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Low cadence training

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Road Cycling “It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them. Thus you remember them as they actually are, while in a motor car only a high hill impresses you, and you have no such accurate remembrance of country you have driven through as you gain by riding a bicycle.” -- Ernest Hemingway

Low cadence training

Old 11-03-21, 07:39 PM
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LarrySellerz
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Low cadence training

Sup guys, do any of you train with low cadence? I know high cadence training is a thing, and having a dynamic cadence makes you a more well rounded rider, but does the same apply for low cadence rides? I moved to a house on a brutal hill and am wondering if my single speed (42x18) would be decent training, currently I can't even climb it without zigzagging. A guy I know who races says he used to do low cadence drills but I didn't get a chance to talk to him that long.

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Old 11-03-21, 08:56 PM
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Not intentionally but if I'm out of gears.... Cadence is a personal thing but it's safer to use a lower gear if you have one. Not everyone can mash big gears and you could end up hurting a knee or 2. Some can ride a single speed/fixed gear everywhere, some cannot. Spin to win!
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Old 11-03-21, 10:50 PM
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Yeah, with age most of us lose aerobic capacity quicker than muscle strength -- and we lose both pretty quickly.

I used to spin 90 rpm like clockwork, no particular effort. Over time that got more difficult. I'd gas out before my legs quit.

Last year about this time an old neck injury flared up so I was off the bike more than on it. I didn't want to lose fitness so I resumed jogging for the first time in almost 40 years. My legs got stronger. The knee, hip and lower back pain I used to experience trying to mash big gears cleared up. I switched to lower cadence, around 70-75 rpm average, often 60 on seated climbs and 40-50 when standing. No knee problems. I don't gas out so easily now.

I still switch between high and low cadence drills but my "spin to win" days are long gone. Anyway, that whole concept developed around the use of PEDs, especially EPO and blood doping, which enabled users to recover quicker from maximum aerobic capacity than their legs could recover from stomping big gears. Some dopers who've described the whole program said steroids helped with muscle recovery and quick reduction of inflammation. But blood doping to boost their aerobic capacity to spin faster cadence was the real key.

I don't have access to any of that stuff so the whole spin to win thing was always lacking context -- which we didn't know, or refused to acknowledge before widespread doping became irrefutable.

And more recent studies have confirmed that faster cadences have limited use to a relative handful of elite athletes.

Check Strava for data shared by pros -- some do, at least for training. Very, very few are spinning fast cadences consistently. Any spinning of 90-100+ rpm is limited to relatively short duration climbs ("short duration" for them might be up to 20-30 minutes -- more like 5 minutes for me). Most are averaging 75 rpm overall.

It appears few of them could sustain consistently high cadence without doping.
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Old 11-03-21, 11:48 PM
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Originally Posted by LarrySellerz View Post
Sup guys, do any of you train with low cadence? I know high cadence training is a thing, and having a dynamic cadence makes you a more well rounded rider, but does the same apply for low cadence rides? I moved to a house on a brutal hill and am wondering if my single speed (42x18) would be decent training, currently I can't even climb it without zigzagging. A guy I know who races says he used to do low cadence drills but I didn't get a chance to talk to him that long.
So, training by using a low cadence? No... Training by pushing a big Gear (relative to the rider) - Yes - this invariably results in a lower cadence than a rider's avg, for most...
Semantics ? a little, but still different... The focus is not 'low cadence', it's the increase in load/resistence; like doing weights.
The reason to work on higher/increased cadence is to improve 'efficiency' - muscles do counteract each other in the pedal stroke cycle.
Lower cadence is just a result of on-bike training to build strength/power.
Or
the situation where a rider can't ride with a higher cadence, because they are at their limit of 'efficiency'.

I'll repeat an Eddy Merckx-ism... when asked "It is better to push a Big Gear or spin a Smaller Gear? Eddy answered " It's best to Spin a Big Gear!"
Dedicated track bike racers do a huge amount of weight work, and also work real hard to develop a rapid development of rpm (cadence) with very high top limits.
they have to have both... power (explosive) and efficiency (high cadence to spin up their High, single, fixed gear as quickly as possible and hold as long as possible)
Ride On
Yuri
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Old 11-04-21, 03:52 AM
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I don't do any low cadence drills per se, but I do occasionally ride up steep hills where low cadence and high torque is necessary. My latest discovery is that I have close by a hill which is straight, pretty short, low traffic, and 16.7% average with bits of up to 30%. Ideal for two and something minutes of intense low cadence suffering, even with a compact double and a 11-30 in the rear.

For training strength, I do a bit of occasional weight training, primarily deadlifts and squats. Put a set of weights in my living room, and it probably has much more of an effect than low cadence riding could.

