Indoor vs Outdoor Preferred Cadence Difference

I understand there’s no “ideal cadence”, but rather whatever is the more comfortable should be used. My question, though, is related to my body’s clear preference for lower cadences indoors and higher ones outdoors. Should I try to “fix” this difference by forcing my outdoor rpm into my indoor trained cadence or forcing my indoor training to match my preferred outdoor riding cadence?

I’m admittedly a more muscular (vs aerobic) rider and find Sweet Spot and Threshold work easier than VO2 Max. During TR workouts, when I’m struggling to complete intervals, I rely on lower cadences (80-90) to ensure I don’t miss my target power, and when I’m explicitly going for “climbing intervals” (ie 70-80 rpm) I recognize they’re noticably easier compared to higher cadences. But outdoors it seems like my body is actually more comfortable in the 90-100 rpm range. For TR workouts I mix cadence changes into each workout so I’m not concentrating on just one end.

Should I be forcing my cadence one way or another (ie force my outdoor rides rpm lower or my indoor TR sessions rpm higher)? At which preference should I concentrate training? Does this discrepancy mean anything significant - like I’m losing training efficiency or something similar?

Man, I hope this makes sense since it feels like I’m not conveying this well.

Sidestepping a bit with an overly simple answer: “Train like you want to race.”

Consider you goals and the aim behind your training, with an eye towards what you plan to do with your training. Then employ that basic use case in your training.

My guess would be that you keep your outside cadence and learn to apply that inside. It makes more sense to get better at what you need to use vs making outside like your training (assuming outside is the main objective).

For reference, what trainer do you have and how are you using it? Things like the flywheel size, trainer mode and gearing used can all affect if the trainer feels more or less like riding outside.

What type of bike and events are you training to apply your fitness?

If I had to adjust something that was the way I was thinking I should go, despite it meaning I would probably fail more intervals by spinning closer to my outdoor preferred rpm. I use a dumb trainer (Cyclops Fluid3) with speed sensor for my TR work, and train for strong, sometimes hilly gran fondos and century rides. No races.

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Just hazarding a guess here!

Guess #1:
Natural stochasticity of pedaling power is reduced with lower RPM’s so if you’re using erg mode, you may be getting a more even belt resistance from the smart trainer when using self-selected lower RPM’s as compared to 80-100rpm. More even belt resistance and less natural proclivity to have spikes in your power against the belt’s even resistance could lead to a lower RPE of slower cadence per reported power from a smart trainer in erg mode.

Even for the same average reported power, smaller pedal stroke by pedal stroke variations in pedal force could make for a small but meaningful difference in RPE, with no difference in reported average power by the “smart” trainer.

Guess #2
When you are riding outdoors the bike is rocked more than on most trainers. Rocking the bike reduces joint extension velocity and thereby muscle contraction speed, slightly, which allows forces to be applied more easily for higher cadences than would be possible without any bike rocking. (Muscles lose efficiency as they contract faster).

Ok, the Fluid is a nice trainer, but the flywheel lacs a bit of feel when compared to outside or some other trainers.

Since you have spin the rear wheel faster or slower to hit your power targets, you are kind of locked in to whatever gearing it takes to hit that power. But you should experiment a bit by dropping to one gear easier and increasing cadence to still hit the same target.

If you do that, if be interested to see if you thi k it is easier or harder on you personally to hold that power at a slightly faster cadence.

Do you have a guess as to what specifically leads you to the lower cadence on the trainer?

  • Is faster cadence feeling “wrong”?
  • Does your breathing and/or heart rate increase above what feels “right”?

I asked because a common result of dropping cadence is a bit lower heart rate and breathing rate. Depending on your setup inside, thay lower cadence may just “feel better” from that load inside. If so, I’d look at your cooling for one thing. Do you have really good fans in place to keep you cool and reduce excessive sweating?

Good points. I have a simple fan. It doesn’t feel “wrong” to spin at higher rpm, it’s just that my body gains stress when doing a given power, going from lower rpm to higher: increased breathing and a bump in HR. That’s why I gravitate to the lower rpm to not fail intervals.

So ultimately would I be better served making the indoor TR workouts harder by forcing my body to handle higher rpms? Would that, then improve my outdoor performance?

Good stuff, thanks!

some top pros came and climbed one of my favorite local roads over the winter. I looked up there cadence on the climb on Strava, 17+ minute climb about for them. Pete Stetina 69rpm, Colin Strickland 72rpm, and Ian Boswell 78rpm. It’s a steep dirt road, the segmentent is called, Briceland-sinkyone climb, if you wanna check it out. I think the right cadence is the one that allows you to put out the most power long enough for the climb.

Ian Boswell also KOMed a local gravel rd climb after that climb. He avg 390 watts for 10min 9sec at 84rpm. I think he said he weights about 155 at six foot three.