Can a High Cadence ruin your gains?

That title was a total clickbait.

But I’ve always wondered if a high cadence can result in missed adaptations?

For instance, a lot of TR workout recommend a 85-95rpm as an “ideal zone”. I, more frequently than not, find myself around the 100-110rpm range.

My question is, at that higher candence, am I missing on some muscle adaptations that would occur in the lower range - as “grinding” is usually associated with being a bit more muscle dependent than spinning.

Just wondering if anyone got some info on that. Wouldn’t want to miss on some sweet gains.

Also, after recently seeing Filippo Ganna being a proud member of the “Spin to Win” club at Tirreno and Milano-San Remo, I feel like I have my response :slight_smile:


Some coaches prescribe “torque” training - low cadence intervals but I don’t think there is any science proving it one way or the other. There are studies showing that the self selected cadence is the most efficient cadence.

So, mostly do what feels comfortable. Some occasional torque intervals might help you feel more comfortable when you have to grunt out a short hill or hit a steep section of a climb.


Dylan Johnson on cadence

The TLDW answer is it doesn’t matter. Don’t spend any time worrying about your cadence.

@AJS914 pretty much nails it.

I do like training a bit at a range of cadences as grinding up a steep hill I may need to resort to a low cadence. I also also my cadence down when I’m up and out of the saddle. I use this a fair bit on long days outdoors to mix up the muscle groups I’m using a bit.

Landry Bobo has a few nice articles on TP about this.

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I tend to spin at just over 90 but (with zero analysis or evidence) I think there must be merit in doing sessions at a lower cadence to replicate long climbs, if that’s what you want to train for. Eg grinding out a set of sweet spot or threshold repeats at 70.

That is different to driving changes that improve your muscular torque.

To go fast you need to pedal a big gear at high cadence. Thus the question becomes does pedalling a big gear at low cadence help you get there?

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Yeah, nobody knows the answer.

Even if it does provide a certain adaptation, my guess is that it would be a very marginal gain and not worth thinking about too much for the average amateur cyclist. It’s not going to be a game changer.

I think you should separate two things here:

  1. What is your self-selected/preferred cadence?
  2. How large is the cadence range you feel comfortable at?

It seems your self-selected cadence is higher than average. That’s totally fine. (I belong to the same club, I prefer 98–104 rpm on the trainer.) The instructions are meant to apply for the vast majority of riders. Especially when you are new to the sport, your cadence tends to be lower.

However, I would practice being comfortable at lower and higher cadences, too. During endurance workouts I spend intervals at 70–110 rpm. Especially when you climb, you cannot always pick a high cadence as that would require either too much power or an unrealistically low gear.

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I understood from reading the forum that high cadence in a vo2max effort would put the emphasis on the heart/lungs, while a low cadence would put more emphasis on the muscular side. Did i misunderstood?

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No. You understood correctly. In the specific case of seeking to drive up cardiac preload to get desired stroke volume adaptations, higher cadence (even if at the expense of lower power) is what is prescribed.

Of course, not all training is specific VO2 Max training. At other times, we may want to work on generating power at lower cadences, even if only to mimic what might be required for race/event day.

I live in a hilly area, not massive climbs but very lumpy with lots of short hard climbs.

The outdoor terrain selects (and often enforces!) my cadence.

it would make sense that my training should reflect my riding environment, unless riding at a steady higher cadence on the trainer conveys the same benefits across a varying cadence range regardless?

Your gearing enforces your cadence. Thankfully its a lot cheaper to change gearing than terrain.

Problem is low cadence training is used by coaches for a long time and still being used. As we know by experience these people discover what works even though it is not known why or how. Long time after science catches up and explains.
Looks like torque-low cadence training works. Because they keep it doing with their high caliber athletes.

Another reason for using low cadence training is of course 1x systems. Especially in long distance mtb if you cannot ride at 50-120 rpm for most of your power curve you will lose time. Lots of time.

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Same camp here: 105-108

But workouts are to put a stress on my body so I’m trying to include low cadence blocks in my trainings (where “low” means for me 80-90 rpm :blush:)

Don’t 1x systems have quite a wide gear range?

Depends on the system in use. Many 1x on CX setups (11-36 is common with some 11-32 still run) are not WIDE in the way that most MTB 1x setups are. Even within the 1x MTB world, there are some of the older models (10-42 as one example) that are short of the 10-52 range of current 12s Eagle.

Even without looking at that, catching a bad gear and not being able to shift or just flat running out of gears in some extreme cases are decent reasons to work on broadening the range of cadence a rider can hit and not crumble.

Not wide enough to keep a self selected cadance throughout the power curve.
Say if you can go 500w at 90rpm using 50t, at 10t you need to spin to go 300w.
Or 90rpm at the latter means grinding at the former.
Pick your poison (chainring)

This definitely will be a GCN video in the near future. ha.

Though if you really wanted to poke the bear you could have said something along the lines of, “Can high cadence while doing a fasted Zone 2 ride during my polarized plan ruin my gains?” :rofl:


I’m confused; on 1x , riding in the 50t will be the lowest gear, and 10t highest gear. A range of 500%, very close to the range of 2x.

That’s not the only factor. Your self-selected cadence is a combination of gearing and wheel inertia/terrain. If you go more slowly (e. g. when you are climbing), the self-selected cadence of most people decreases. Gearing only plays a role if you cannot shift further up/down, e. g. when you are running of climbing gears and you have to start grinding.

This range is much larger than what you get on a road bike, unless you opt for gravel gearing. E. g. a 50/34 coupled to a 11–32 (which was the easiest officially supported gearing up until we got a 12th cog and/or gravel-specific groupsets), you have a range of 428 %.

The largest range you can get today on drop bars is 516 %, still smaller than what you can get with a mullet setup and a 10–52 cassette.