Dr. Jim Watrous, Ph.D.

Is one-legged cycling a good method to train?  Yes it is.  Who benefits from this training method?  Any beginner after three or so weeks to pro level cyclists will benefit from the one-legged training.  What are the gains from this training method?  The gains are: 1) apply power to one complete revolution of bicycle crank (see the article on stroke dynamics), 2) turn the cranks smoothly, 3) turn cranks at higher rpm’s, 4) rest one group of leg muscles while applying power with a different set of leg muscles, and 5) improve total power and efficiency.  You will also find that one-legged cycling helps improve hill climbing ability.

One-legged cycling is exactly one leg doing all the work while the other leg is completely off the pedal (not cleated), held out to the side, slightly back and well out from the unused rotating crank.  This training is best done on a relatively flat road with low traffic volumes.   This training method is only effective when the motion of the bicycle is accomplished with one foot on a pedal and the other foot not toughing a pedal.  It can also be done on wind trainers, but it is not as effective as doing the training on the road.  The primary reason for doing this training on the road as opposed to a wind trainer is to gain control and balance, while using other muscles in the lower trunk region, arms and shoulders.

The one-legged training that I recommend can be done one to three times each week.  When first starting, plan to use the chart below.  A one-legged training session always starts after a good warm up.  On a relatively flat road start a one-legged set by taking the right foot off the right pedal and hold it out to the side and clear of the rotating right crank.  With the left foot on the left pedal, apply power to the entire rotation of the crank (see the article on stroke dynamics) for the appropriate time duration given in the table below.  At the end of the time duration, put the right foot back on the right pedal and turn the cranks easily for about 15 seconds.  Now remove the left foot from the left pedal and hold it clear of the unused rotating left crank. Apply power with the right foot to the entire rotation of the right crank for the same time duration.  At the end of the time duration, put the left foot back on the left pedal and turn the cranks easily for about 30 seconds.  Doing one-legged with the left foot and then with the right foot constitutes a one-legged set.  Each time you do a one-legged training set, it always involves using the left and then the right foot for the time duration given in the chart.  As you progress you will increase the time duration up to the suggested maximum.  Also, as you progress, you will repeat the one-legged training set more than once per session as outlined in the chart below.  As you progress from beginner level to intermediate level and beyond, you will note that there is a slight overlap in the chart.  The chart is designed for different level riders who are trying this form of training for the first time.

You will find that while you power the bicycle with one leg, your lower abdominal muscles will be used during back part of the stroke (pull-up).  However, it may not be as obvious that during a different part of the stroke, the push-down, you are using the lower back muscles.  When you first start this training method, your rotation of the crank will most likely become rough and jerky near the end of the time duration.  If the one-legged cranking is still smooth with power, then increase the time duration by 5 or 10 seconds.

Levels Beginning Intermediate Advance and Pro
Starting Time Duration (seconds) 20 30 45
Maximum Time Duration (seconds) 45 60 120
Starting Number of Sets per Session 1 2 3
Maximum Number of Sets per Session 2 3 4
Starting Number of Sessions per Ride 1 2 3
Maximum Number of Sessions per Ride 2 4 6
Number of Rides per Week 1 2 2
Maximum Number of Rides per Week 2 3 3
Suggested approximate gearing
(front chain ring # teeth/rear cog # teeth)
or 39/17
or 53/19
or 53/19

Copyright, 2017, 1985 to 2017. Watrous' Cycling Enterprises