Cadence to Power Relationship

So busy reading … very slowly… Training with a Power Meter, ed 3 and they’re making mention of the relationship of power produced and at what RPM, ye they do mention they will discuss this in more detail later, but I don’t have patience as said, I read slow so thought I’d shake things up a bit and ask for input/comments.


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Generally, the more power you’re producing the higher the appropriate cadence will be. For me that roughly shakes out as >110rpm for sprinting, ~100 for threshold, ~90 for tempo, ~80 for noodling along. Add in a gradient or a stiff headwind and you can knock ~10 off those numbers (because of inertia). Stick me on a TT bike and you can knock ~5 off those numbers (though I don’t really sprint or noodle on my TT bike).

The question really is whether you actually need to train this or whether the body just figures it out for itself and self-selects an appropriate cadence. My experience has been the latter. But the caveat is that I’ve been riding bikes a long time and have tens of thousands of miles racked up in all sorts of different terrains and conditions. I can see how somebody new to cycling might struggle to work efficiently at higher or lower cadences, and also how this might be exacerbated if they do a lot of training indoors where they’re not being exposed to hills and winds. So it might be worth spending time on high and low cadence drills if this is a limiter for you. But in my view the goal of this training would be to get comfortable at a sufficiently wide range of cadence (e.g. 70-110rpm) that your body can then self-select from within that range. As opposed to aiming for a target number (20 years ago people noticed that Lance Armstrong was cycling up hills at ~110rpm and there were a lot of people asking whether they needed to train to ride up hills at 110rpm. The answer for amateur riders is almost certainly no…).

There are also benefits to training at lower cadence in terms of muscle recruitment and building fatigue resistance. Slightly different conversation though.


I think Episode 201? Has this issue covered. The correlation between cadence, power and fatigue is interesting. I am not sure if it is based on individuals build @chad ? When your at a higher cadence, you’re using.more of your aerobic engine and not muscular, which reduces fatigue. But also why having a big aerobic engine is so important. A lower cadence and you’re using more muscular endurance fibres.

Wanting to produce power at a higher cadence takes training. Often, when we get tired, we select a lower cadence to see the same power numbers.

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You can train cadence and, for me, I believe it is definately worthwhile.

When I started cycling, i’d average around 75-80rpm on any given ride. When I started racing, I also started doing a commute of 40km each way to work 1-3 times a week. This was along a long, straight, flat, bit of road where I could easily work on cadence. Over about a year, I brought my cadence at threshold from 75-80rpm up to 103rpm - demonstrating that it is certainly trainable.

The advantage of a higher cadence is that your muscles have to put out less force. It therefore moves some muscular strain to the cardiovascular system (due to increased speed of movement of the muscles). This leads to a greater capacity to ride hard for longer, but having the greater range of cadences also gives you better adaptability to varying/undulating terrain and also to cycle backward and forward between high muscular force (low cadence) and higher cardiovascular contributions (high cadence) as you fatigue, yet retain your power output.

As well as this, if you want to be a sprinter, you should get comfortable and controlled at spinning high RPM (like 120rpm-170rpm). Very fast spinning is really only possible if your muscle firing patterns throughout your pedalstroke are correctly sequenced and not working against each other too much. Practicing fast spinning therefore helps improve efficiency and also is used to ‘jump’ or ‘wind out a gear’ in various sprinting circumstances.

Finally, specifically with regard to power output, there is only a limited amount of force you can put on the pedals through muscle force, weight and leverage. But power is a function of force on the pedals and cadence, so if you can maintain the force, but increase the cadence - you make more power. This is also why sprinters need to be able to spin high cadence, because the amount of force on the pedals required to put out 1500W would be too high at 50rpm… Spin at 100-120rpm and the reduced amount of pedal force required makes it attainable.

tl;dr - you can train your cadence & you should train your cadence as it will make you an all-round better bike rider.


I find that as soon as the wattage goes up I increase my cadence, I comfy spin on the trainer is 90-95. I’ll do specific workouts (normally a high Tempo or Sweetspot) to spin at 85 at 80 and maybe down to 75, to force me to increase force, to work those muscles/energy source/store.

