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Cycling Basics: Cadence Tips to Incorporate Into Your Training

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A cyclist’s cycling cadence is defined as the total number of times your foot completes a pedal stroke within a single minute - also known as the “rpm”. Mathematically and physically, cyclists define cadence as the work that is required to move a bike from one place to another and is calculated in watts. It is derived by multiplying the force used in moving the bike or that is applied in your pedal stroke and the total number of rotations you’ve made in one minute or your cadence (i.e; watts = force x cadence). Cyclists are frequently identified as “spinners” and “mashers” within the athletic sphere. This is because as masher is often referred to as an athlete who likes to race by means of pedaling hard on high gears with low or moderate cadences, while spinners are known to race on low gears with a high cadence in cycling. Cycling is actually is a relatively simpler sport and by retaining a steadily increasing cycling cadence rate, you can enhance your overall performance.

However, your cadence depends on the kind of biking gear you use and appropriate muscular training. And at the end of the day, optimal cadence cycling can be broken down into simple and controllable concepts and elements,  like a cyclist’s efforts (which is often measured by their heart rates), their gearing (which includes the front and rear combinations) and their pedal cadence. There is a great deal of confusion amongst tri-athletes especially, on the exact role and impact of cadence in training and racing. Athletes often wonder the right cadence they should train at and the true physiological and racing implications the cadence selection has on their racing. 

Table of Contents

The Benefits of Cadence Cycling 

Here are some of the simple yet extremely positive benefits of cadence on a cyclist’s physique and health:

  1. Cadence is known to have a positive impact your aerobic performance when it occurs at a higher rate. This is comprehended to be a result of your body distributing more blood back and forth from the heart, as an effect of higher heart rates found at higher cadences. 
  2. Cycling cadence also improves the supply of oxygen to your blood, which can furthermore boost your physical performance. 
  3. It can help you gain an ideal and efficient use of energy while riding. At the end of the day, the aim becomes to achieve a higher average speed, without expending too much energy and fuel in your body. 
  4. Cadence in cycling also helps every cyclist find their “sweet spot”. This refers to the point in your performance where you happen to be at your optimal cadence, and tend to use less energy to travel the same distance at one certain speed. 

Livingit Tip-
A higher cadence rate will not assure you the best speed. In fact, only having a faster cycling cadence will not guarantee a sustainable speed across a race. 

cycling cadence
Cycling cadence improves the oxygen content

How To Find Your Ideal Cadence 

Many cyclists have found that finding their optimal or ideal cadence, as it depends heavily on the individual’s physique, preference, and ability. The optimal cadence cycling is to a great extent reliant on the cyclist's muscles; namely their fast twitch fibres and slow twitch fibres. 

  • Fast twitch muscle fibres are known to burn glycogen to fuel your performance. This glycogen is stored in your muscles and is quite scarce in supply; amounting to about 2000 calories for a well-trained and lean athlete. They tend to become exhausted quickly and are not built to last your performance for long. They also take longer to recover before they can be utilised again. 
  • Slow twitch muscle fibres are used to primarily burn fat to fuel your performance. They are very resistant to fatigue and are built and used in such a way that they can sustain your aerobic performance for a very long period of time. They’re also known to recover quickly, during rest.

To generate a high force contraction, your leg muscles need to obtain more fast twitch muscle fibres, in contrast to a slow twitch muscle fibres. Mashers are known to use more fast twitch muscle fibres, whereas, spinners, on the other hand, utilise slow twitch muscle fibres. 

However, a cyclist’s ideal cadence is entirely decided upon the individual’s characteristics and capacities. The cycling coaches generally design training modules for mashers than generally encourages to push themselves to a higher cadence rate on lower gears. 

Causes of Low Cadence

The normal range of cadence lies between the rates of 80 rpm and 100 rpm. But if for some reason you cannot change it or bring it up, there might a few factors in play:

1. Gearing: Your strength and power as a cyclist, in addition to the kind of terrain your ride can be influenced by the proper gearing required. If you aren’t sure of your chainring size or you end up unsure of the right gear when cycling across different terrains and inclines, you might need to visit your bike shop to see if a cassette swap is necessary. 

2. Appropriate crank length: It is very important for every cyclist to understand their crank length. If you end up having the wrong size and as a result end up struggling to reach for each pedal stroke, a crank change could boost your cadence and efficiency on the cycle by opening up your hip to relax. This helps engaging more of your glute muscles when you cycle and helps sustain your performance over a long period of time.

3. Proper fit: Remember to engage in a proper fit and stance when your cycle, as having an improper fit can force your body angles and physique into a certain rpm or cadence range, and henceforth hinder your overall optimal cadence. 

crank length
Adjust crank length for better performance  (source)

Hacks For Cycling Cadence While Racing

  • Spinning faster won’t get you very far

This is an important tip on cycling cadence for beginners. Quite often, beginners tend to believe that a faster cadence is directly linked to a better and stronger performance. However, this is only true if you keep a consistent force on the bike pedals and increase or maintain your cadence rate or your revolutions per minute (RPMs). A high RPMs with poor resistance rates can actually prove counter-productive, because it only ends up burning calories, and not improving their overall performance.

