New Study Evaluates Whether Pedaling Backward Boosts Cycling Performance

Posted: May 26, 2015 in

ACE®-Commissioned Study Finds Pedaling in Reverse Is an Effective Form of Cross Training, Results In Improved Strength for Regular Cycling

SAN DIEGO, May 26, 2015—Pedaling backward on a stationary bike has been used as a means to potentially boost cycling performance and change the way leg muscles are stimulated. Unfortunately, little research has been conducted on the effectiveness of this training approach. This prompted the American Council on Exercise (ACE) to commission an independent study from researchers at the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse, to evaluate if pedaling in reverse provides benefits beyond, or in addition to, those seen with cycling forward on a Cascade recumbent bike.

The Cascade CMXRT recumbent exercise bike offers bi-directional resistance that allows the rider to pedal forward and backward throughout the full 360-degree pedal stroke.

“Fitness enthusiasts are frequently seeking ways to gain a training edge and optimize their workouts,” said ACE Chief Science Officer Cedric X. Bryant, Ph.D.  “We wanted to examine the heart rate, energy cost, and muscle activation responses to this novel recumbent cycle while pedaling backward to see if it offers any unique performance-boosting benefits.”  

In a study led by John Porcari, Ph.D., researchers recruited 16 apparently healthy volunteers—eight male and eight female—for two separate studies. The participants completed six five-minute submaximal exercise bouts, three while pedaling forward and three while pedaling backward. Half of the subjects pedaled forward first, then backward, while the other half did the opposite. Workloads were progressed from ratings of perceived exertion (RPE) of 11 to 13 to 15 (or fairly light to somewhat hard to hard) with each exercise bout, with two-minute breaks between them, and a 10-minute break during the changeover between pedaling directions.

The first study evaluated the potential differences in heart rate (HR), oxygen consumption (VO2), and caloric expenditure when participants cycled forward and backward on the Cascade cycle. Heart rate was assessed each minute and oxygen consumption was measured continuously as the participants cycled.

In the second study, researchers evaluated potential differences in muscle activation levels via electromyography (EMG) measurements when subjects cycled in the forward and backward directions. The major muscle groups of the lower extremity were evaluated (i.e., tibialis anterior, medial gastrocnemious, vastus medialis, vastus lateralis, rectus femoris, biceps femoris, semitendinosis and gluteus maximus).

The study revealed that pedaling backward on the Cascade cycle elicited higher heart-rate and energy-cost values than when pedaling at identical workloads in the forward direction. The increase in physiological response was associated with higher muscle activation of the quadriceps muscles, which was consistent with the subject’s description of feeling like they had to “pull” the pedals when cycling. The concept of specificity indicates that pedaling forward should still make up the vast majority of a cyclist’s training, but the subtle differences in muscle activation observed when pedaling backward may offer some functional benefits.

“Pedaling backward has often been used as a rehabilitation tool,” Bryant added. “It has been observed to reduce pressure on the tibiofemoral joint which may offer value in the rehabilitation of meniscal problems or tibiofemoral osteoarthritis.”

Dr. Porcari and his research team recommend treating backward pedaling on a Cascade recumbent bike as a change of pace and a form of cross training to better target the quadriceps. The improved quadriceps strength resulting from pedaling backward may eventually produce an enhanced cycling experience by making pedaling forward mentally and physically easier.

To view the study, visit:

About ACE

The nonprofit American Council on Exercise (ACE) educates, certifies, and represents more than 55,000 fitness professionals, health coaches, and other allied health professionals. ACE advocates for a new intersection of fitness and health care, bringing the highly qualified professionals that ACE represents into the healthcare continuum so they can contribute to the national solution to physical inactivity and obesity. ACE is the largest certifier in its space; all four of its primary certification programs are accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA), the gold standard in the United States for assessing professional competence.  ACE also plays an important public-service role, conducting research and making available science-based information, and resources on safe and effective physical activity and sustainable behavior change. For more information, call (800) 825-3636 or visit AMERICAN COUNCIL ON EXERCISE, ACE and ACE logos are Registered Trademarks of the American Council on Exercise.


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