Low Cadence Training (Compiled Info)

I am making this to be a common starting place for Low Cadence Training.

  • It has been discussed in some threads and we have good bits sprinkled around.
  • I will pool that info into this thread as a more compiled list of the considerations and recommendations, and revise it over time.
  • This is a first draft and will be edited significantly over the next week or two.

Notes about Resistance vs ERG Mode options for smart trainers:

  • Resistance Mode:

    • This mode is recommended for riders who may struggle to maintain the cadence in ERG mode (see concerns below)
    • Use a low gearing as described below, and set the Resistance (or Standard) value in the TrainerRoad app to get the desired resistance target at the desired cadence.
    • This mode allows for more variation in rider cadence without the risk of the “clinch” in ERG.
  • ERG Mode:

    • This mode is recommended for riders who are very familiar with ERG mode and maintain a particular cadence well.
    • Be aware, that low cadence work at higher resistance levels in ERG Mode can lead to the “Spiral of Death” and the “Clinch” in a very short time.
    • If you drop cadence too much and don’t react by returning to the goal cadence, it can lead to excessive force and a trainer stall.
    • You must be “on top of the gear” and make sure to hold the cadence. This takes higher effort that can be very fatiguing and lead to issues on longer or higher efforts.

Basic Low Cadence Training Info:

  1. Select a low gearing on your bike while on the trainer.

    • Use the small front chainring on a road bike, and something around the middle towards the largest cog on the rear cassette.
    • This keeps the rear wheel speed lower, and that leads to a slower flywheel speed on the trainer.
    • The results is less “help” from the flywheel throughout the pedal stroke. It leads to needing to engage the muscles earlier and longer through the stroke when compared to faster gearing.
  2. Use lower cadence that is similar to the cadence you expect to use outside.

    • “Normal” cadence ranges from 85-95 rpm for many riders.
    • “Climbing” cadence is often lower and can range from 55-75 rpm depending on the gearing on your bike, grade of the hill, and your weight.
    • That’s not to say that those climbing cadences are “good or recommended”, but they may be the cadence that we have to use in some situations.
    • As usual, it is often recommended to spin more than grind with an eye towards not over-stressing the muscles or dipping into your glycogen stores as much.
    • With all that said, determine what cadence range you want to practice. It should be similar to what you have already experienced or know you will face for the planned event.
    • Once that is done, you apply that climbing cadence range in appropriate workouts. You need to determine your particular needs, but I spend my climbing cadence practice around 60-70 rpm in most cases.
  3. Apply the gearing and cadence described above in appropriate workouts.

    • WARNING: For all of the recommendations below, start with small steps and progress gradually. Listen to your body and be mindful because this can lead to injury if done poorly or progressing too quickly
    • I like to use Endurance, Tempo and Sweet Spot Intensity intervals for my low cadence, climbing practice.
    • Start by applying the gearing and upper end of the low cadence (maybe 75 rpm) in the beginning.
    • Use this approach for about 1 minute, then return to normal cadence for 1 minute or more if needed.
    • Repeat this several times in longer intervals (6 to 15 minutes) and pay attention to your body. If your muscles or joints feel any issues, return to normal cadence and gearing.
    • As you adapt to the start above. Increase either your time at the low cadence or drop the cadence. Make only one change at a time to make sure that you don’t change too much, too soon.
  • Repeating, It is important to take this step slowly and cautiously.

Options:

  • Climbing Block: You can use a fixed or adjustable riser to elevate the front axle to be higher than the rear axle. This can help alter the position of the body relative to the bike and may impact muscle engagement. Studies around this seem to be mixed, so it is largely up to each rider to evaluate for effectiveness.

Related Posts for Reference Here: (I will be pulling info from these as I revise info above)


Related External Info:

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I would suggest also placing a riser block under the front wheel. When climbing, it’s a slightly different position on the bike, therefore also a slight difference in the way the muscles are activated.

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Thank you, Chad!

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Thank you Chad. There are so many variations that can be done indoors. A point of struggle, for myself, is knowing where to apply such techniques in order to maximize the results when taking things outdoors.

Really like the feedback of gearing changes as well as insughts as to where best place the techniques within suggested workouts.

As well like the areas to place caution to prevent potential injury.

Thanks!

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Is there software out there that can look at power/cadence, or cadence/grade? I’d be very keen to understand at what slope/power my cadence starts to fall…as the increased muscle strain from this has resulted in cramping issues for me in many instances…

What do you mean by “look at”?

  • You can see your power, cadence and grade all in the analysis of any outside ride (or workout) that is in the TR Career.
  • You can select and zoom in on any range or small area and review the data manually.

Are you looking for something more? Related to fatigue and cramping, you will have to identify the time or location where you experienced the issue. You can zoom in there, and likely the area before to see what data was captured in the lead-up to your issue.

I don’t know if you are looking for something more automatic?

