When you train over a wide range of cycling cadence and a wide range of resistance, you develop strength, speed and a biomechanically efficient pedal stroke.
This page examines the benefits and applications of both slow and fast cycling cadence.
Here are some of the benefits of training at a slow cadence (50-60 rpm) and high resistance:
- Develop core stability and “saddle silence”.
- Develop hip/knee/ankle joint stability and alignment.
- Recruit more muscles fibers for each stroke to improve endurance.
- Improve sustainable hill climbing ability.
Here are some of the benefits of training at a fast cadence (100+ rpm) and low resistance:
- Develop core stability and “saddle silence”.
- Develop pedaling speed.
- Develop a smooth, efficient pedal stroke.
- Improve your ability to sustain a fast cadence.
Cadence is measured as “revolutions per minute” – known as “rpm”. This refers to one complete revolution – one complete circle of the pedals. If you don't have a cycling computer that displays cadence: Count the number of complete revolutions of one foot for 30 seconds and multiply by two. This is easiest on a stationary stand.
Strive to develop your ability to estimate within 5 rpm what your cadence is without having to look at a computer. This is not an easy skill. When I first begin, I feel like I'm pedaling faster than I really am. Once I've done some demanding intervals, my cadence may feel slower than it actually is (at an easy resistance). You may notice how distorted your perceptions can be. (I do!)
What is the ideal cycling cadence?
General consensus identifies 90 rpm as an ideal cadence that draws equally from both aerobic capacity and neuro-muscular strength. As your cadence decreases, it draws more on neuro-muscular strength. As your cadence increases, it draws more on aerobic capacity.
Many triathletes maintain a cadence range of 80-90 rpm to keep the heart rate slightly lower – in anticipation of the higher aerobic level required to run well. Many road cyclists (who are not concerned with running off the bike) maintain a cadence range of 90-100 rpm or even higher.
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Your ideal cadence will vary.
Both internal factors (within your body) and external factors (your bike and the environment) influence your cadence and your biomechanics. Many of these factors vary moment-to-moment! (For example: The level of lactic acid in your muscles fluctuates. The topography and wind conditions change as you ride.)
You must constantly respond to many factors by adjusting your gearing (resistance) and your cadence to maximize your efficiency, performance and enjoyment. By training a broad range of cadence and resistance combinations, you will have greater freedom to choose the most appropriate combination during your races and long rides.
Diversity is the key to cycling endurance.
When you train these two abilities intelligently, you develop both neuro-muscular strength and aerobic capacity. You are also more apt to develop a smooth, efficient pedal stroke. With a wide functional cadence range, you can "spread the load" over both your aerobic and muscular systems. You can also vary your pedaling biomechanics.
A broad functional cadence range provides more options in your race strategies as well – for both road racing and triathlon. The Zendurance Cycling Self-Study Guide provides guidance for improving your cadence range so you can choose the optimum gear and cadence combination.
The riding positions you use when you train and race also factor in as you determine your ideal cadence. Some positions work better for low cadence and high resistance, while others are ideal for high cadence and low resistance. The differences can be subtle. That's why I recommend stationary training.
You can effectively introduce and train a wide cadence and resistance range on a stationary stand. This is a great opportunity to evaluate riding positions in combination with cadence and resistance. Stationary training is a primary tool for Zendurance Cycling Methods.
The Zendurance Cycling Self-Study Guide provides guidance for training both low-cadence/high-resistance and high-cadence/low resistance so you can maximize your potential. They also provide guidance for evaluating the many factors that influence your cycling cadence – including your body’s current condition, your riding position, your gear selection, and myriad environmental factors.
Besides cycling cadence, there are some other elements of Pedaling Technique you can examine.
Cycling Technique for Cycling Performance
Zendurance Cycling Home Page