Background: I bought my first road bike in 2018 and did roughly one 40 mile unstructured outdoor ride per week until maybe 2021. Before this I had done very few aerobic workouts. During 2021 I did two unstructured outdoor rides per week. In 2022 I did three unstructured outdoor rides per week. I bought a Kickr on Black Friday and have been religiously following the TR criterium low volume plan, which during the build phase has two V02 max interval sessions and one threshold session per week. In general I’m always been very good at sprinting but my power curve is extremely sharp and drops off very quickly during an effort of anything greater than 2min or so.
Up until now when I’m just riding around outside my natural cadence is about 85. During threshold-style efforts cadence would be about 90-95, and anything harder than that would be higher – maybe 95-105 on efforts above threshold but not an all-out sprint, and 100-125+ on sprints.
I’m toward the end of the build block in my current plan and am being served up workouts like Mist-1 (V02 PL 7.8), Ansel Adams (V02 PL 7.9), and Avalanche (V02 PL 8.4). Up until now I’d be doing these at a cadence of 90-105 and it would just crush me after about 2.5 minutes or so in interval length (not immediately but after several intervals), however recently I tried something new and did these efforts at a cadence of 82-87 or so. Much to my surprise I was able to crank through it with a much, much lower RPE. The notes for these workouts call for a cadence of ~100 during the interval.
Am I doing myself a disservice to crush through these intervals at a lower cadence? At the higher cadence I felt nearly maxed out, with the lower cadence I feel like to can grind out more power for a much longer period of time. Or is doing a higher wattage for a longer period of time (and not caring about cadence) going to force the adaptation for higher power anyway (perhaps more anaerobic for a longer time vs actually V02?). Does it really matter?
Short answer. No. You’re totally fine. Occasional drills at or above 100 are good. But your natural cadence is best.
It depends on why you’re doing the workouts. If you’re looking to increase max aerobic power it probably doesn’t matter much, and it makes sense to self-select cadence. I’m guessing this also makes them more race-specific.
If you’re particularly looking to improve VO2 Max by achieving max cardiac preload, then high cadence / high heartrate would likely be your primary consideration, and power is secondary.
Quoted for truth, AFAIK:
Here are two Empiricial Cycling podcasts on VO2Max that are worth a listen. It’s been ages since I listened to them, and I may be missing a better one (anyone who knows these best, please redirect as needed).
In particular, one or both of these focus on cadence and driving it up to focus on the desired VO2 adaptations. If that is your real goal in these workouts, grinding cadence is not helping the matter and you are actively working against the typical reason to do these.
Yes. You’ll get better adaptation if you use a higher cadence. But when it comes to VO2max, do 'em any way you can!
Its not for everybody and there’s massive debates on it but I’ve found switching off the ERG lets me maintain a higher cadence longer on longer VO2max intervals. Rather than gradually getting dragged into the spiral of death, the Elite Suito I use probably doesn’t help there. There’s also another debate that you should maintain a higher cadence even if power drops off naturally and resistance mode lets that happen naturally, whereas ERG won’t let your power drop off.
I have a v02 max workout today, an easier one given my FTP just adjusted. I’m wondering if I should try these intervals at low cadence (<75) to mimic climbing. I just started riding outdoors again, and while I don’t have a power meter on outdoor rides, I’ve read that strava power estimates on steady climbs are actually decently accurate. Looking at my 2 climbs yesterday, 308W (3:07) and 252W (5:15). My FTP is only 205. Last week, on the first climb, I remember not going quite as hard and my power estimate as 269W at 3:30.
My avd cadence was 70-75 on these. Before this I was spinning hard on v02 max intervals, 105-115 rpm. Given that I ride short hills like this a lot, would I be better served by doing low cadence on these v02 max intervals? I have Brunette today, which has me at four 4 minute intervals of 217W.
If you want them to be ride-specific - sure!
If you want to give them the very best chance to increase your VO2 Max - probably not.