One of the most challenging aspects of cycling is cadence. Power and speed are more straightforward metrics, whereas Cadence is not. Because it can be high or low or somewhere average too.
In this article, I will answer the question: What is a good cycling cadence? First, we’ll discuss Cadence, how it works, and what high and low Cadence means.
Afterward, we will go through a series of drills that you can use to improve your cycling performance at low and high cadences by applying these techniques.
Besides that, we will also discuss other major and minute topics related to the cycling cadence that people often have in mind. So, let’s start!
What is Cycling Cadence
“Cycling cadence” is the rate at which the pedals are turned on a bicycle. It’s how many revolutions per minute you can complete at a specific rate.
It is generally better to have a higher cadence when biking on flat ground since you can pedal faster. Alternatively, if you’re biking uphill, your cadence might be lower because such an activity requires lots of body effort, which gradually slows the pedaling speed.
Also, there is no surprise that professional cyclists have a higher cycling cadence than amateur cyclists since they develop their muscles and endurance by cycling at a preferred cadence over time.
But beginners, too, can improve their cadence regardless of how experienced or inexperienced they are. We’ll discuss it in detail in the coming section of this article.
Why does Cycling Cadence matter
Cycling at the right Cadence affects your efficiency and power. Your power will vary according to how fast you push the pedals (your cycling cadence). Low cycling cadences put a lot of strain on your muscles, increasing the effort needed to pedal a bike.
In addition, when you pedal at a lower gear, you will burn a lot more fat because you have to use more energy to push the pedals. Consequently, your muscles will also become tired in just a few minutes due to the strain.
Conversely, if you cycle extremely fast, you are likely to exhaust yourself much more quickly, making you less efficient on your bike in the long run. This is why it’s imperative to maintain a good pedaling technique and choose a cadence that works for you.
What is a good Average Cycling Cadence
If you are unfamiliar with cycling and would like to achieve maximum efficiency, then you should start working on finding the right Cadence at which you can ride.
According to the cardiovascular health and the physique of the individual, this will vary from person to person.
Since pro cyclists have greater muscle mass, they can push the pedals much more quickly, which allows them to ride at a lower cycling cadence. Comparatively, a lean rider with good cardiovascular health will choose to pedal faster using a lesser amount of force with each stroke.
As an amateur, you’re likely to pedal slower since a higher cycling cadence will put more stress on your cardiovascular system.
The general rule to remember is that if your legs start feeling tired out before you begin gasping for air, your Cadence needs to be increased. Similarly, if your lungs are exhausted before your legs, you should lower your Cadence.
When you seek to find your Cadence, this general understanding of Cadence will come much faster to you. Here is a simple table showing the good average Cadence of a cyclist at various points in their career:
|Type of Cyclist
|Average Cycling Cadence RPM
Indoor Cycling Cadence vs. Outdoor Cycling Cadence
If you’ll take my suggestion, indoor cadence training is much more efficient than outdoor Cadence. And various strong points prove it. And the most massive reason behind this is the no-distraction environment indoor training serves. With indoor Cadence, you do not have to worry about the traffic or any climatic factor.
Also, while practicing higher Cadences outside, lots of time due to rough or bumpy roads, training gets disturbed. But with indoor training, even the average cadence speed goes way up than what it was outside, which helps practice high Cadence efficiently.
Last but not least, you save a lot of time while doing indoor cadence training. And not to forget the benefit of achieving a cadence goal in the comfort of home.
However, as we know, competitions happen in an outdoor environment, so it is also essential that we are equally good at outdoor training. But to avoid distraction, starting indoor Cadence is the most feasible and wise option.
Do all cyclists have the same ideal Cadence
The preferred pedaling cadence of two cyclists varies according to the individual’s primary muscle fiber type and level of cardiovascular fitness. A person’s perfect Cadence can be determined depending on the level of these two factors in the body.
Remember that you will pedal slowly when you are just starting. You may experience this because of a less capable cardiovascular system. The cardiovascular strength you develop will increase with time and practice, allowing you to pedal more quickly.
And as far as muscle strength is concerned, it can be built in the gym with some cadence training. If you find it tough to build muscle mass, try pedaling faster with less force to achieve the same results.
How to measure the Cycling Cadence
It is necessary to find out your current cycling cadence before finding out how to improve it.
So, the question is, how can you determine if you are doing a cadence cycling of 70 RPM or 90 RPM? Well, there are two methods for finding it: either count your pedals or use a cadence sensor. Both of these are explained in detail down below.
Count Your Pedals
Although some cadence tracking devices offer more accurate cadence measurements, measuring it yourself is as simple as counting how many times your leg pushes down when on the pedal for 30 seconds.
