Cadence during VO2 intervals

I am interested in how important suggested cadence is during VO2 intervals. When doing > 1 min repeats at 120% or above (e.g. Dade -1), I can maybe hold Chad’s suggested cadence (>90) for the first interval, but with subsequent intervals my cadence drops to between 60-80. As I’m using ERG mode on a smart trainer, I can still grind my way through to the end of the workout achieving the power required. Are the training benefits the same with the lower cadence, albeit putting a bit more stress on the muscles, or am I better trying to train myself to hold the higher cadences ???

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Very good question. A lot of riders are different and I think this can very much depend on how much riding you have under your belt already. From my personal experience most riders and certainly newer riders will always default to the lower cadence when fatigue sets in. Whether it’s right in the middle of a specific interval or after completing an interval to then starting the next one at the lower cadence.

I believe and agree with Chad that shooting for about 90 rpms at that 120% level is a real good range to be in.
If you start to drop to about 85ish I think you’re still doing ok but after that then you certainly want to start to work on some other things to get you to stay around 90 for the 120% efforts.

Also, 120%'ers are a very tough level to ride at even for just 1 minute efforts at a time.

One thing you can try is really exaggerating your cadence on some of your training rides. For instance you can try doing some 30 second to 40 second efforts at about 110 to 115% FTP but with a very high cadence of say 110 to 115 rpm. Work on doing about 5 - 30 second efforts at 110 to 115% with 30 seconds to 1 minute rest. And then add more 5 rep blocks when you’re adjusted. You can always adjust your rest interval to your needs but the point is to have quality time above threshold with that exaggerated cadence of 110 to 115 and even 120 if you can but also not doing anything longer than 1 minute at that high cadence. You’re doing pretty good if you can repeat many efforts at 115 cadence for 30 seconds, rest for 30 then do it again and again. And honestly you may even want to do these at lower percentage say even 105% FTP. Try defferent power ranges but the point is to do them at high cadence.

And as we all know you dont just want to do this for 1 workout and think that itll help for your 1 minute 120% efforts. You want to do this at least once a week for a good while. And why not keep it part of your routine consistently.

I wasn’t always in this mindset but I believe exaggerated high cadence efforts are better for you than exaggerated low heavy cadence work. But that’s just my opinion. For some reason I feel stronger even at lower cadence levels by doing higher cadence stuff consistently. But if I were to do the opposite, I dont believe I would get the same benefit.


I survive those %s much better at very high cadences than low cadences, 105-110. Once I slow down my muscles start to bog down and they get much harder

I find I can work on developing higher cadences on easier workouts and use those to build the muscle memory such that I benefit during harder intervals. So trying to do all of Pettit at 100 RPM, or my first 10 minute sweet spot interval at 105 RPM helps train me to work efficiently there when I’m doing hard, short intervals.

I also really enjoy the very high speed intervals that last only 10 seconds - getting up to 180 RPM for 10 seconds seems to help a lot with efficiency

Edit: Worth noting that it’s more about iterative improvement in cadence than my actual numbers. If you’re spinning at 80 RPM by default don’t try to do 100 - aim for 85 for a while, then 90, etc. It takes time


IMO the question is, what are the improvements you are targeting with VO2max Intervalls.
IMO it is cardiovascular performance / max oxygen uptake. Higher cadence tends to loads the cardiovascular system more and better, and saves the legs. It saves them for a workout, where the legs are targeted. An example for that would be SST - targeting muscular endurance.



As power is a funtion of both force and speed, high and low cadence intervals do different things. A low cadence interval will improve the force you are able to generate to the pedals, but to improve power you also need to be able to generate that force quickly, hence some high cadence work is also important. This is where spin-ups come in - pedalling fast with little resistance.

You’ll notice how some workouts encourge you to grind at 50-60 rpm (watching your knees of course) while others will encourage high cadences. You’re recuiting the muscles in different ways.


Thanks guys, I guess the longer VO2 intervals like 2-3min are fairly unique - I can match the suggested cadence for the shorter VO2 intervals like 15-45s maybe 1min, but 2-3min at 120% or above is impossible. My knees are fine, grinding it out, but my question is whether or not it is worth persevering or should I drop the intensity from 120% to say 105% to get the required cadence ? There is no doubt VO2 intervals are my weakness, whereas I can churn out long sweet spot intervals no problem

You can try a lower intensity, but I would start with 110-115% before going as low as you suggest. You might be surprised how much difference a small change can really make.

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I’m not a coach, but if your normal self-selected cadence would normally be over 90 for these efforts, I think dropping down to 60 is a sign that you aren’t able to recover adequately during the rest interval. Likely the workout intensity is a bit too hard.

I had this experience when I had neglected VO2 max and anaerobic work for a long time. I was mainly doing Zone 2, 3 work, and when I started the Short Power Build plan the VO2 intervals were too hard when using my FTP calculated from the 20 minute test. Also, when I tried the 8 minute FTP test or Ramp test my FTP was estimated about 7% lower because I was weak at these over-threshold efforts. Based on these tests, I set my VO2 workout intensity to 93% and was able to complete the interval sets. After a few weeks (or maybe after the recovery week), I was able to complete them at 100% intensity most of the time.


