical impossibility. A world champion told me not to do that 47 years ago. He was right then and it is still true today – the laws of physics don’t change. The so-called ‘upstroke’ (from 8 to 12 o’clock) is in fact the recovery phase of each revolution. This is where you should concentrate on the dorsiflexion of the ankle, in preparation to initiate the next circular power ‘stroke’, which morphs naturally from push forward from 12 till 2, down from 2 to 5 and pull back from 5 until 8.

    “the fixed ankles”. No, that’s the style antithesis of souplesse. Rigid calf muscles are very bad technique.

    “fix your core muscles” also implies a tension that you acknowledge won’t be there, if you relax.

    Riding ‘on the rivet’ is indicative of a destructive muscular tension, an incorrect saddle position and/or a poor biomechanical technique. Do you really advocate that kids should copy that?

    “legs like pistons” is an awful metaphor, because a piston can only generate a force in ONE direction (the epitome of “stamping down”), whereas the numerous major muscle groups that are working when you pedal in circles are perfectly capable of exerting the force forward, down and back. The ‘up’ muscles are quite a bit smaller.

    btw: Bernard Hinault was noted for his ability to turn a big gear. Silly man hurt his knees.

  • edward hutton

    I used to 72 inch fixed wheel setup and that makes you pedal correctly (just a thought

  • Steve Fagg

    Excellent advice! I used to be a big-gear grinder but made a conscious effort several years ago to spin smaller gears and have benefitted enormously. The tip about focussing on a circular motion is crucial I see so many people riding with a pedalling style that’s all about bearing down on the pedals: wastes a lot of effort.