What is cadence in cycling and how can I work on it?

To talk about cadence in cycling is to refer to one of the most important measures that affect both performance and the speed and intensity of work. Cycling is becoming more and more a sport of data, since thanks to them we can know how to improve and if we are working correctly. In this article we want to explain everything you need to know about this concept, so we answer what is cadence in cycling, what is it for, what types are there and how to improve it. Let’s get to it!

What is cadence in cycling and what is it for?

The first thing to make clear is the definition of this concept, which in the end is the number of pedal strokes per minute. When working with a high cadence, whenever possible, we are looking for greater efficiency by using less energy consumption to cover the distance at a certain speed. Therefore, if we answer the question of what cadence is for in cycling, we find the following:

  • Improve cycling performance and efficiency.
  • Achieve a better use of muscular endurance.
  • Increase responsiveness.

Cycling cadence: types according to intensity

Cycling cadence can be classified according to whether it is high or low, as well as whether we have reached the recommended cycling cadence. To know what are our data of pedal strokes per minute we usually make use of cadence sensors, which are external devices to the bicycle in the form of a magnet attached to the wheel and a sensor that detects each time the magnet passes near it when the wheel makes a complete turn. These transmit the data to a cycling computer, watch or app-see, the ZYCLE app, which allows us to observe the data in real time. However, some smart rollers as well as indoor cycling bikes incorporate this sensor, which gives us the possibility to know the data accurately and without complications -this is also the case of ZYCLE’s devices-.

Keep in mind that based on these results you will be able to know what kind of cadence you have. Now, how is it better to measure cadence, on the track or at home? Many cyclists usually measure the cadence on the ground, although it is best to do it on a bicycle roller because it will provide more real and accurate data, as there are no irregularities, unevenness and other factors that can limit our pedaling rate. These are the different levels.

What is the ideal cadence in cycling?

At this point we should talk about the grinder technique invented by Armstrong’s personal doctor, Michele Ferrari, thanks to which the idea became popular that working with a higher cadence loads the legs less and improves endurance, so that the ideal RPM went from 60 to 90. In any case, it is important to be clear that everything will depend on the physical condition of each person, as well as genetics. Theoretically, if you are not a professional cyclist, the optimal cadence in cycling is 80 RPM on flat terrain and 70 RPM on ascending terrain, therefore, if you are able to maintain a pace between 70 and over 90 RPM you will be functioning efficiently.

High cycling cadence

Do not confuse a high optimal cadence with a high cadence in cycling above our possibilities. In the first case it is usually 100 to 110 RPM for professional cyclists. However, a high cadence for beginners or amateurs is usually above 80 RPM on flat terrain and above 70 RPM on hills. It is essential to work without forcing beyond our possibilities to avoid scares or injuries.

Low cadence cycling

Low cadence, in any case, is that which does not reach 60 RPM, both for amateur cyclists and for professionals (in which case, it will not involve any effort and the training results will be minimal).

How to achieve an optimal cadence in cycling

Although we have already talked about what the optimal cadences are – and as you will have noticed, the range is quite wide – the truth is that we must take into account a series of aspects related to the way our muscles work. These have two types of fibers, type 1 (or slow fibers) and type 2 (fast fibers). The former are more resistant and efficient when it comes to managing energy, but are weaker, while the latter work the other way around. When making an effort, the body always works in the most efficient way, which means that it will try to use the type 1 fibers, however, if it works with a lot of force, it makes use of the type 2 fibers. Working one type of cadence or another will depend on your physical condition, for example, having more muscles in your legs will allow you to work with more strength, while if your heart and lungs work perfectly, you will be able to work on speed and efficiency with greater success.

It is recommended that you use a cadence chart for cycling, with which to monitor the level of effort you are making and know what amount of RPM is recommended in each circumstance and why. In addition, bike rollers are always an excellent option to work safely and be able to measure your data, such as the Smart ZDrive direct drive roller or the ZPro smart roller. Also keep in mind that the ratio between chainrings and sprockets on the bike (or gearing) has a considerable influence on cadence results, as the higher the gearing, the more force you will have to exert and the more difficult it will be to maintain cadence throughout the session. Although the balance between cadence and development is achieved with experience, for beginners it is usually advisable to use a combination of 50 and 34 tooth chainrings, with an 11-28T or even 11-32T cassette.

Keep in mind that when working on cadence you may encounter other aspects that can negatively influence whether or not you are able to maintain it. Here are some examples:

  • Slopes.
  • Age.
  • Wind.
  • Riding in a group.
  • Road situation or type of road surface.
  • Bicycle characteristics.
  • Fatigue.

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