Higher cadence, lower power

Hi there,

I’m a heavier rider (84kgs - trying to get that lower!) with an FTP of 291W.

My natural cadence is generally low. On flats average is around 77RPM and climbs around 65RPM.

I have been trying to up my cadence to allow me to put out the same level of power over a longer period. I try to do that by dropping a gear (ie making it easier to turn the pedals) and increasing the revolutions.

The issue I am finding is that whenever I do that my power output always drops.

For example, I may be grinding away at 67RPM on a hill at 260W, I am tiring so I drop to a lower gear and up my cadence, but no matter how much I increase the cadence (say up to 80/85RPM) I never produce the same power output.

It feels like I cannot get the force down on the pedals at higher cadence to mean that the force x cadence produces the same or more power than the power at the lower cadence.

The same applies even if I try higher cadence, lower gear when I’m not tiring.

Does anyone know what I’m getting wrong here?

I see people doing 100+ RPM and feel that that must be the way to become a better cyclist but I am constantly disappointed when I try and up my cadence because the power numbers just don’t get anywhere near the same levels as when I’m pushing in a bigger gear at a lower cadence.

Help…!!! :slight_smile:

Practice :wink:

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Probably going to upset a few here… BUT

Cadence is an individual thing, and study published in the International Journal of Sports Medicine shows that amateurs don’t get any added benefits from high cadence cycling. Just the opposite , it may just tire you out, especially when you’re riding at high intensities.


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I found it easier to start working on increasing my cadence during recovery intervals, rather than effort intervals, as this was when I had the mental bandwidth to focus on maintaining cadence, and didn’t have to worry about trying to produce the required power.

Gradually I started doing it in zone 2 efforts, so that over time, operating at 85-95 rpm became the default, and then easier to maintain at sweet spot and above.

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Practice the optional drills that feature in many of the endurance, tempo and sweet spot workouts (quadrants, single leg focus, isolated leg drills, elevated cadence (+3-5 rpm), etc). While primarily concerned with developing a smooth and efficient pedalling technique, they will have an indirect effect on your ability to increase your cadence over time. Don’t shoot for or expect to increase your cadence by much to start with - take it slowly (pun intended) and practice the drills regularly and diligently.

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As a youngster being coached at a club, we spent a lot of time on pedaling drills. Starting in very small gears, learning to pedal at 90, 100, 110, 120 and so on in the same small gear. And only allowed to increase the gear size when you could comfortably spin at 120. We weren’t going very fast and were probably not producing much power (no power gauges back then). But we learned to pedal fast, and then as the gears increased in size, so did speed (and power).

Our bodies are best at doing what we practice - so no surprises that you instinctively prefer low cadence - and you are obviously very good at it!

Pedaling is a skill. I think it’s easier to develop muscle memory for good pedaling form by learning how to control your legs at high cadence. It’s too easy to just pump your quads at low cadence, so lower legs, glutes, and lower back are less engaged. If you can pedal fast it’s an additional skill which gives you more options when you are out - not necessarily better than low cadence, but options to tackle things in different ways.

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Sounds a bit basic but here’s one way I’ve found helps with cadence:

On your trainer find a relatively low gear and ride at a high cadence, 95rpm for instance, aim for a moderate power that is manageable. Ride in that gear at that cadence for a couple of sessions, then try and hold the same cadence but in one gear bigger and repeat the process.

Over time as you move through the gears you’ll be able to maintain this higher cadence at a higher power.

Hope this helps :slight_smile:

Everyone is different but for me at first when I upped the cadence I similarly found I’d put out less power. But over time I found that lower power was more sustainable, so longer term average would be higher. After more time again I found the power at higher cadence developed, so it was the same or higher than that at low cadence.

If that’s what you’re wanting to achieve be patient, it’ll come :+1:

Try performing some cadence drills when training. It might be easier to attempt this at an easier wattage than at threshold.

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Well…I would say, SAME! :smile: Whenever my legs get tired on a climb the power output tends to generally trend down over time regardless of whatever gear I choose.

I would also say don’t get too uptight about your cadence. Lots of big time cyclists have had a lot of success at relatively lower cadences. Ulrich, for instance.

But, generally, there seems to be a lot of evidence to suggest a higher cadence can be better. I’m sure we’ve all looked at hour record cadence profiles & concluded triple digit cadence might provide some advantage during a sustained effort.

If it were me I would set aside two sweet spot workouts a week to concentrate on cadence. Set yourself up for success! Try to do 2x5 @ 85rpm-90rpm. Try 1x10! Just do some stuff to get the legs spinning.

Just for fun, try 5x1min@315W w/2min rest in between. For sure you can hit that work rate so concentrate on spinning up to 90rpm during the interval.

But don’t go crazy with it. If your cadence goes up, it goes up. Just because it does doesn’t 100% mean you’ll be a lot better at riding your bike. Whichever way it goes be sure to have fun on the bike!

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purely anecdotal response:

i would say focus less on your FTP and more on keeping your cadence in the ideal range. Your FTP will surely be lower but… that FTP is based on bad data as it is.

Flats my average cadence is a little higher, low to mid 80s.

On climbs I’m heavier and FTP is a little lower, so with subcompact 34x32 and 34x34 gearing most of my climbs are also in the mid 60s although I have a couple of 2.5 hour tempo climbs at ~77rpm (pretty consistent 5% grade over 18 miles).

^this. Last week I did 3x5 threshold and on the first and third intervals kept cadence around 88-89rpm with some short bursts above 90rpm. Just take your time and set yourself up for success. Over time you should get there, and if not, don’t sweat it.

In your drills focus on the weak spots in the pedaling action - top and bottom dead centre - rather than pumping down fast with the quad on each stroke.

When I want more strength I concentrate on the bottom part of the stroke - pulling back with the lower leg. I have quite a toe-down pedal style, probably due to using this technique. When I want more pedal speed I focus more on the top of the stroke, by pushing my knee forward as my foot comes back up.

Combining the two techniques I can generate a lot of power really quickly at both high and low revs, and a lot of speed at high revs. I’d say my pedal stroke feels eliptical. It pulls me forward in the saddle rather than pushing me backward as it would if I was pumping with the quads.

have you ever tried a session of both low and high cadence? Start with 6 or 8 minute low torque intervals…like 60-70rpm to start, it will feel natural to you, eventually aiming to get down to 50 rpm.

then do 6-8 min above 120 rpm. The first few times, you’re going to bouce all over and it will feel dumb as all hell, but do it. even if you’re in the easiest gear.

Then pedal at what naturally occurs. This helped me increase cadence naturally 5rpm.

That said, if i don’t keep it up, it doesn’t stick around, and i can’t find much reason WHY i need higher cadence, my natural is 82ish on long road rides.

the article above suggests we don’t need to worry about it; i’m sure there’s a counter argument.

either way, test it out, increase yours, and then see if it’s worth the work to keep it up!

good luck!

Brendan

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I just wanted to say how helpful all of the above input has been. I’m going to try for the concept of 100-120rpm to try and get comfortable and then try the idea of sessions to be able to gradually hold higher gears for a period of time.

Just need to work out what that period of time is now!

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