Thanks guys, I’ll try dropping the intensity a fraction and also do some higher cadence work during shorter easier workouts :slight_smile:

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Rather than strart a whole new topic I just thought I’d revive this one. I recently had Spencer on my plan, and shortly will have Kaiser. Both have sets of 3min intervals at 120%. I struggled, obviously, but wondered if it is better to have a brief back-pedal/pause in the middle and then pick up at 120% or to reduce the intensity.

My gut says the pause is better as once you drop the intensity it turns it into a different type of stress.

5-10s back pedal then get back to it. Don’t let your breathing catch up, just a little burn out of your legs.

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We have discussed the in several other threads. Here is the cliff notes version:

  1. Not everyone share the 120% of FTP as their specific VO2Max value.
  2. Recognize that VO2 Max is a range (~105-120% of FTP), not a singular point.
  3. VO2 Max is about gaining “Time in Zone” with a high aerobic uptake.

Essentially, you want to maximize your time demanding high aerobic uptake from your body. That can mean turning a 120% VO2 Max workout down as much ad 5-10% depending on your particular physiology and the interval lengths involved.

See how the change in Workout Intensity alters the 120% start, and the fact that even a 10% reduction may well be in the VO2 Max zone for many riders.

So, with that all in mind, either method (back pedal & Intensity adjustment) can work. I prefer a slight Intensity adjustment with a goal to hit a full duration of stress.


It’s always very interesting to me how some riders drift low and some drift high during these short intervals.

Myself, on a normal no goal ride, my average cadence naturally hits right about 90.

However, I did Kaiser on Tuesday, without paying any attention to cadence. I notice that my cadence average over the 6x3min intervals at 120% was 99. Likewise, when I’m outside racing I always seem to hit 100 rpm. However, as soon as I start backing off the power my cadence goes down and down and down, to the point where I find myself tooling around at 70pm when I’m riding in zone 1.

I guess what I can take from this is that when things get tough I rely more on my cardio system, while other riders seem to rely more of the muscular endurance.

Hey all, I’m new to TR and first time poster. Loving the forum and advice on it. I was actually going to pose the exact question in this thread as I have a similar issue with getting through VO2 intervals with higher cadence.
For example this week I did Gawler +2 on Tuesday and I did the first two sets of 6x2 ok with cadence at 78-85 but third set I could only hold low end VO2 power and there would be no way I’d get through if I did the intervals at 90rpm.
Then because I was annoyed about not being able to do the session I did it again today whilst climbing Alpe d’Zwift and had no issues hitting the targets when climbing.
I took the advice and relistened to episode 191 and Coach Chad seemed to emphasize hitting the time in VO2 so am I better off just doing what is needed to stay in the zone or am I getting different adaptations with the climbing/low cadence?

Seems like this would be a good podcast topic where Chad could explain the effect of cadence on adaptation in the different zones.

Thanks for the advice guys.

Likewise, higher cadence at 100+ rpm appears to really help sustain the higher efforts for me and now carrying that out onto the road now. Quite nice to practice that at the lower power levels too on the trainer at least.

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My self selected cadence is ~100rpm. I find this much easier to maintain that dropping lower in cadence. The increased muscle force required by a lower cadence cooks my quads in a hurry. At higher cadence the reduced force is easier for me to maintain.

The objective of VO2max intervals is to bring you into oxygen deficit and keep you there. Since higher cadences rely on your cardiovascular endurance more than your muscular endurance, it brings you faster into oxygen deficit - hence the recommendation to use higher cadences. With practice, it’s not that difficult to keep a cadence in the 100-105 rpm range for a few minutes at that sort of effort level.


My observations are that my cadence during these intervals gets capped as my HR hits certain point in the big ring.
If I drop to a small ring and lower my cadence to simulate sustained climb, I get a higher HR by 7-10 beats.
So which is more beneficial…

I’m not sure it makes much of a difference, it would seem like the power demand will elevate your heart rate regardless. I have experimented with simulating grinding climbs by reducing cadence into the 80’s in VO2 workouts and my heart rate still gets just as high as it does if I try to maintain higher RPM. I see a lot of guys do outdoor VO2 work on sustained climbs and their cadence is never as high as it would be indoor. Gearing is a big factor.

I would vary your cadence. Do some intervals with a higher cadence and some with lower. Real world scenarios are ever-changing and you’ll never try to aim for a particular cadence when riding or racing outdoors—it’s just not anything you’d ever pay attention to. Hit the power target.


definitely get to the higher cadences, otherwise you’re just mashing a gear that’s too big and could give yourself issues with your knee (your tracking might not always be ideal when mashing that hard). Not saying this to worry you but better to be safe than get sidelined