Cadence and Cycling

What cadence should I ride at? This is the age old question that really is hard to answer and different whenever you ask someone.  It really is something that is different for every athlete and before I continue on I want to stress that I am no expert at this, I am merely sharing my what I have learned.

So what is cadence? Similar to on a car it is the revolutions per minute (RPM) of each pedal stroke.

There are many theories on what cadence (RPM) you should hold during the bike portion of a race, and how you should train for it. Ironwomen podcast recently did a podcast in which they had Coach Marilyn Chychota go into more detail about cadence.  It was a great podcast that provide great insight into cadence, CLICK HERE.   What Marilyn notes strongly in the podcast is that cadence really is different for everyone because everyone is very different; this is also something I believe.

Despite that belief I did that when I changed my cadence to the incredibly slow cadence of 60 RPM that I was previously training and racing at to much higher at closer to 80 RPM I was able to more easily hit higher watts and hold those watts for longer without fatigued.  I also found that running off the bike was easier as my legs didn’t as much like lead as they used to.

So why is that?

The human body has three types of muscle groups; skeletal, cardiac, and smooth.  The muscle group I want to touch on in relation to cadence is skeletal muscle.  Skeletal muscle is the muscle attached your skeleton, ie: bones, and helps to move your limbs and other parts of your body.  It was hypothesized, in a study performed by Gotshall, Bauer, and Fahrner, that the increased pedal cadence would enhance the skeletal muscle pump which would then result in an increase in cardiac output.  They found that the increased cadence showed an oxygen uptake increase, heart rate, stroke volume, and cardiac output while vascular resistance decreased; basically they found that the increased cadence resulted in a more effective skeletal muscle pump due to an increased muscle blood flow.  What this does is it puts more stress on your cardiovascular system rather than your muscular system, saving your muscles for the run.

Ok, that’s a fair amount of science-y talk that may not make any sense, but when I read that it totally clicked for me why I felt better on and off the bike when I focused on increasing my cadence.  By increasing my cadence I was allowing for better blood flow to the muscles in my legs and butt which meant more oxygen and nutrients to those muscles for prolonged longevity.

That does not totally help you decide what cadence to ride at now does it?

Again, cadence is very different for each person.  For example even though I have worked hard to increase my cadence I am still on the lower end of the spectrum being more of a strength rider compared to a friend of mine who rides at 95 RPM no matter what the terrain is.  We have very different body types and that partially contributes to the difference.

To improve your cadence and find out what you most optimaly ride at takes some trial and error.  Find out what your cadence is currently then do some drills to improve your cadence and pedal stroke.

Here are some drill and interval ideas:

Single Leg drills
High Cadence Intervals- spend 1-3 minutes at a much higher cadence than normal
High Cadence Spinning – keeping your effort lower keep your RPMs in the 90s-100s
High Cadence Recovery – do your normal intervals and during your recovery increase your cadence by 10-15 watts.

Again, cadence is very much dependent on the person.  Your background can determine, such as if you are coming from a running, cycling, or triathlon background, your height, weight, and muscle mass can all play a part in determining you cadence.

Have fun learning all about your cadence!!!