How Wattbikes can change the way you train

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It has long been recognised in the cycling world that more speed is generated by exerting power at all points of the pedal stroke. That means pulling as well as pushing the pedals. Most recreational cyclists just push down on the pedals but don’t pull the pedal upwards, thus limiting the amount of power on the second half of the pedal stroke.

This isn’t surprising as when we learn to ride a bike we aren’t clipped in with shoe cleats or toe clips so we can’t really pull the pedals upwards. Key to getting faster on the bike is to learn to engage the hamstrings to pull upwards and not just rely on the quadriceps to push the pedals down. However, how do you actually know whether you are engaging the hamstrings?

Introducing the Wattbike

In the mid-2000s British Cycling worked alongside sports scientist Eddie Fletcher to develop the Wattbike – a static bike that highlights where power is generated. The Wattbike shows on a screen the shape of your pedal action, showing where power is generated and lost. It also shows you the amount of power that is generated by each leg so you can see if you have a stronger leg or weaker leg. This is often the case if you have had a past injury which has weakened one leg.

I am really lucky to live in the same town as Eddie Fletcher and visited him shortly after opening the Wattbike training centre in Evesham to see if the Wattbike could improve my cycling and therefore my triathlon results. I had an assessment and like most people my pedal stroke was represented on the screen by a shape similar to the infinity symbol ∞. This meant that I was pushing but not pulling. I was told that the ideal shape to generate is that of a sausage but that I should first aim to get a peanut shape and then move onto a sausage. Obviously Eddie knows that sportspeople are motivated by food!

How my riding developed

The Wattbike also showed that I was generating more power with my left leg, which made sense as I have had two acute injuries in my right leg making it slightly weaker. What followed was months of concentrating on my pedal action trying to focus on engaging my hamstrings.

Eddie gave me some drills to try to engage my hamstrings such as imaging scrapping chewing gum off the bottom of my shoe. The shapes on the screen during those months were frustrating with improvement needed to perfect my technique, but eventually I did achieve the peanut shape and slowly but surely that morphed into a sausage. It took me longer to get a 50/50 leg balance as still I don’t always hit that figure but my leg balance has improved significantly. But of course my goal in triathlon was not to have a sausage shape pedal stroke but to win races.

Wattbike Lessons
I am pleased to say that after training on the Wattbike for a year not only did my bike splits improve but also because I had been cycling efficiently and not just using my quadriceps, my legs were fresher for the run leg. By the end of the season I won my age group at the World Sprint Duathlon Championships. The Wattbike is still an essential part of my training programme and I use the bike at least once a week and more in the winter.

The benefits of using the Wattbike have been recognised beyond the world of cycling and it’s now used by a wide variety of sportspeople including professional rugby teams, Olympic gold medallist swimmer Adam Peaty, Olympic champion rower Sophie Hosking and Andy Murray. It was also used by Jessica Ennis Hill as part of her rehab from an Achilles injury ahead of the Rio Olympics.

However Wattbikes aren’t just for elite athletes and many gyms now have at least one if not a studio of Wattbikes. Wattbike offers a range of CIMPSA Accredited courses for fitness professionals on how to use the bikes, how to test clients’ fitness and set future training zones as well as train the trainer sessions which show how to deliver effective indoor cycling workouts and classes.

Wattbikes
As well as continuing to use the Wattbike as part of my own quadrathlon training programme, I have also run a number of group classes including ones that focus on either technique, hill climbing, power, endurance or speed. As more gyms are investing in Wattbikes, fitness professionals should find out more about the bike and how to use it with their clients.

 

Helen is the current British Quadrathlon Champion and British Quadrathlon Trophy Series winner. She is also a former age group World and European Duathlon champion and European Triathlon champion. In 2015 Helen was part of the One Day Ahead team, which raised £1m for Cure Leukaemia by riding the entire route of the Tour de France one day ahead of the pros. You can follow her on Twitter via @helengoth.