Preview of the Tangent Trainer, a new training aid, designed to improve pedalling technique for cyclists
We get sent some clever gadgets. As cycling gets ever more popular in the English speaking world it attracts more and more clever people, so the number of clever gadgets also increases. When a former MacLaren chassis engineer applies his mind to cycling it’s not going to be long before he sets about trying to engineer his way to cycling success. Enter the ‘Tangent Trainer’…
Steve Randle is the founder and Managing Director of Randle Engineering Solutions. He claims that ‘Even with modern materials and rigorous training regimes there is a limit to the weight reductions achievable and the power that can be developed’ and therefore ‘even relatively advanced riders are not making the most of the power they are generating as the “Normal” pedal stroke is largely a downward push with the leading foot only’. To counter that he has come up with the Tangent Trainer which is designed to give you a more powerful, complete pedal stroke similar to that perfected from hours riding a fixed wheel.
Training aids are set to be a real growth sector within cycling so the timing of this device is spot on. Though the Tangent Trainer is not designed to make the already arduous task of turbo training even harder, it promised to so there wasn’t exactly a queue in front of me to test it. As I am a daily turbo user it seemed logical for me to just get on with it…
The Tangent Trainer is an add on device that bolts between your crank and pedal to facilitate additional, 360 degree rotation around the normal position of the pedal axle; it’s like adding another, albeit very small, crank to your existing crank.
In so doing you are adding about 3cm to your crank length, making it impossible to cycle normally with all your force going down ‘into’ the pedal. Therefore, with Tangent Trainer fitted, in order to pedal you need to maintain constant pressure with both feet tangentially (hence the name) to the rotation of the crank at all times, effectively ‘towing’ the cranks around. Ideally the Tangent Trainers should be at right angles to your cranks and if they deviate from this position you can feel a perceptible bump or knock or flip in the midst of your pedal stroke as you simply lose all power.
The aim of this is to develop that fabled circular pedalling action by constantly applying force to the crank. Fortunately the makers are not arguing that the downward stroke can ever be replaced as the strongest part of your pedalling action, but are aiming to supplement the key musculature, the large quadriceps and gluteus muscles, by specifically training the arguably less used muscle groups, such as the hamstrings and hip flexors, into producing more power for a fuller, circular stroke. They do claim that the Tangent Trainer also aims to make the rider conscious of the wasted effort on the upstroke due to the trailing foot working against the leading foot, though what you can actually do about the upward stroke is open to debate.
For a start numerous studies with Elite level cyclists have shown that it’s the downstroke of the cycling pedalling action that is all important and that’s what we train every time we ride. Interestingly the latest research shows that the muscles you may presume are involved in pulling up on the upstroke – hamstrings, hip flexors, etc – don’t actually do that at all but work together with the quads and glutes on the downstroke; all of your muscles combine to power the pedals. Most of this is push and any pull is limited, even though you might assume that hamstrings such as biceps femoris and semi-tendinosis are ‘pulling’ the pedal back upwards.
However, to be fair to Tangent Trainer, and if we accept that in training we concentrate on strengthening our quads and glutes primarily, I can’t find a study which involves specifically training the ‘supporting musculature’ such as the hamstrings and hip flexors of a rider to see if that can enhance the ability of these muscles to work more efficiently or effectively. On the other hand this may be a simplistic way of looking at pedalling, as muscles never work in isolation so training them in such as way may have little overall benefit. Importantly in my mind, track riders tend to be among the best all round riders after years of smooth pedalling, so there can be no harm in working on developing a smooth pedal stroke.
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