Got a friend on the other hand and she’s a roadie and a grinder (starting to mtb, I"m a mtb’er only), doubt she ever goes over 65rpm, been working with her, giving her exercises to force her to spin at 75, 85, up to 90rpm, to get her to develop those skills, slowly developing her ability to work at higher rpm. (she’s 120 pounds, 220 watt ftp atm…) so imagine if she can increase her cadence…


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Could you elaborate a bit more on this and explain why that is? I have very low inertia on my trainer and very high inertia out on the flat roads in my surrounding, so I’m curious what the reasoning is. Or is it just an observation from your point of view?

Just to ask the community a complimentary question here:

Do you notice a difference in your outdoor self selected cadence or power based on your chainring selection?

You see I was trained in the very very very old school. One did base on the small ring only. Oil stains on the big ring during base brought all sorts of derisive interventions.

I always felt that I went much better once I could get on the big ring even at the same gear length. I also noticed that my self selected cadence went down about 4-5 rpm too. When I got a PM it was clear that the moment I stepped up to the big ring my average power jumped. Back in the old days I used to think that it was something to do with the gear length availability. I was just happier with the particular gear lengths I could get. I dig the mechanical advantage of going sur la plaque. I am probably also long conditioned to ‘expect’ this now. So I gear harder and go harder and it is probably all in the head. Just wondering if anyone not using old school myths has the same thing going on.

I would guess: Higher drag (wind or gravity) equals higher power for a given speed. Even if you let the speed decay you will still have controllability limits. Also the drag on the weaker sectors of your stroke will be major limiters to keeping the legs moving. You still have to get the feet through those sectors even if the loads on them are higher than you are used too. The freewheel-in-the-stroke effect is gone. So power is forced up on the hills anyway. Higher power = lower cadence. Sort of answered my early question my self there…

This is a really interesting topic, and no doubt experiences vary between individuals.

I think it’s worth training (if you can’t already) doing different cadences at different powers rather than assigning a certain cadence range to a certain power:

For example, as is recommended in a lot of the TR workouts, I find spinning above 90rpm to be useful during rest periods where I’m only riding at around 30% threshold because it helps make my legs feel better quicker.

Likewise, there may be times out on the road where you need to do a standing climb in your lowest gear because the terrain is so steep. So being able to ride at threshold or above at 80rpm or lower is useful.

I’ve actually found when training, especially in the ramp test, that I have a tendancy to opt for too high a cadence and gas myself out early. Now that I’ve noticed it I’ve been selecting a slight lower cadence for the intensity intervals (95rpm) and find that I finish each interval fresher. This has also translated to better results in the ramp test.

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I also find the opposite - on a dumb trainer with fixed resistance I often find my cadence creeps up a couple RPM over long steady intervals. As I tire and pedaling efficiency goes down a bit, torque delivered is going down so RPM has to go up to maintain power. Get back to consciously focusing on torque or kick/pulls and the cadence can come back down.

I also notice similar small torque vs cadence shifts when doing aero vs non-aero position changes at consistent power.

Depending on the particular trainer, this could be resistance change via heat buildup. Some trainers lose resistance as heat builds over the course of the workout or in long duration intervals.

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Yes that’s true @mcneese.chad, but that would be progressive and skew toward the earlier part of workouts. (I’ve experienced that too on a notoriously flawed Cyclops Fluid 2 I discarded.)

I’m describing back and forth changes that are consistent. E.g. in/out of drops every other minute and cadence goes up/down 2-3rpm each time to maintain power. Or halfway through the final interval of an hour long sweet spot workout, start consciously working on kick-pull and cadence comes down 2-3rpm while maintaining power.

One of the benefits (I think) of not having Erg mode is you learn to recognize this.

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I have taken the opposite approach. I read recently a study on high cadence and efficiency. (A quick google can’t find it). The take away from it was that yes high cadence is more efficient but only at high net output power. The conclusion that was presented was that there was a fixed physiological cost to driving your legs at a high cadence. Since this cost was essentially ‘fixed’ (In truth they pointed out it was weakly sensitive rather than fixed) then spinning at low load was highly inefficient as all you were doing was burning matches to spin your legs with very little being spent on moving the bike. This jived with my HR readings. As I strove to get my HR down below certain thresholds during the rest interval I noted it was next to impossible to do so if my revs were kept high. So My approach now is high cadence only during warm up and load intervals. With low cadence during rest cycles to target a low HR threshold before the next load interval.

My go to article explaining inertia, kinetic energy and motor pattern recruitment and how they affect power…