Episode #79 – 5 Key Cycling Performance Skills

Episode #79 – 5 Key Cycling Performance Skills

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Learn skills to help your performance, not race related but skills you can practice and perfect to improve your performance every time you ride. Things like standing while climbing, sprinting, and breathing.

[buzzsprout episode=’144894′ player=’true’]

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When looking from the outside in, it seems that cycling is not a very skill based sport. Sure there’s racing tactics, and learning how to ride a wheel, but beyond balance, and clipping in and out of pedals, it doesn’t take much to ride on the road, right?

I think the big issue that, not much time goes into building certain cycling skills, or everyone gets focussed on the the physiological side of training that skills get skipped over. You kind of learn them on the go, sprinting, climbing, descending, pedalling – which is probably the most practised skill, if you’re riding a big base that is. Otherwise, it’s just whatever comes naturally. Well just like the biomechanics of complex movements like the snatch in weightlifting, I really see a lot of benefit to practising subtle position changes, that will affect your performance at different times on the bike.

So I’ve rustled up a list of 5 Key cycling performance skills, that you can focus on during your training. One of the best ways to absorb these skills is to use Daniel Coyle’s Deep Practise framework.

Deep Practice

  • Absorb—study deeply, not necessarily a lot

  • Break it into chunks—all-nighters are less effect than spreading it out

  • Slow it down—take time to make sure you are learning, Learn to feel it

  • Repeat—practice makes perfect!

Climbing Out of the Saddle

To be efficient here is to conserve your seated muscles and not stress the system for when you are back in the saddle. Practise by refining your climbing form. Specifically, standing power and the standing transition. Focus on how much the bike kicks backwards when getting out of the saddle, how much power you lose when riding out of the saddle, and how to choose gears so you are minimally disruptive to both your effort and those around you.

This is done by practice proper body positioning. Riders have a tendency to throw themselves to far forward, in which case all their weight goes on their arms, and effectively removes power from the pedal stroke. We don’t move the bike with our arms, we move it with our feet so it makes sense that we should keep our weight on our feet. So when you rise, get in the habit of rising more subtly out of the saddle rather than thrusting your hips towards the handlebars.

A good way to practice this is to minimally rise out of the saddle and then gently nudge yourself forward to that point where you feel that most of the weight is born by your feet, and your arms are simply there to help you balance. In the process of so you’ll find that medium, that sweet spot in terms of positioning where you’re not so close to the saddle that your quads are on fire, but you’re not so far forward that your hands are heavy and your front tire is pogoing. This really is just a matter of practice and paying close attention to how balanced you feel in terms of weight on the pedals and weight on the hands.

Start on a trainer, on climbs when you’re not in a high zone, then when you’re in a climbing zone.

Aero Position

Rider position is key here. And it’s always about your body. If you have a bike that allows you to get in the right position, that’s the first thing.

Mobility work helps here, as does a bike fit, but the skill to practise here is getting one level lower than normal for extended periods of time. So riding on the tops, turns into riding  on the hoods,hoods turn into drops, and drops might turn into fake aero bar, elbows on tops. It takes extra effort to ride in these positions and each one at crucial times can save you extra drag.

There might be times when it doesn’t work, like climbing on the drops, looks badass but isn’t always the best position, so use your judgement, but definitely try them all out before you make a decision about what works.


Gearing – choose the gear where you can feel the pedals underneath you, affects acceleration (top speed) and how long you can maintain that for.

Body position – keep body still to maintain aero position, elbows in.

Bonus tip – go for the line. Learn how to throw your bike. Slow the movement down by doing it at low speed, and thrust the bike forward while you have room to move the bike underneath you.

Form of Sprinting by Johnny Cerious

Five parts of the sprint each with an oral and physical lecture followed by action scenes in real speed, slow motion, and stop motion with diagrammed captions.

1: The pedal stroke: The break down of the most powerful way to pedal. Most people are loosing efficiency and power with a flat-footed technique. Instantly increase performance with a few simple changes. After this skill is subconscious you can be much more powerful over distance too!

2: Hand position: Simple teaching on how your hand position may be affecting your interface with the bike. This can drop you power and make you slow!

3: The Torque phase: The most important part of interfacing the bike to make 5-second power. Very few understand how important this form is for increasing your power. Up to 100 watts increase in 5-second when done properly. Even more after the skill is mastered!

4: The Run phase: This technique is only used by the most elite of sprinters. This is the extension of your power into high cadence and max speed. This is only taught or innately learned by the fastest sprinters around but it can be applied by anyone. It will make you instantly faster!

5: Seated Power: Today riders can push big gears with tons of torque. No way you’re going to make big power sitting on the front of the saddle. Push a bigger gear faster and longer then you thought possible. This form will keep you more aero and much more efficient over time too!



Pedalstroke Quadrants

Kick & Pull



Isolated Leg Training (ILT)

Single-Leg Focus (SLF)


As we get older we actually began breathing differently, less optimally. This is due to many different stresses and positions we find ourselves in over long periods of time. We start breathing more from our chests, using our upper back and neck muscles. Our diaphragms, while designed for breathing, became inhibited by this new pattern of breathing and less than ideal posture.

It’s all about maximising the use of your lungs by breathing deeply. Breathing deeply enables you to use more of your lung capacity to optimise the amount of oxygen uptake where it’s needed most, the muscles.

I have an exercise from my buddy Justin Hays that is designed to help you reclaim your breath. This is often done best by inhaling through the nose and exhaling through your mouth as it helps to optimise the positioning of your ribcage, thereby allowing the diaphragm to move more fully. As a result, breathing becomes more functional, and the diaphragm can also reclaim its role in core stability.

Balloon Breathing Level 2

– Lay on your back with your hands at your side and feet on the ground at roughly a 90 degree angle

– Squeeze your butt

– Tighten your abs and keep your ribs down

– Breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth into the balloon

– Do this for 30 seconds or until you blow the balloon up

– If this is too easy, raise your legs to 90/90

Once you’ve performed the breathing exercises in the video, try maintaining your alignment while nasal breathing. Our bodies have been designed to breathe nasally. That is why we have hairy nostrils filled with mucous– to warm and filter the air we take in. Also, breathing (in and out) through a smaller opening (nose) versus mouth keeps you from overbreathing.

These patterns can then be transferred to your riding. Depending on your potion on the bike, you might be restricted, at which point you have to make a decision about the value of breathing properly, or aerodynamics, or even ego. The test really is if you are able to breathe fully with your diaphragm in all positions on the bike, including the drops.



Photo Credit: huggerindustries on Flickr


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Build fitness on a realistic schedule with this time-saving planner.

Get your free copy of The Weekly Workout Stack™

Build fitness on a realistic schedule with The Weekly Workout Stack™

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