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Cadence


I recently wrote a short piece for Cycling Plus on cadence so thought I would expand a little on it here.

What is cadence?

The easiest way to measure cadence is by fitting a cadence sensor to your bike, these fit on your crank and count the number of pedal revolutions per minute.  If you don't have one though, you can measure your cadence by counting how many times one knee rises during a 30-second interval, then double this to get revolutions per minute. Do this on several rides and take an average to get a valid figure.

It is worth noting there is no ‘magic number’ for cadence and studies have previously claimed optimum cadence numbers from 60rpm–100 rpm for road cycling, with most experts settling around 80-90 rpm as an optimum cadence. 

It is a difficult thing to change as most people seem to fall into their own natural rhythm, but we see professionals riding at high cadences for hours, whereas most club-level riders tend to ride in ever lower cadences as fatigue sets in, this in itself suggests cadence is a vital parameter for training.

Learning to pedal quickly allows you to hold a faster speed with less muscular fatigue and develops a faster and more efficient pedal stroke. If you currently tend towards a slow leg turnover then just upping your cadence very slightly above normal, while staying in the same gear, can dramatically increase your power and speed.

Cadence Drills
Simple ‘spin ups’ are a good starting point. Warm up properly and then during your ride include 10 bursts of speed where you keep the same gear, but accelerate the legs to maximum cadence for about 30-40 seconds. Focus on pedalling as fast as possible, but stay smooth! The maximum cadence is the highest you can maintain without feeling you are bouncing on the saddle. Hold a strong core and as the cadence increases allow lower leg and feet to relax. 
Recover completely between efforts. This can be done inside on a turbo or rollers or outside.

Or how about a ‘Fartlek’ session outside (speed play in Swedish)? This is an unstructured, fun session where you literally play with your speed. Most of the ride will be at your normal comfortable endurance pace, but every so often you will ‘surge’ by picking up your leg speed for 30 - 60 seconds. Make it fun by picking a variety of sprint points ie I will surge every time I see a green car or every 10th lampost.

Recovery rides can also be a good time to use a slightly higher cadence as this ensures you are not putting any stress through your muscles. Keep the gearing super easy and cadence high with no real pressure on the pedals.

Inside it is much easier to control the session and watch the figures on your bike computer so you can be more specific and do things like 'Cadence Pyramids' to train your legs to ride at a variety of legs speed. 

After a good warm up do:
1 minute at 90 rpm 
1 minute at 100 rpm 
1 minute at 110 rpm 
2 minutes easy at your normal comfortable cadence 
2 minutes at 90 rpm 
2 minutes at 100 rpm 
2 minutes at 110 rpm 
2 minutes easy at your normal comfortable cadence
3 minutes at 90 rpm 
3 minutes at 100 rpm 
3 minutes at 110 rpm 
2 minutes easy at your normal comfortable cadence
2 minutes at 90 rpm 
2 minutes at 100 rpm 
2 minutes at 110 rpm
2 minutes easy at your normal comfortable cadence
1 minute at 90 rpm 
1 minute at 100 rpm 
1 minute at 110 rpm

Increasing your natural cadence may take weeks, months or even seasons, but by training at cadences above your normal cadence you are also training your brain to fire the signals needed for your muscles to contract far more rapidly. This means when you then ride at your normal cadence, it doesn’t seem as hard, so hopefully you will feel the difference as well as being able to see the number increasing over a period of time.

Overall a steady cadence throughout a ride will be more efficient so remember not to just pedal faster or slower in the same gear, but to adjust your gears as you ride or climb to make life easier and keep rpm more constant. The gears are there to be used; I often see riders ‘saving’ a gear, but far better to change early and spin up the climbs instead of churning up and fatiguing the muscles.



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