  • Always remember to put your cadence in context

If you’ve trained with a high emphasis on power, the same amount of energy or watts can be achieved with a lower rpm rate. However, for triathletes, they will need to take into account of the additional factor of how their cadence rate and overall force application would impact their run as well.

  • Low vs. High Cadence 

A low cadence equals a higher force and it requires a greater amount of fast-twitch muscle recruitment, while a higher cadence rate means a lower force and a greater slow-twitch muscle fibre requirement. A higher cadence is known stress your cardiovascular system even more, while lower cadence cycling technique will tend to stress your muscular system even more. Cycling at a lower cadence also recruits a greater amount of muscle fibres in comparison to a using your fast-twitch muscle fibres. Slow twitch muscle fibres also don’t produce as much lactic acid, get as fatigued or burn as much glycogen as fast twitch muscle fibres. With regard to your cardiovascular system goes, a lower-cadence method requires less in terms of oxygen consumption but happens to be more taxing on your muscles from a force and power point of view.

Tips To Speed Up Your Cycling Cadence 

Tip #1 - It’s all in the elbows

The main obstacle resisting your cycling cadence is wind resistance. These tips predominantly work towards reducing your frontal area and your drag, so that you can slice more easily through the wind working against you. The trick is to slightly lower your body position on the bike, instead of sitting up straight on the bike. The latter tends to catch a lot of wind, so by bending and tucking your elbows in, you tend to see a difference in your position and speed.

Tip #2 - Enjoy some music along the way

This tip might be seen risky by some as one might say that you will need all your senses to ride safely, and using a music player might reduce your ability to hear traffic in your surroundings. However, studies show that if you become aware of the sounds around you, you’re less likely to look over your shoulder at intervals. And safety aside, listening to fast-paced and upbeat music is known to reduce your perceived effort levels, and it blocks out exhaustion and fatigue-related symptoms such as lactic acid in the muscles, and burning lungs. You’ll start to pedal harder without even noticing and you can reach an optimal cadence rate as you automatically match your cadence to the rhythm. 

Tip #3 - Fill your wheels

Properly inflate your tyres and make sure to check your tyre pressure before every rise, as the alterations in the temperature and air escaping it can make your tyres go soft.

LivingIt Tip-
Keep an emergency mini pump at all times when you’re on the road

Vibrelli Mini Bike Pump
Carry a mini bike pump 

Tip #4 - Cadence cycling clothing

There are two main reasons to wear tight-fitting cycling clothes. The first is that the material used is designed to wick away the heat and sweat and keeps you cool and dry, making it less tiring to ride. And the second is that wearing loose and baggy clothes adds quite a bit to the drag, which tends to slow you down.

Tip #5 - Riding with intervals

The fastest way to increase your cadence rate and average speed is to train at speeds above it. Interval training allows you to cycle for short bursts at speeds above your usual average speed, slow down and then recover before going fast again. Pick a target and pedal as fast as you can, and then ease as soon as you reach, and repeat the cycle. 

Tip #6 - Brake less frequently

Braking slows down your pace and requires you to pedal even harder to accelerate to gain your previous speed. It can take up a lot of unnecessary energy and momentum. 

Tip #7 - Cadence cycling in the drops

Two primary things to stop cyclists from riding in drops is not being able to reach the brakes and not feeling comfortable. These issues can be dealt with by managing your bike set up. If your bike fits you properly, you should be able to better ride in a drop position for the majority of your ride. Stretching before your ride helps to overcome these issues as your lower back tends to get inflexible in the drops.

cycling in drops
Cycle in drop position (source)

Tip #8 - Terrain influences your gear

In order to maintain a high cadence rate, the cycling gear you choose is very important. When you tend to ride more on flat stretches and terrains, your shifting becomes lesser. When you ride across hills you find it more difficult to stay at your optimal speed, and requires more cadence cycling gear dependency. 

Tip #9 - Cadence cycling Gear

As materialistic as this sounds, but a good investment in cycling gear can actually help you buy speed. Aerodynamic tubing on bikes, aero-profile spokes and deep-section rims can all assist in reducing your drag and improve your speed. However, these improvements can be minimal in comparison to the other factors mentioned above. 

Summing Up

Considering the various factors affecting your cadence and the tips incorporated to improve your optimal cadence, incorporating cadence drills and interval training can further help boost your capacities and your ideal cadence rate. But at the same time, it is important to always remember that a high cadence never guarantees the best performance. Retaining a steadily increasing cadence rate can help enhance your overall performance. And at the end of the day, cadence can be broken down into simple and controllable factors like your heart rate, gearing and pedal strokes. And along with the other controllable elements, the principle of cadences entirely comes back down to your efforts, your choice of gear and how fast you decide to spin your pedals. 

Happy cycling!

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