Newbie cadence and power relationship

New to TR, periodization training, indoor training, and Zwift. I’m working through my first training program in TR. I used the plan builder, rolling terrain option, training for triathlon 1/2 and full IM. My goal is to increase my sustainable power in aero position. While in TR, I’m spending time in and out of aero, and getting through the TR plan workouts.

Many of the workouts have me spinning at cadence that is above my pre-plan levels. I’m getting comfortable at higher cadence. I’ve noticed that at 90% + of my FTP, my cadence is more difficult to maintain at the higher tempo than I am used to. The higher my power effort is, the lower my cadence seems to want to be at.

When I do a TT in Zwift, going hard, at and above my FTP my cadence is typically at 10-15rpm lower that what TR has me training at. I can’t seem to maintain high power at high cadence in a race setting.

After that way too wordy lead-in, here’s my questions if anyone want to offer some insights:

Is my inability to maintain higher cadence at higher power normal?
What can I do to increase my ability to maintain higher cadence and power?

You don’t have to train at the cadence TR suggests. You can ride at whatever cadence feels good to you. However, typically a higher cadence puts more load on your cardio system, and less on your legs. Lower cadence requires you to generate more force for the same power, so puts more load on your muscles.

Either might feel better, it’s a bit individual, and a bit depending on your training history (even before cycling). I do think though that many people new to cycling and without another endurance training backgeound find it easier to generate force, and have a less-developed aerobic system, so find it harder to keep up a high cadence. So if that’s you, it might just come with time.

The other thing to keep in mind is, if you’re aiming for tri’s, that you want to preserve your legs for the run - so riding at a higher cadence might be better in that case.

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Completely normal. Elevating cadence takes time, but lower intensity workouts are great to put in time at higher cadences and get more comfortable with faster leg speed without the high power demands. Over time your legs will get faster even at higher demands, but even now for me I find that I probably spin 5-7 rpm slower when I’m at or above threshold.

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@pcarnell @splash Thank you both for chiming in and I appreciate the advice. I was surprised by how different maintaining a higher cadence was while not in ERG mode during the race. It was mostly flat, but even at 3% grade I was struggling to keep the cadence high. Also noticed that when I reduced power slightly and increased cadence slightly that I felt like I was recovering without too much power loss.

I’m learning each training session and each race, and hoping to see some transfer to IRL riding when the weather warms up.

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Just my two cents: your cadence will likely increase over time, as you get more used to it. Part of it is purely cognitive: it takes a surprizing amount of focus to maintain a high cadence until it becomes more ingrained, that is very natural. In my case I literally feel brain fatigue when spinning over 100 rpm for extended periods unless I train it consistently.

However, don‘t get fixated on 95 rpm, as I did. If your cadence drifts lower at high power (over threshold), that doesn‘t necessarely mean you are cooked and have to give up. It may be that you can actually do the work at 75 rpm, and that‘s better than not doing it at all (again, that‘s just my personnal experience).

A lot of us are spinners, some of us are grinders. There‘s no shame in either.

As an aside, my cadence is very, very dependent on caffeine. 400mg of caffeine leads to a very consistent 10 rpm boost in cadence, maybe that‘s the case for you too?

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Thank you dmalanda. Yes I guess I’m more of a grinder, although I hesitate to categorize myself as that because my power is not where I want it to be. Coming from the running world, I’ve maybe mistakenly associated the grinder moniker with someone who has slower cadence but also with big power.

We share the mental effort it takes to maintain a higher cadence. If I’m not focusing on it, I drift down to 80ish. So I really do like that TR has me focusing on higher cadence, I need the practice. Like the other drills/skills TR has me practicing, I do feel like they are helping me be more efficient. I hope over time all the training results in a higher sustainable power output.

I have a love/hate relationship with caffeine in regard to training/performance. If I get the amount right, caffeine slightly increases my performance and focus, whatever the activity. But if I overdo it, I’m a mess with jitters and headaches. So I hedge to less or no caffeine while training, and typically only resort to caffeine during races… when I’m desperate. But while I’m indoor training, I’ll experiment with a little caffeine to see what happens. BTW, I love coffee!

I’ll keep spinning/grinding and learning along the way. Thanks again.

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