From the Coaches: Why does cadence matter?

Yeah I’d love to be spinning at my preferred 85 rpm cadence all the way up a 10 km Alpine pass with 12%+ gradients. But the reality is that sometimes I am forced into using a cadence well below what feels natural. Even much flatter routes often have short, steep climbs requiring a very low cadence. So to me it makes sense to spend some time training for these low cadence, high torque efforts.

As for high cadence, I find it useful to train sometimes well above my natural cadence as it appears to improve my efficiency at a normal cadence (it certainly makes a normal cadence feel more effortless afterward) and over the years my natural cadence has also crept up a little, which I think is a positive.

When I’m riding an event out on the road or mtb trail I feel comfortable at a wide range of cadence, which I put down to training over an even wider range. On a typical ride I might see a cadence range anywhere from 50 to 120 rpm depending on the terrain and bike.

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Show off. :wink:

I reiterate, were I to spin 200rpm @ 296KW, I would likely be flying off the bike.

I guess this depends on your goals and what is meant by “strength training”, which is a pretty generic term. Low cadence, high torque workouts on the trainer (like GOAT) definitely help to build climbing strength on the bike as they are basically simulating steep climbs and working the specific muscle groups you will be using out on the bike. Off-bike strength training is much less specific and depending on what you actually do can be both beneficial or detrimental to your cycling performance.

@CPT_A,
I know it’s hard to believe, but yes, people can ride at cadences over 250rpm even! Track cyclists are the most well known for high cadence riding ability, but it’s also very common for downhill MTB’ers, and most elite cyclists in any discipline will develop this skill/ability.

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ed485d35f138d43cd045de9c41a06220

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@ 296 KW you would be racingTeslas!

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Ha! Whoops. Lack of coffee this am.

image

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@CPT_A et al, the 200 Club is indeed a thing. I can hit peak 200 consistently, but I can’t maintain it. I think my highest is maybe 219. Here is what it looks like in real time. Using the Garmin ant+ cadence sensor attached to the crank.

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I found the only way I can get a cadence over 140/150 rpms is to actually pull my butt off the saddle and have all my weight on the handlebars and the pedals. I hit 184 rpms last week. Probably my highest, yet. But I had to be literally hovering above my saddle to do it.

In my limited experience, the cadence drills have definitely helped me be comfortable as a variety of cadences. I don’t know that they’ve increased my strength on the bike. But I am now definitely way more comfortable riding at 120-130rpms for harder efforts than I used to be. I used to always shift up into a gear I could ride at 85rpms to get higher power. Now, I can more comfortably do the same effort at 110+ rpms and then feel like I can still ride again. Similarly, I could never stand on the pedals or comfortably grind at a low cadence. The cadence work and out of the saddle practice in the videos has definitely helped me be able to do that better. I don’t have a magically higher FTP. And my NM has gone up, but likely mostly due to technique changes. But the cadence drills do seem to help me in other ways like Coach Suzie has said.

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A good track sprinter can hit upwards of 225 rpm

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My natural cadence is around 90 rpm. Yet, if I have to use a lower cadence because of the gradient, that feels natural as well because I could not spin higher. Natural to me is relative to the effort required. What I have to learn is to use a lower cadence to pace myself. I sometimes will go up a 6% gradient at 90 rpm when I really should do it slower in order to conserve energy.

In the past, I never stood up no matter how difficult the outdoors climb was. I have been doing the SUF strength training, and yesterday I did the GCN Muscular Endurance Intervals. I managed to stand for both the 2 minute intervals at threshold at 50 rpm.

I do not know if I will stand when outside because the studies on the matter seem mixed, but I am feeling more confident and may try it soon.

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I was doing that big Alp climb in that Z program the other day at 100% difficulty. It starts at a consistent 10-12%. My lowest gear on my trainer is a 39-25. So at 200-220w (and weighing over 85kg) the only way I could keep going was to do the effort standing, and then sit down for about 5 seconds to recover in every corner where the gradient sometimes dropped to 6 or 7%. I was able to stand and pedal at around 40rpms for almost 25 minutes until I just couldn’t take it anymore and had to reduce the difficulty so I could sit and pedal a higher cadence and lower power. Before I started SUF last year I wouldn’t have lasted more than a minute or two. Thanks to SUF I lasted over 20 minutes!

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My “natural” cadence is around 85 rpm at threshold power and increases to 90+ rpm at VO2 power level. But climbing often dictates a much lower cadence at or above threshold power. This low climbing cadence only feels natural because that’s what I’m used to and specifically train for. If I had infinite gearing (like a real life ERG mode) I would just spin up every climb at my preferred cadence of 85-90 rpm depending on power output.

As for standing vs sitting, often I do both on long climbs. I prefer to sit most of the time, but really steep sections sometimes dictate standing and sometimes it’s just nice to stretch my legs out and alternate muscle groups. The science doesn’t really matter. From what I’ve read sitting is generally more efficient, especially for heavier riders, but there is often a need/preference to stand regardless. For example I did a GF event last weekend that had some extremely steep climbs (20%+ gradients) where sitting was not an option for the steepest sections. On climbs where you could sit or stand it’s often better to mix it up. I see pros doing this all the time and I just do it naturally without thinking.

So for indoor training I make sure I train across a full range of cadence and effort. SUF is great for that. I do see some riders who have a pretty 1-dimensional riding style out on the road and who obviously never train at either low or high cadence. The best riders always seem comfortable at pretty much any cadence and often mix it up to vary the stress on particular muscle groups and cardio system.

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I am definitely a work in progress. I only started SUF in November of last year. My core is getting stronger as I progress through the strength training and various workouts.

Today I did a ride of almost 2 hours on the trainer that had sections that simulated elevations of 7, 9, 10, and 13 percent, and I was able to stand for most of them.

Sometimes, when outside, I will stand as I go downhill just to stretch my legs. I have read the same thing as you have about the science.

Right now I do better at lower cadences, but keeping good form for high and low cadences is still a struggle. I can rarely spin faster than 110 rpm.

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I like doing high torque low cadence drills because that’s the only time I can truly focus on pedaling all the way round with both feet. I don’t know if it builds muscle memory or not for “normal” cadence but I like to believe it does. I also enjoy the high cadence drills, too, just to see what I can do. I think the on/off is beneficial in some capacity

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Put that in the advertising copy, Wahoo! :grinning_face_with_smiling_eyes:

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