Help figuring out optimal cadence?

Hey everyone, my name is Todd and I am a burgeoning TR-aholic. I started about 8 weeks ago, and am loving it, and am hugely impressed not just by how great the TrainerRoad product and people are, but also how great this community is. Have been happily lurking here and reading everyone’s hive-mind wisdom for a while.

So as to my question – I just started SSB2 MV, with a new FTP that had increased 32 watts from my last ramp test in December. I productively spent my spare time this past week fretting about the workouts in this new block, and had my first meeting with Kaweah on Saturday. As I had feared, the first two 10 minute intervals were quite challenging, and I was gritting my teeth in prep for the third (of 5) interval block that is just below FTP. And then along comes Chad, telling me that now we’re going to do some standing work, and that I should slow my cadence down just before standing. I normally spin fairly quickly (105-110ish, with fairly decent form and no excessive bouncing or flailing), but slowed to 90, and an odd thing happened…suddenly the interval was downright easy. I finished the 10 minute block feeling very good, with a HR that was lower than the prior intervals, and then completed the next two with relative ease (although of course my legs were feeling some heaviness after the last of the 5 intervals. Got off the bike, still felt fresh, and had a good day tooling around town with my kids.

So all of that is background for my question – I understand that slow cadence work burns more of the limited muscle glycogen stores, and that spinning more quickly shifts the balance towards using fat. But when I hear that discussion, it’s usually referencing quite slow cadences, more like 60-75 or the slower, which is why Chad is always telling us to work on spinning more quickly with good form. But once you’re spinning at above 85, is the goal to work towards even faster spins (within reason)? What is the difference between spinning at 90 vs. 105 if any, in terms of fuel use? Why did spinning at 90 lower my RPE so dramatically? Should I continue trying to spin up above 100, or have I just discovered my ideal cadence down around 90? Or is there some more established method to “discover” one’s individualized optimized cadence?

Would love to hear anyone’s wisdom on this! And thanks for being such an awesome community of people. Hope everyone’s having a fantastic weekend.

1 Like

This won’t be popular but, the best cadence is the one where you stay on top of the gear. IMO it’s not really worth worrying about because It’s a moving target that changes with fitness as well as many other factors. Fitness is always overlooked by those new to riding/training, but I digress. In general, higher cadence puts more stress on the CV system while a lower cadence the muscular-skeletal system. So you’ll notice a higher HR all things equal with higher rpm. Lower HR with lower rpm.

Thanks so much for your perspective, Landis – super naive question, can you define “stay on top of the gear”?

In short it means shift to an easier gear to keep the rpm’s up a touch.

1 Like

What that rpm is isn’t (absolutely important). It’s more important to stay over the gear, keep inertia to help keep power high. It’s innate and you most likely do it naturally as well.

Makes sense to me…I guess where my confusion comes from is all the talk about striving for higher cadences (without sacrificing form of course). I used to do a bit of time trial racing in N. California, back in the Armstrong vs. Ullrich days, when the former’s higher cadence riding was getting a lot of attention. So I recall doing most of my racing at 100+ – but I never really played with lower cadences, thinking I would just blow out my legs too soon. I wonder whether I would get a different FTP estimate from the ramp test if I used a lower (90) cadence than the 105 I tried to maintain for the last one. I definitely felt more cardio limited at the end of that test, rather than muscularly limited, suggesting I might have lasted a bit longer had I slowed my cadence a bit?