Yin and Yang Pedal Stroke

Ever have one of those dreams about teaching Spinning where everything goes wrong? Last night I had one of those instructor’s nightmares, kind of like Groundhog Day. I kept coming back to the same room, same people, same situation, but different things kept going wrong. The bikes were all in disarray or didn’t work properly; my iPod kept going blank or kept giving me a computer screen and I spent 15 minutes trying to get to my playlists while students stared at me. Or I forgot my iPod and only brought my phone (which had no music on it). In another version, no one was interested in what I had to say or coach. Students were dressed in normal street clothes and not workout/cycling gear. And usually, I was late, late, late, rushing to get there and kept going into the wrong room.

It was very disconcerting. However, one very good thing came from it. In my dream, I was telling another instructor that I needed to get to my class, but I was very late. I told him I had a whole pedal stroke workout planned. He asked me what it was and I went into great detail (which made me even later) about the Yin and Yang of the Pedal Stroke. He kept saying my concept was “amazing!”

I woke up after that (it was about 5 a.m.) and  realized I had to get up and write it down, because I might find something useful in the idea when I had a chance to really wake up.

I’m so thankful that I did, because as it turns out, it’s a very cool concept, though a bit esoteric! Below is the concept of the Yin and Yang of the Pedal Stroke as I remembered it at 5:00 a.m. (though I had to try to make sense of some of the dream stuff that didn’t make much sense because it was, well…a dream!)

Hopefully you can follow my thinking here…

  • Your pedal stroke consists of your two legs moving in the sagittal plane. One leg is quad and glute dominant, and the other leg is being controlled by the opposing muscle groups, the hamstrings and the hip flexors. And yet, milliseconds later, they switch roles. They continue to switch from one role to the other 70, 80, or 90 times per minute or more, depending on your cadence.
  • Even though the two legs oppose each other, when they move in unison, when all the muscles are firing in precisely the right pattern at precisely the right nanosecond, that opposition becomes a dynamic system with a very smooth flowing movement through a range of 360 degrees.
  • It’s a yin and yang relationship, one side opposing the other, but constantly merging into the other. Yet they never get any closer; they are always a half a pedal stroke away from each other. These seemingly contrary forces are in fact interrelated and interdependent upon each other.
  • There is an apparent duality of two seemingly opposing forces. First you have the strength and power, the yang, which is required in the downward phase of the pedal stroke, necessary to take you up a hill, through higher gear higher intensity efforts, or forces such as head winds. It is the yang that propels you forward. On the other hand, the yin represents the lightness and agility of the recovery phase of the pedal stroke, the finely-tuned muscle reactions to quickly respond and get the leg out of the way so your other leg (in its yang phase) can do it’s work of powering the pedal.
  • You must have both yin and yang if you are to succeed. If you are yang dominant, which is the most common case, not just indoors but also amongst outdoor riders, you are a “masher.” Too much yang and you fatigue too quickly. Not the temporary fatigue that the yin experiences, but long-lasting fatigue that cuts your ride short. This is because the yang sucks up glycogen, a limited fuel. If you are yang dominant, you may be powerful for short periods, and this may serve you well in very short events that require high power outputs, but you will tire far too early, especially if your event is longer than 20 or 30 minutes. Your pedal stroke will be “manly” and powerful, but it will appear jerky, and even lead to unnecessary upper body movement as the upper body seems to follow the movement of the legs. If the leg is powering down forcefully, each shoulder dips down with the opposite leg.
  • Not many people are yin dominant, but instead they may be yang insufficient. This is due to lack of training and fitness. These people must simply ride, ride, ride to develop the leg strength and power needed to turn the pedals over and over and over. In addition to being able to apply a force, the yang is also important for muscular endurance.
  • The yin side of the pedal stroke is perhaps the most important in that it softens the edges of the strength and power of the yang. The yin, when finely tuned, softens the movement of the upper body. The yin is the ability to lift up ever so softly on the recovery phase (the backside of the pedal stroke), without over-reacting and over-engaging. It’s a subtle unweighting, keeping the foot just ahead of the moving pedal. It adds the element of smoothness, gracefulness, and elegance to your pedaling action.
  • When the yin and the yang of the pedal stroke are perfectly balanced, there is a beautiful aesthetic that turns cycling into an art. Pedaling is harmonious, rhythmic, and supple, while also powerful. Balancing these two elements should be your goal as a cyclist and as an indoor cyclist. This is referred to as a “spinning” style of pedaling.
  • You can improve the balance between the yin and yang of your pedal stroke by focusing on the interaction of the two. This is best done through drills which concentrate on the top and bottom of the pedal stroke. These two areas inextricably link the power phase (down) and the recovery phase (up), melding them into one continuous movement through 360 degrees. In cycling jargon, you remove the dead spots at the top and bottom of the pedal stroke when yin and yang are balanced.
  • The yin can be augmented through drills bringing the knees towards the handlebars, again, every so subtly. The yin is in everyone and doesn’t need to be strengthened as much as woken up. The yin works best when activated sooner. She will let you know when you are over-engaging her powers—the hip flexors are tiny muscles that tire very quickly and your yin will speak to you, or rather yell at you, if you try to animate her too much.
  • The yin thrives on longer-lasting fuel, your fat stores. Because of this, it is the yin that will allow you to ride longer than you’ve ever ridden, whether that be 50, 75, or 100 miles or more.
  • Both your yin and your yang can be beautifully perfected in your Spinning classes!

May the yin and the yang of your pedal stroke be forever balanced!

Oh, and always keep a notebook next to your bed—you never know when a good idea may manifest itself in a dream!




  1. This is great! I’m always trying to find new ways to cue proper form (especially on the pedal stroke), and i love this vision and how it incorporates a perception of balance throughout. Thanks for sharing your dreams! 😉

    1. Author

      You are welcome! I’ve used this in quite a few of my classes since then and my students have always smiled…but they also seem to “get it” much faster!

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