CADENCE – by Coach Brian

So here I am after years of cyclying and triathlons, trying to figure out the cadence issue and where I should be riding to get the most out of cycling and to run off the bike the best.  I tell my athletes all the time to ride at a high cadence to be a more efficient runner off the bike. But why?

On a long ride the other weekend after racing the day before, I started to really think about cadence and the importance of know where my cadence is during the ride and more importantly where it should be. The question made me think was I working in the most efficient manner?

Lets start with the basics. What is Cadence?  It simply your pedaling speed and is measured in Revolutions Per Minute (RPM).  Here is a basic chart for measuring RPM’s

·         Very slow: 50-70 RPM

·         Slow: 70-80 RPM

·         Moderate: 80-90 RPM

·         Fast: 90-100 RPM

·         Very Fast: 100-110 RPM

·         Extremely Fast: 110+ RPM

I am also a very low tech person and DO NOT ride with a cadence counter and never have. So how can I check my cadence?

Here is the way that I do it and also an easy way to check it.

Part #1: Counting Your Foot

The basis of counting your cadence is counting each pedal stroke. Since both feet need to complete one revolution to equal one full pedal stroke, you will only count one foot.

What I do is count each time my left foot hits the 6 o’clock part of the stroke.

Part #2: Timing

You will be counting your cadence for a short period of time. I usually do 15 or 20 seconds.

So I watch my stopwatch until it hits a good time such as 5:15. Then I count each time my left foot goes around, stopping once the watch says 5:30.

Part #3: Calculating Your Cadence

Now you should have two numbers. One is the number of seconds, and the other is the number of strokes you completed in that time period.

The goal is to calculate how many strokes you would have completed in 60 seconds. So if you counted for 15 seconds, you’ll multiply that number by 4 (since 15 seconds times 4 equals 60 seconds.) If you counted for 20 seconds, multiply strokes by 3.

That will give you your cadence, or RPM.

So with all that said what are the Pros and Cons of High and Low cadence riding?

High cadence riding in an easy gear is more cardiovascular than muscular (small muscles verse large muscles) . It also puts less stress on the bones and joints.  It is much more endurance based work and less on strength systems.

Low cadence riding in a big gear (harder gear) is more muscular and taxes the Quads a great deal. It is great for building power and strength.

High cadence riding is much more sustainable over longer rides. The advantages that I find with high cadence spinning is your heart and lungs can take repeated punishment for long periods of time (and they recovery quickly after hard efforts,) while your muscles will fatigue relatively quickly from low cadence spinning.

A high cadence also places less stress and torque on your knees. So if you have bad knees, you’re usually better off spinning faster, in a low gear.

There is also a tactical advantage to using a high cadence. Spinning fast in a low gear allows for faster accelerations, because you can bump up your cadence even more to increase your speed.

I have found through trial and error that for triathletes that higher cadence riding is the way to go.  This may not be breaking news but it is something that as a coach I am constantly working on with my athletes for running off the bike. High cadence riding is not something that comes natural and can be uncomfortable while learning to spin at a faster RPMs.   A good range for triathletes to stay in is 85-100 cadence and is less taxing on the joints and muscular system and will set you up for a better run off the bike. The reason that is true is because when you pedal more quickly each pedal stroke is less forceful, and the muscles in your legs don’t fatigue as quickly which means that you will have more energy to run off the bike.

One other advantage to high cadence riding during training is that the majority of triathletes race at high cadence (90-95) but train at (85-90). When you hop on the bike straight out of the water already in a high heart rate zone and start spinning at 90-95 cadence your legs and cardio system do not know what you are asking it to do because it is not used to riding in that cadence range. If you train like you race (as far as cadence is concerned) then this will not feel like a big difference.  I have had this happen 2 times this season where I hopped on my bike and started to hammer it and my legs felt like they were going to explode and almost didn’t want to respond to what I was asking them to do. This is a terrible feeling to have during a race. So because of that and talking to my coach I changed  up some of my training later in the season to some higher cadence riding and was very happy with the results.

Low cadence riding has its place in your training.  Low cadence riding is very beneficial during the base period of your training.  It builds strength and adds great power to your pedal stroke. Throwing some low cadences drills in during the endurance period of your training is also helpful to keep the strength that you have attained during the base period. Low cadence riding (big gear riding) is helpful when training for races that will have a hilly bike course, and you live in a place that has little to no hills (like the beach).

So behind all of the numbers and facts it is are some choices to be made and perhaps some changes in your training.  As I said earlier I am not a big tech guy and lose interest quickly when you through a lot of numbers at me.  But I have seen results from the higher cadence riding.  I now pay more attention to my cadence and to my coach when she has cadence work for me to do. Ultimately you have to decide what style rider that you are and what works best for you. This is just some food for though and next time you are on the bike and find that you have fallen into the standard 80-85 cadence, give it some thought and maybe you will see some results.

For questions about training plans and how to impliment RPMs into your training, contact us through the website!

Coach Brian