I don't think there's empirical evidence in favour of low cadence drills which I've seen, though. Triathlon coaches often recommend it, but 🤷

I record cadence but just don't think about it, really, let the legs choose what they like. It's typically around 85-ish if going hard or 75ish if going easy.

Last edited by Branko D; 11-04-21 at 03:59 AM.
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Old 11-04-21, 04:09 AM
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On Zwift, there are various workouts that include low cadence segments but I prefer just doing hilly rides (IRL and on Zwift) to improve my hill climbing. Over the years I've been raising my natural cadence, I'm a reformed grinder. So, kinda hate to reinforce my old grinding habit.

Every now and then I get motivated and do hill repeats - I can bike 5 miles from my house and there is a double hill into and out of a stream valley I can do and then turn around and do it again, etc. Not fun, but definitely has a training benefit. On Zwift, there are good routes for that and plenty of interval workouts that are modeled after hill repeats.
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Old 11-04-21, 04:57 AM
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Low cadence (sub 60) at high torque (typically under/over threshold power) training is definitely a thing. Benefits:-

1. Helps massively when you encounter hills that are steep enough to force you into that kind of low cadence/high torque threshold effort
2. Activates different muscle groups eg. uses glutes more than high cadence

I'm a big believer in training a very wide cadence range, while generally trying to push up my average cadence. So I train at everything from 55-130+ rpm, while my average is typically in the mid-high 80s.
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Old 11-04-21, 05:41 AM
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I had a coach tell me to do low cadence, high power max efforts (10-12 seconds) to improvement neuro muscle recruitment or something like that.

I'd be careful though. Ligaments and tendons can get overstrained.
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Old 11-04-21, 06:36 AM
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LarrySellerz I'm in the same boat... sorta. One of my bikes is an old Klein that I rebuilt as a single speed. I live in Atlanta - it's hilly. After three or four ratios, I landed on a 53-15. It's tough on the hills, but lets me hang on those fast flats.

I don't ride the bike to grind out a low cadence, but it's a byproduct. Ironically, on my geared bikes, I tend to spin kinda high - I shoot for low 90s. I have to assume all those miles mashing through a low cadence is beneficial - like in the mountains when even the geared bikes run out of spin.

Bonus: Your single speed will also help you develop a more efficient high cadence stroke. Holding 120+ rpm and not bouncing on the saddle is hard to do without some practice. Well, it was for me ;-)
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Old 11-04-21, 02:15 PM
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Lol Zas my ratio is way smaller than yours but yeah it definitely helps me spin faster, especially when trying to keep up with geared bikes. I actually injured my leg spinning too fast lol
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Old 11-04-21, 02:52 PM
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Originally Posted by cyclezen View Post
So, training by using a low cadence? No... Training by pushing a big Gear (relative to the rider) - Yes - this invariably results in a lower cadence than a rider's avg, for most...
Semantics ? a little, but still different... The focus is not 'low cadence', it's the increase in load/resistence; like doing weights.
The reason to work on higher/increased cadence is to improve 'efficiency' - muscles do counteract each other in the pedal stroke cycle.
Lower cadence is just a result of on-bike training to build strength/power.
Or
the situation where a rider can't ride with a higher cadence, because they are at their limit of 'efficiency'.

I'll repeat an Eddy Merckx-ism... when asked "It is better to push a Big Gear or spin a Smaller Gear? Eddy answered " It's best to Spin a Big Gear!"
Dedicated track bike racers do a huge amount of weight work, and also work real hard to develop a rapid development of rpm (cadence) with very high top limits.
they have to have both... power (explosive) and efficiency (high cadence to spin up their High, single, fixed gear as quickly as possible and hold as long as possible)
Ride On
Yuri
​​​​​​Except that it's not like doing weights. The resistance is so low, it's like the pink dumbbells in aerobics classes.
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Old 11-04-21, 05:20 PM
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Originally Posted by Seattle Forrest View Post
​​​​​​Except that it's not like doing weights. The resistance is so low, it's like the pink dumbbells in aerobics classes.
Exactly ! Which is Why Track Sprinters - most good Trackies - will do some serious weight room work... Which is why I was never a 'sprinter'... scratch race, miss&Out was my game... LOL!
but not exactly 'pink' dbells either...
try doin 1500 vert ft at 7 to 10% in an 70+" gear and tell me your legs and butt aren;t toast !!!
you don;t get 'explosive' power from big gear work at low cadence, but you do gain strength if you fit it in well into an overall training program... which helps getting over those lower rollers, when the hammer comes down...
N'est-ce pas?

Ride on
Yuri
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Old 11-04-21, 06:14 PM
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Originally Posted by Seattle Forrest View Post
​​​​​​Except that it's not like doing weights. The resistance is so low, it's like the pink dumbbells in aerobics classes.
Bit it is sports specific, so while not the same resistance as heavy weights in the gym, it higher than normal resistance in a sports specific move.