It is best to do this while riding on flat terrain without traffic signals or speed bumps. To find your Cadence while riding, count for 10 seconds and multiply the number by six afterward. After counting, double that number to get the Cadence.
Repeat this process twice for a more accurate cadence value and calculate their averages. The most major thing to remember is that you need to experiment with different cadences to find the one cadence that works best for you.
It is essential to understand that a cadence that works for someone may not work for others. It is also possible that even the same Cadence might not work for you in every situation.
Depending on the surface you are riding on, you may need to adjust your Cadence. It will take time for you to get used to how different cadences feel, and once you do that, you’ll be able to change the Cadence automatically to one that fits you better.
Use a Bike Cadence Sensor
Additionally, some bicycles have built-in sensors on the crank that assist you in measuring your Cadence. Using these sensors, you can measure your Cadence much more accurately while riding your bike.
The data from your cadence sensors combined with your fitness tracking device will allow you to gain more insight into your cycling workout and optimize it accordingly.
How to improve your Cycling Cadence
It’s a good idea to figure out what your cycling cadence is so that you can work on improving it. Remember if you can improve your neuromuscular coordination on the bike, you can ride faster and longer before you become fatigued.
Your pedaling efficiency and neuromuscular coordination can significantly improve by incorporating cadence drills in your training. When you first begin running, here is a list of drills you can use to enhance your Cadence.
1. Enhancing pedaling smoothness at a higher cadence
A cyclist often experiences saddle bouncing when pedaling at a high cadence. As one practices more and more, they become better at it and learn how to deal with road bounce.
Ideally, you should ride on a flat road where you won’t have to worry about such a situation. Once you have got a good grip on a flat surface, take on the challenge of maintaining the same speed on a rough surface. This is the best method for increasing pedal smoothness at high cadences.
2. Strength development at lower cadences
You can do two types of drills to develop this low cadence strength and achieve a more efficient pedal stroke.
The first one is Hill Stomps. During this workout, you will go through two phases. The first thing to consider is the hill effort, and the second is the leg recovery/leg speed over the top.
Remember, during the upstroke, if you don’t concentrate on pulling up as you are performing the motion, it is very likely that you will fall over. So, play safe to win strength development through this drill.
Sadly everyone does not have access to an appropriate hill for stomping. In this case, you can use a low cadence drill. Move at 40-50 rpm using your most significant gear possible. Focus on the push-downs, top and bottom transitions, and pull-ups.
Keep in mind that improving your power and pedal stroke fluidity takes time, but the results are worth the effort. The key to building a robust and fluid pedal stroke is to focus on each component separately.
3. Endurance Spinning
To push yourself, increase the Cadence slowly every day as you become more comfortable riding at a higher cadence. As a beginner, another way to improve your Cadence is to cycle at least three times at a steady cadence of 70-80 RPM for five minutes, followed by a five-minute recovery break. Using this drill, you will be able to raise your natural Cadence.
4. Single-Leg Focus
This drill is to amplify the power generated with each pedal stroke by focusing all your attention on just one leg. You must concentrate on just one leg and pedal your foot forward for 90 seconds. With the other leg, repeat the drill in the same way.
5. Isolated Leg Training
Isolated leg training is similar to a single leg drill and helps apply power to the entire pedal stroke. While training on a low power interval, rest your foot on the stool. Then start slowly pedaling with another leg for 10-20 seconds. Make sure your form does not degrade by practicing bad habits just to get another five or ten seconds.
6. Kick and Pull
While approaching the center of your motion, lightly kick your toes in front of your shoes. You will kick and pull your heels into the back of your shoes. During the bottom and top quadrants of your pedal stroke, this drill would help maintain tension.
You should only kick for about 30 to 60 seconds, then pull for another 30 to 60 seconds. After that, you should kick and pull simultaneously for another 30 to 60 seconds.
7. Pedaling fluidity and coordination
For pedaling fluidity and coordination, do a 20 minutes session of 4 sets where each set includes (4 minutes at 120 rpm + 1 minute easy). Make sure your upper body remains as still as possible during this 20-minute block.
Ultimately, it will transfer power to the waist, resulting in a strong core. If you feel comfortable with the first block, rest and repeat it the second time.
Cadence Drills in TrainerRoad Workouts
Many trainer road workouts incorporate cadence interval training in their base period. One such workout is Pettit. It is a kind of endurance workout considered a good blend of speed-endurance intervals, sprints, and pedaling-quadrant drills.
Pettit is a super easy and very effective workout that keeps the capability of training you in the pedaling mechanics without compromising interval quality. Ericsson is also a good example, where cadence drills are performed in intervals.
