Grinding VS Spinning during power workouts

I am relatively new to power workouts, and I have been faced with the dilemma of grinding vs spinning in order to reach my target power. I typically like to have an avg Cadence between 90-95, but in order to meet my target power I have been in a tougher gear which brings my cadence down to an avg of 85-89. If I try to spin at 90-95 my power shoots up too high for what is required for the interval, and if I shift gears to an easier gear my power goes down below the target and I spin too fast at 95-105. It’s almost like a I need a “sweet spot” gear that I don’t have. Any suggestions? Thanks in advance for any input.

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What is your setup? Do you use a smart trainer? A power meter?

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I ride outdoors on a Giant TCR Advanced SL with the Assioma Favero pedals.

Sounds like you would benefit from doing these particular intervals on the perfect gradient with the perfect gear. This is, by definition, going to be difficult to find.

Maybe you need a cassette with closer gear ratios? Maybe you can find a particular stretch of road that lends itself well to your power and cadence goal? Or maybe, doing these efforts under imperfect conditions is a good thing and will train you to be more versatile - something that people training exclusively indoors might lack!

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I guess I never looked into a cassette with closer gear ratios. Always assumed they were just a standard. That’s basically what I feel though, that I need a gear in between.

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I had a similar post recently about this. I have the exact same issue on threshold or longer vo2max efforts on flat roads. Can’t keep cadence at even 85. Usually dips down to 75 to keep power relatively consistent. This is vs. indoors where I do 90-100 on these normally. And outside on hills I can more easily hit target power.

My cassette is a shimano 11-34, which has big gaps in the smaller end - 13-15-17. I mostly toggle between these 3 on those efforts on flats. an 11-32 or 11-30 cassette are 12-13-14-16-18 and 12-13-14-15-17 in those ranges. I suspect either cassette would help a fair bit - 14 when 13 is too hard, 16 when 17 is too easy.

There are also times where I suspect beyond cadence, is I am just less able to hold a higher cadence outdoors at a given power vs. indoors. Which is more about aerobic fitness, leg speed, and ability to adapt to a wide range of cadences. So probably not just cassette, but likely a factor.

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Ya it sounds like you and I have the same issues. I ride on mostly flat to rolling hills in Florida with an 11-28 cassette. I did a little research into this, and it sounds like an 11-25 cassette would solve this problem potentially. The issue would then be getting my 200 lbs butt crushed going up hills. I wonder if cassettes could be customized to have a closer gear ratio from mid to high, and still maintain a 28 or 30 on the low end. Any one tried/able to make this work?

What kind of intervals are you doing?

Anywhere between 85-105 is probably fine and if you struggle with 95-105 then maybe practicing intervals at that cadence would be good for you.

Personally I’d call closer to 60rpms “grinding”.


Geiger +2 and like workouts (Sweet spot), is where it is noticeable. The sweet spot for me happens to be in a gear I don’t have :joy:.

Could you buy another cassette and chain and just swap them out based on what ride you’re doing, i.e TR workout or hilly group ride?

When I used a dumb trainer, I used a 12-25 11 speed cassette to get the ratios as close as possible so that I could perfect my cadence.

However, as I and others mentioned previously, learning to broaden your range of cadence is a skill worth having because in races/target events things aren’t always perfect. I suspect being comfortable at one power within a 5-10rpm cadence range is something worth aiming for.

Ya I think that’s what I am leaning towards doing so I can get the most out of these work out programs with out over or under doing them.

@Johnnyvee I had this exact thought! Anyway, I bought a 14-28. It has very close gear ratios and I keep the low end gears. I’m not planning on racing anytime soon, and I barely use 11-12-13 unless I’m going down a hill or something. I think for my power work outs this will be ideal until my FTP gets higher than it is now, and I can smoothly put the power in. If I end up racing I will def put my 11-28 back on. If anyone is interested, I can follow up with my results after a couple workouts.

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Wow I wish I had your problem. I would consider 90 rpm super high for me. I just find it super jarring on my body. My grinding is more like 65 rpm. I can definitely put out the watts for short distances compared to some but using my lungs vs my muscles has always been a real challenge! An average outdoor ride for me would be about 76 rpm. I always admire people who can spin more gracefully.

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Exactly. I am a grinder. 80s ain’t no grinder :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

@IamDeablo that’s equally as impressive. My knees hurt thinking about that :joy:. I’m comfortable between 90-100. I drop down to 75-80 sometimes going up steeper hills though.

85rpm is totally fine for these IMO. You’re def not grinding at that point in time, but using more torque. This can be a bit more fatiguing, but your HR will prob be lower than if you spun at 95rpm, your natural cadence.

personally, I’d do what feels best to hit the power target.

Good luck!!


Pancake flat out my door, and while cadence is very personal you may want to try making the efforts more torquey so you have something to push against. Doing that I’ve found it pretty easy to hold target power, in my case 70-80rpm for sweet spot and threshold intervals. Its also easier holding target power while riding into the wind, as the strong headwinds out here make it feel like a gradual 2-4% climb.