Coaching Tips - Cadence

By NRG Coach Sylvie Dansereau

What about cadence?

In order to ride efficiently, athletes need to use a wide variety of cadences when riding variable terrain and therefore must become adept at being efficient at a wide range of cadences. 

In general terms it has been well reported that pedaling at higher cadences is more efficient than slower cadences. The main reason for this is that there is greater glycogen depletion at slower cadences. The slower cadence results in fewer but more forceful contractions in order to maintain constant speed. It may sound counterintuitive, but the higher force requirements at slower cadence results in the recruitment of more fast twitch muscles fibres, since these fibres are capable of producing more force than slow twitch fibres. The drawback is that fast twitch muscle fibres consume more glycogen and fatigue more rapidly than the slow twitch fibres. In addition, research has found that the faster cadence results in greater fat oxidation. Basically since slow twitch fibres are more efficient fat burners than fast twitch fibres, higher cadences that result in greater slow twitch recruitment use less glycogen, which is very important in endurance exercise performance. Over the course of a longer duration, the higher oxygen costs and faster glycogen depletion seen in slower cadences results in reduced efficiency as compared for fast cadences.

Many cyclists unfortunately lose pedaling form or even bounce when ‘spinning’ at higher cadences. This is caused by a lack or a poorly developed neuro-muscular co-ordination at high cadences, which in turn negatively affects efficiency. The good news is that co-ordination is trainable and, with practice, efficiency while pedaling at high cadences can be improved.

Cadences of about 85-95 rpm are optimal for most athletes once the athlete has worked on developing good neuro-muscular co-ordination through practice.

It is however also important for athletes to remember that they should aim to use these higher cadences as long as terrain and gearing allows it, and in moderate or steeper inclines athletes will often have to temporarily let their cadence drop in order to prevent their power (effort/workload) from surging on the uphills. So when going uphill, athletes should try to keep their cadence in ~80-95 range as long as possible while maintaining the right power by using easier and easier gears. Once they have reached their easiest gear (and not before) they may then have to start reducing their cadence to prevent the power from surging when the terrain gets steeper and often reduce to cadences as low as 40-50 rpm in steeper segments.

This is why athletes need to develop the ability to pedal efficiently while retaining good pedaling form at a wide range of cadences by practicing a wide range in training (indoors and outdoors).


Sylvie Dansereau