Riders usually start with little, quick spinning for 4 minutes and increase their pedal speed for another 3 minutes. At the last minute, they spin their best out. The primary focus of such drills is to improve leg speed and fine-tune the pedal economy.
Pros and Cons of a low Cycling Cadence
Cycling performance can be enhanced by riding at a low cadence (50 – 70 rpm). Although many people argue that a low cadence is not the best cadence for all cycling, I argue that it can be effective in improving cycling performance in the following four ways:
a. Improved Strength: Cycling at a low cadence is ideal for strengthening the muscles on the bike. By pedaling at a low rpm, you are able to exert a large torque (power).
As a result of this extra torque, the cranks are forced to be pushed around more forcefully, which is great for strength training.
b. Optimized Pedaling Technique: When you pedal at a low cadence, you can sense your pedal stroke technique, track the timing of each muscle group, and utilize it throughout each circle.
It will be easy for you to spot the “dead spots” in your stroke. With this approach, strength and technique can also be improved.
c. Controlled Effort: Keeping a low and optimal cadence when riding on challenging terrain may allow you to stay in your physical zones. This is especially true on steep climbs, where riding at your usual cadence will push you above your threshold climbing zone.
As you drop down into a lower cadence, your momentum will remain high while your lower range of physical activity will be utilized to the fullest.
d. Maintaining Speed: Finally, you can maintain a good speed by using a low Cadence. As I said previously, using a low Cadence helps you add more torque. Torque drops off when you have speed naturally.
This significantly limits your overall speed potential. You can maximize speed by shifting down a few gears and adding more torque to the drivetrain when you gain speed.
In this way, you’ll maintain high torque and chain tension while keeping the speed without scrubbing any of it. As a result, you are also able to keep the same speed while using higher-speed sections with lower power input.
Despite these massive advantages, some evidence suggests slow Cadence can cause front knee pain. However, proper techniques can prevent it, like maintaining correct posture while riding and choosing the suitable bike fit for yourself.
Pros and Cons of a high Cycling Cadence
There are several benefits to riding at a higher cadence, including reducing the stress placed on the leg muscles and being able to ride for a more extended period before your legs “crack.”
Secondly, it allows you to save your legs for near-term events by reducing leg fatigue. For example, if you are involved in a three-day stage race, then pedaling at a higher cadence can keep your legs fresher for that race, preventing you from being tired.
Thirdly, pedaling at a higher Cadence places more significant stress on your cardiovascular system (instead of your leg muscles), enhancing fitness. Finally, you can improve your ability to push giant gears more quickly by pedaling at a relatively high cadence.
But high cadence riding is only a good option when executing fast pedal strokes smoothly. If a high cadence causes some bouncing on your saddle, then there are high chances of a sudden drop in your pedaling efficiency. This, however, can be fixed by developing pedaling fluidity and correcting pedaling techniques.
High Cadence pedaling is also not feasible when you are approaching easy gears. The oxygen intake of your body and your thigh muscles is relatively low when you pedal at a high cadence in low gear.
Cycling Cadence for Triathletes
Cadence plays a significant role in triathlon kind of contests too. Athletes who conserve energy in such multisport events are firmly believed to perform better. And to achieve this stage, attaining an economical cadence seems beneficial.
Some studies even show that low Cadence increases cycling efficiency during the competition and further helps in the race. In my opinion, a slow pedal stroke is better for athletes overall.
Still, there is a catch because two studies have proven that higher cadence bike riding in competition also helps with the running part, especially in the initial phase of running. After all, it creates a gap between athletes which is tough to beat in races like close competitions.
What are Marginal gains
Sports have widely adopted a marginal gains concept to improve performance. There is a principle that in business, you should be striving towards incremental improvements in every process that will benefit you significantly when you have added them all up.
The concept came to prominence in 2012 in the world of cycling. This same technique is implementable for improving Cadence, increasing a rider’s power output to maintain a more optimal aerodynamic position.
To Wrap Up — Cycling Cadence
Practicing your cadence training regularly will help you become a faster and more efficient rider in no time. This will further enhance your overall physique and fitness plus will also allow you to build endurance in the long run.
So, try incorporating our above-mentioned cadence-based drills in your workout session to attain maximum benefits.
Cycling Cadence — FAQs
Low vs. High: How cycling cadence affects the body
Pedaling with low power and high Cadence targets neuromuscular adaptations. Conversely, pedaling at a lower cadence and higher resistance recruits more fast-twitch muscle fibers and motor units.
Can I use my phone as a cadence sensor?
Yes, it is possible. The smartphone is accompanied by GPS technology which allows users to track bike speeds using their smartphone.