Short term results don’t always equal long term progress. In fact, sometimes what helps you improve in the short term is the opposite of what you need for long term results. One of the best examples of this in mountain biking is the “spin circles” or “pull through the top” advice given to riders in order to improve their pedal stroke.
Maybe because I come from a track background this seems so obvious to me but certain drills and techniques should be used to fix a technique flaw but not emphasized in the long run. For example, if you have a runner who is not getting their knee up high enough to clear their trail leg in an effective manner then it won’t be in the optimal position to deliver a strong, powerful push into the ground when it becomes to lead leg.
In this case you would employ some drills that work on driving the trail leg knee up. Once they are driving that knee up more effectively they will find that they can run faster, however that doesn’t mean that they need to keep working on and emphasizing driving the trail leg knee up higher and higher. Once you have fixed the problem and gotten the trail leg knees driving up to the right position then you go back to coaching a hard, powerful down stroke into the ground, which is what any good track coach will tell you is the real key to running fast.
If the trail leg is being lazy then you have to do something to get it working right in order to get it into the right position so that you can even start working on the real mechanics of a powerful, efficient running stride. You don’t say “hey, driving my knee up harder made me run faster so I’ll just stop there “. However, this is what I think is happening to riders.
If they have a lazy trail leg return that creates drag on the pedals that decreases the power the lead leg is able to create then you need to coach them to pull through the top. Pulling through the top is not what you want to emphasize in the long run, it is simply a coaching cue that will help them get the trail leg to stop being so lazy. Once you’ve established the baseline that you need from the trail leg then you go back to working on a powerful down stroke with the lead leg and stop worrying about pulling through the top.
Being able to actively pull the trail leg through the top is a symptom of a strong, efficient pedal stroke but not the cause. The cause comes from the powerful down stroke of the lead leg and this is what needs to be emphasized and worked on in the long run. Making the mistake of seeing some results from a corrective drill like spinning circles or pulling through the top will result in a less powerful and efficient pedal stroke in the long run.
So yes, you do need to get the trail leg to actively pull up instead of being lazy and relying on the pedals to push it back up but you don’t want to try and create power from that pulling through the top – you just need to do it enough to not interfere with the lead leg’s down stroke. If you aren’t doing that then working on that will help you in the short term but once you’ve got it down then go back to working on driving hard with the lead leg, which is what you really need for a powerful, efficient pedal stroke.