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I’m thinking more like the distributions ranges for bucketed power or grade ranges. I.e. the questions I would want to answer are things like: What is my cadence when wattage is in the 250-275w bucket vs 325w to 350w. I suspect that as wattage goes up, cadence goes down. Or similarly, how does cadence get impacted by % grade: I.e. 6-7% vs 9-10%. This then leads to how much time did I spend in these cadence ranges. All of this drives understanding of gearing choices for races, and cadence target drills in training.

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This probably doesn’t cover all of your ideas, but this might be one way to mine data a bit in your TR workouts.

You can set the “Average power above (watts)” and a time, then run the Search. It reports the NP, AP, HR, Average Cadence so you can see how many times you did that. But you’d need to do that at different wattage and capture the results to compare, so it’s far from ideal.

Maybe something like Golden Cheetah or other apps can do something more like you want?

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There are some charts in WKO4 that do this

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Pretty much a similar approach to what I’ve always trained on TR. I mainly train sustained power for Alpine Sportives / riding - 1hr upto 2 hr climbs. Any reasonable length interval (5+mins) I will drop cadence to approx 65 and put it in the small ring, for every third interval whilst remaining in ERG. Also get a corresponding HR drop even though I’m knocking out the same power

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Awesome thanks for this Chad!
I raced a C race yesterday with a 15. minute climb with sustained pitches from 10-16% and really found my ability to put the power down at low cadences lacking. I’ve spent the last six months, or more, on lifting my natural cadence and putting the power down on flat/rolling terrain, it was interesting to see what I had lost when it came to these steep climbs.
With a month til my first A race, which has a few steep pitches, it’s going to be back to some low cadence work for me!
I was contemplating re-signing up for Zwift for a bit to work on this, but now I’ll just throw in some sweetspot LC work and continue watching The Blacklist :slight_smile:

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@mcneese.chad - This is hugely helpful, alongside your many summaries of other cadence related threads. I have always used ERG mode and it does lock the power down superbly, and the ramp test always ends in a grind to the clinch.

Recently I started using powermatch, and it has been great. It certainly avoids using a power meter as an insanely expensive cadence sensor :slight_smile: However, during the ramp test as cadence falls towards the end, the power drops off (unlike ERG mode without power match). I am reluctant to test without power match as I suspect my KICKR Snap overestimates FTP. I suspect there is little point testing without powermatch,then training with it - test and train with the same power source seems to be the accepted wisdom?

Can a ramp test be done in resistance mode and how would this differ from my previous experiences ? Would this solve my issues or not ?

I have a Kickr Snap and do the following:

Take the ramp test in erg mode without using powermatch. This ensures the steps increase and power is less effected by cadence drops. Simultaneously I run my power meter to my head unit (Wahoo Bolt) and record the ramp test. When the test is over I take 75% of my best 1 min from my power meter. Now I have an accurate number to use for powermatch.

I’ve done this over the past year and it’s worked great. Powermatch messes up my ramp test once my cadence drops, so I don’t use it.

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@MI-XC - that is genius - I will try it :slight_smile:

Are you in the same situation whereby you think the snap overestimates FTP? I’m not sure if that is the case, or I am just considerably less fit than last winter when the Snap was the power source

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My snap used to match very closely for over a year. Then all of a sudden it didn’t match closely anymore, not sure quite why. I made several posts on this forum regarding it.

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Great advice on the Power Match off and just double record. I think that is worth a test.

And yes, you can do a Ramp test in Resistance mode too. So there are a couple of ways to try this.

So I just did a ramp test tonight in erg mode using the Kickr Snap while simultaneously recording my Quarq PM to my Wahoo Bolt. They were a bit off (Kickr reading high) for the first half but tracked very closely at the end and the best 1 minute power was within 1 watt. However for normal workout’s the two power meter’s tend to drift more depending on the wattage so I use powermatch. Below is the ramp test power comparison chart of the Kickr’s erg versus the Quarq via the DC Rainmaker Analyzer.


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Can i drop the cadence too much?
This morning I did looking glass, and followed the low cadence drill on the last 2 blocks.
My “normal” cadence indoor is about 90 +/- few rpm.
This morning I was dropping to between 70-80 on the first block
on the last block i tried to stay between 65 and 75
Now, on the very last segment of the last block, Chad told me to really drop the cadance. But im not sure what would be the right amount to drop. I dropped to mid 50s. The power was 182 and the HR was at an nice 152. It never felt difficult. If anything it felt pretty easy. Lower cadence efforts always feel way easier than when i hot the same power at higher rpm. I feel i can go for hours like that… Is that expected? Do i need to drop the cadence even more?

I believe Looking Glass low cadence drill is to replicate a standing climb, and the recommendation is 60-70rpm. Cadence is individual, adapt as you see fit.

Try searching “cycling low cadence drills” and here is the first one that came up in DuckDuckGo search engine: https://www.trainingpeaks.com/blog/six-ways-to-build-power-and-a-smooth-pedal-stroke/

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That is true, until the very last one. Is seated and the lowest cadence. But no recommendation. I tried to go low, but it was not really a challenge.

I kinda want this to actually work well, since we have no hills where i live, but there are some very nasty rolling hills where i usually race.