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What’s The Best Cadence?

Ask a Pro — Diane Stibbard

- Coach, Personal Trainer, and Two-Time Canadian Duathlete of the Year

Diane Stibbard - two-time dualthlete of the yearQ: I cycle year round with elevation gains of less than 1000 ft. (300 m). A triathlete suggested I focus my training on maintaining a cadence of at least 80 rpm. Is this a worthwhile endeavour?”

A: When I’m asked about optimal cadence, my answer is not cut and dried. Body type plays a huge role in an individual’s ability to turn over the pedals. “Power riders,” riders with large muscular legs, tend to be strong and better suited to flatter terrain. They can push large gears at low cadence rates with very little leg fatigue, and are more comfortable riding in the 75–80 rpm range. Lighter, smaller riders, who don’t have big muscular legs, but are still powerful riders in relation to their body weight, are better suited to hilly terrain. These cyclists can ride comfortably in the 85–95 rpm range.

So which is better? Neither. Every cyclist needs to find her own “natural cadence” where she can ride without too much leg fatigue. However, I sometimes coach my clients to ride at various cadence rates to help them become better able to handle situations where they might have to push both higher and lower cadence rates. Lower cadence rates are encountered in hill climbing, and higher cadence rates are used in descents and on flatter terrain.

Training at both the lower and higher cadence rates helps you become better able to handle all conditions. I’m a very light but powerful hill-climbing cyclist. When I ride hills I tend to use cadence rates to determine if I need to shift gears. For example, on a climb, when my cadence begins to drop below 75 rpm, I switch to an easier gear. I continue gearing down throughout the climb at 70 rpm, 65 rpms, and 60 rpm. Once I’m in an easier gear I continue to try to keep the cadence as high as I can to avoid leg burnout, but at the same time I work on building leg strength by challenging my muscular system to work at a lower cadence.

I see a benefit in working at both lower and higher cadences. Doing this helps you become a stronger and faster cyclist without overtaxing either your muscular or cardiovascular system. I recommend challenging both systems in your training/riding schedule by riding at different cadence rates.

Get out there, ride strong, and be safe. We still have a lot of outdoor riding before the snow flies.

Training for a two-day cycling eventDiane provides training programs for recreational and competitive cyclists, duathletes and triathletes, including nutritional counseling and personal training. Does your company need a fitness consultant? Get in touch with Diane to discuss fitness seminars for corporations

You want personal training but don’t live near Diane? No problem. Diane does email and telephone consultations. To learn more, visit Diane’s website or contact her at
LinkedIn.

Check out Diane’s e-programs: Keeping Fit in the Off-Season and Training For a Two-Day Charity Event For the Time-Starved Cyclist.


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1 comment to What’s The Best Cadence?

  • Lisa Leonard

    Hi Diane
    I have been reading your advise for a year now and following it when I need advise on a area of fitness I lack.
    I like you am a light (170 cm/56 k) climber and would love to have you coach me. I race for bceastern and st ives cc near Peterborough, uk so it would be difficult.
    My 1st year of road racing went well but was hard to convert from mtb as tactics very different.
    My rest has started now and am getting quite moody and distracted.
    Do you have any ideas?
    Keep sending emails they are great and so informative.
    Thanks Lisa :@)

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