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What Is Your Ideal Cadence

Cadence is a hot topic with varying opinions. One article will say "high cadence" the next "low cadence" and add to that your buddy at the coffee shop adding their 2 cents. Check out how we help athletes narrow down their best cadence.

By
Roy Foley
,
on
January 29, 2018

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     First, let’s set the group work for this article.   Cadence is how quickly you turn the pedals.   Force is measured on the bike by power or watts.   If you turn the pedals at a lower rate with lots of force, power is being produced at low velocity but high force.    If you turn the pedals faster with lots of force power is produced with high-velocity high force.    Each rider produces power differently based on physiology, demands of event/ride and by workout design. 

   We can use a chart to show how athletes produce power.  Which can help us determine ideal cadence, most effective cadence and review race/event files?   By taking RACE/EVENT winning files we can compare other athletes to see how they align.   Additionally, we can design custom workouts that target specific results.  

   Let’s check out one of our athlete's training files to gain a better understanding.   We will be looking at THREE files.  Two are from recent races and the third is one from the past.  By comparing files we can pull out some trends.   Check it out!

Quadrant Analysis

     For sake of simplicity, we will only focus on the top left and right of this chart.  The top left is HIGH FORCE LOW CADENCE and the top right is HIGH FORCE HIGH CADENCE.  This file is from a TIME TRIAL our athlete performed recently.      We can see most of their power, 71%., was performed at high force/low cadence at a cadence of 84-86 on average.   This athlete had a solid race with one of his highest average powers over this duration.  This file by itself useful but when we compare it to others we gain further insight.

Quadrant Analysis

Our next file is for the same athlete and is also a time trial of similar duration.    This time HOW power is produced is spread out over 3 of the 4 quadrants.  Top left and right we covered already but the lower right is low force high cadence.   So, they are pedaling quickly but not applying much force.   Notice the following:

 

HIGH FORCE/LOW CADENCE = 27%

HIGH FORCE/HIGH CADENCE = 32%

LOW FORCE/HIGH CADENCE = 27%

 

     The results from this TIME TRAIL was not ideal and under the average power compared with first file reviewed.   Now, let’s review one more file before we draw any conclusions.   This time we will take a file from 1 year ago that was his best TIME TRIAL effort of similar duration.   Check this out!

Quadrant Analysis

     For our final file, the rider spent the majority of his time, 68%, at HIGH FORCE LOW CADENCE.  By comparing all three files we can conclude our athlete produces the best results while producing power at high force low cadence.   The ideal cadence range for them is 83-86 RPM AT THRESHOLD.    KEY word being THRESHOLD.    When producing power above or below they will have a different effective cadence range....  But for the athlete LOW CADENCE AND HIGH FORCE works best... NOW, can we train someone to produce power in a different way?  YES, but there is a cost-benefit factor.   This is when the art of coaching comes into play as you make decisions on what will work best.   

 

     Let’s look at one final file from another rider.  This athlete is a very good top-level time trialist.   Notice how he produces power during a race of similar duration and terrain.

Quadrant Analysis

    From the chart, our top-level athlete produces 40% of his power at HIGH FORCE LOW CADENCE and 50% at HIGH FORCE HIGH CADENCE.   This athlete can tradeoff between HIGH and LOW cadence while still producing HIGH FORCE.   The WHY is not important for this article but the fact that each rider has their own individual prescription of force production is the key take away. . What works for one person may not work for another.

 

  In conclusion, force on the pedals is how we produce power. Power is the output of work that drives our bike forward… Each athlete will produce power in a specific way that is best for them.. The key is to figure out what is best, monitor and compare to prior best and make training/racing adjustments accordingly.   Just because CHRIS FROOME spins 150 RPM does not mean everyone needs to do the same.    Find out what is best for you, the demand for your event and train to improve! 

Train Smarter!