Is 40 too low for cadence on climb?


I was just toying around with my favorite hill climb around here, 5,5km/350m of altitude gain - i tried the ride with low gear, higher cadence around 60-70, and then today in high gear at cadence 40-48.

My low cadence power was around 80-90% FTP, earlier at higher cadence power was around 70-80% FTP.
Both were more or less equal in time needed to conclude the climb.

Difference: My heartrate is considerably lower when going low cadence/high gear.

Now I find 40-48 ridiculously low for cadence. But I feel better and not exhausted too much afterwards, quite less than going with higher cadence where my bpm makes a jump right away.

Any reasons not to go as low in cadence?

not necessarily but all else being equal you’ll fatigue sooner with the low cadence option. might not matter in this instance - depends on your goals, etc. Sometimes it’s good to mix up things in a longer day by varying cadence. At least for me anyways.

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One of the reasons could be the added stress to your knees and all the joints in your legs. But if it works for you.

It’s fairly personal, what you call high cadence (70-80) is really low for me. The higher in watts I go, the higher my cadence. If gearing allows it my preferred climbing cadence is 90+. If I really have to grind at 70 I feel like my legs are getting destroyed.


yes, that came to my mind right away too.

Going higher in cadence makes my heartrate jump even at lower power. Higher heartrate=quicker exhausted is at least my understanding.

There isn’t too low a cadence, ride whatever feels comfortable.

Generally it is said that higher cadence puts more load on you cardio system, and lower cadence more on your muscles. So whatever is weakest will probably determine what feels better. Or whatever you want to preserve, if you need to sprint later, or if your legs are already toast.


I feel like at a cadence of 40 either my legs would snap off at the knees or I’d just tip over


I don’t think it is that simple. I’m not trying to be snarky but there are a whole bunch of things that can cause heart rate to rise that don’t impact performance negatively. Caffeine. Working out in the morning vs evening. How pumped / motivated you are.

In many discussions on this forum HR is a red herring.

Yes, i get and know that. But looking at my body’s behaviour over long time I can say that higher cadence raises my heartrate quite significantly.

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Yeah, one thing that came to mind for me is riding slowly over variable pitch. At really low cadences it’ll take longer before a foot is in the right quadrant to be able to apply a lot of extra torque if the grade kicks up.

that’s about a 6% grade? Cadence for me is dictated by gearing and my W/kg, on steeper grades I’ll do 50-70rpm. Very steep pitches above 12% and it will drop into 40rpm range. I’ve completed a long day with 8 hours of climbing around 65rpm, again because of gearing and W/kg, and woke up the next day and legs felt fine. My conclusion is that muscle endurance is a strength (not a weakness), and that I can use that to my advantage when appropriate.

I also see lower HR at lower cadence, and on rollers and flats there are times when I’ll drop my cadence in order to decrease heart rate. HOWEVER my coach has had me work on increasing my cadence range, and I’ve managed to build that out to 50rpm to 105rpm. I’ve done both undergeared and overgeared work during training. During early base training my HR would jump during workouts when pushing 95-105rpm. But now I can push higher cadence with only a small increase in HR.


in this case it is a very constant 5-6% climb… only in the serpentines I have to go out of the saddle.

On climbs with steeper grades I certainly do and have to change into lower gear and ride at a higher cadence.

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Here is the cadence distribution on a 2.5 hour climb up a steady 5-6% grade. Average was 76rpm with most of the spinning between 70-90rpm:

That was a tempo effort, those long climbs I prefer to keep it above 60rpm. Above 70rpm is better, still get lower HR vs trying to spin 90-100.

I prefer spinning faster, but I’ll go with whatever gets me to the top. Last year I had a mechanical on a major climb

The issue with my rear mech resulted in me doing the first half in 34:17 (gear ratio, not time)… my cadence ranged 20-30… it was awful. That said, I made it to the top, didn’t blow out my knees and felt quite proud.

I would agree with several of the earlier responses: higher HR is expected with higher cadence as it shifts more of the load to the cardiovascular system. Doesn’t mean better or worse, just a different approach with different physiological responses.

most recent undergear workout was “105rpm for 5 minutes at low tempo, then recover at 85rpm for 5 minutes at low endurance” and 20 minutes total at 105rpm. Doing that along with pushing my cadence on endurance workouts - really push cadence and ignore HR - has absolutely improved my cadence-vs-HR response. Now I can hammer 90-95rpm with only 1-2bpm increase.

Do whatever suits you. I don’t subscribe to the idea that things need to be done a certain way. If it feels good, do it. If it doesn’t, don’t.

My standing RPM is 45rpm and I can do it for 10+ minutes at a time from high Z2 up through Z4. I can also do this repeatedly throughout a long ride, e.g. 6-9 hours.

I do it because it feels relieving, not because of any particular strategy. It probably works for me because of my specific build - upper body, glutes, etc. Everyone’s going to be a little (or a lot) different.

A side benefit is that it pysches out my competition in an XC or gravel race. It gives off the impression that I’m attacking, or possibly struggling, even if I’m only holding 80-90% of FTP. I just keep going because I’m at a sustainable pace, irrespective of RPM, and people start scratching their heads.


That’s my position too.


40 is quite low, but if your body is happy with it that’s fine. From personal experience, and what I understand as physiological advice, lower cadence riding, at the same Power is more muscular. Possibly resulting in higher rate of glycogen usage.

Higher cadences are more aerobic. I certainly find that the fatigue from low cadence climbing is a lot more muscular and is harder for me to repeat.

It’s also easier (for me) to adapt to the terrain at higher cadences. I’d typically climb at 80-90 depending on the steepness and how much of a hurry I’m in.

What’s your normal cadence on the flat/normal riding?





That said… walking doesn’t peg my HR over 170. Turning over at 26 on this did…

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I thought I was a lower end cadence climber. Looking back at Teide last year for a 10-15miles circa 6% I am climbing at 63rpm that leaves me something in reserve. For varying gradient climbs such as the 10.8% Masca I am down at 49rpm average. I can motivate my self to spin faster but I like having something in reserve. If you’re comfortable at 40rpm its not too low.