Thus muscle tension intervals (uphill in a big gear 50rpm have a place as part of an overall program, particularly in the off/ early season. Do 5x10 and it’s a workout.

Not a substitute for weight training, or regular cadence intervals, but can be a worthwhile part of a prgram
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Old 11-04-21, 09:12 PM
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I do them, typically 3 X 10, Z3, 50-55 cadence. Not a great strain but good for muscle recruitment. The idea is to pedal seated with no upper body motion at all, just he legs going around. I found climbing long 10% hills in a 73" gear to be plenty hard. I could only do it seated. I doubt that it increases muscle strength, but it does show up spots in your pedaling which could be better, which is the whole idea. In terms of pedaling drills, I do FastPedal on my rollers once a week until Jan. 1. That's pedaling at 115-120 in power Z1 for long periods, up to 45', once a week. Jan.1, I switch over to 2' one-legged pedaling intervals, also on my rollers, once a week until April 1, when I start once a week low-cadence work outside. I do a little of that on my rollers over the winter too, power Z3, but it's different on the road.

That Z1 FastPedal is a great recovery ride 1 or 2 days after a really hard road ride. I find there's a lot to be said for outside-the-envelope training, whatever it is. There are always weak spots.
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Old 11-05-21, 06:27 AM
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I'm of the opinion that there's a benefit to being comfortable at as wide a range of cadences as possible, both high and low. This comes through training at different cadences. Yes, your personal optimally comfortable cadence is self-selected, but in the real world, you're not always going to be able to ride at that cadence, depending on ride/road conditions.
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Old 11-05-21, 11:10 AM
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Originally Posted by cyclezen View Post
Exactly ! Which is Why Track Sprinters - most good Trackies - will do some serious weight room work... Which is why I was never a 'sprinter'... scratch race, miss&Out was my game... LOL!
but not exactly 'pink' dbells either...
try doin 1500 vert ft at 7 to 10% in an 70+" gear and tell me your legs and butt aren;t toast !!!
you don;t get 'explosive' power from big gear work at low cadence, but you do gain strength if you fit it in well into an overall training program... which helps getting over those lower rollers, when the hammer comes down...
N'est-ce pas?

Ride on
Yuri
I'm with you on the missnout. There is a great natural incentive not to be last.
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Old 11-06-21, 10:12 AM
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Originally Posted by cyclezen View Post
Exactly ! Which is Why Track Sprinters - most good Trackies - will do some serious weight room work... Which is why I was never a 'sprinter'... scratch race, miss&Out was my game... LOL!
but not exactly 'pink' dbells either...
try doin 1500 vert ft at 7 to 10% in an 70+" gear and tell me your legs and butt aren;t toast !!!
you don;t get 'explosive' power from big gear work at low cadence, but you do gain strength if you fit it in well into an overall training program... which helps getting over those lower rollers, when the hammer comes down...
N'est-ce pas?

Ride on
Yuri
Many of you have heard this story before. One winter, as ride leader, and as an experiment to test assertions that big gear riding make you stronger, I decided to subject my group to a few months of SS/FG riding on our usual geared bike routes, 40-60 miles, 50'/mile, 7%-12% hills, lots of very high cadence on the flats. After this ride series, we all agreed that our big gear riding had gotten a lot better, but our geared bike riding was not improved. The experiment was not repeated, to the applause of all. It was frigging torture.

What to take from this? I think our usual training adequately addressed issues of strength and endurance. We've always done a lot of competitive hill and other accelerations, to the limit of everyone's ability, and I think that has been our key to success. Limiting our muscular efforts by restricting gearing was not successful. That's not to say that doing big gear low cadence intervals is not a good idea. One can always run out of gears and find that one is doing small gear low cadence efforts just to get up that hill, which is probably even more difficult the big gear efforts because of less momentum and the uselessness of standing in tiny gears.

Corollary: it's even better to find really steep hills and climb them in a low cadence max effort gear, and especially when one is really tired. I've climbed a couple of memorable 18% grades near the end of 300k and 400k brevets.
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Old 11-09-21, 11:19 AM
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Taking my own advice, I did this Sunday's group ride on an older 9-speed triple, 52-42-30 up front and 12-25 in back - my gearing from 14 years ago. I refused to use the granny and did the steep hills in 42-25. When I ran out of legs standing, I sat and did low cadence drills. Worked great.
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Old 11-09-21, 02:39 PM
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That's going to be my excuse now when I'm struggling up a hill.

"I'm doing low cadence training." Sounds good.
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Old 11-09-21, 06:53 PM
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Waste of time.
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Old 11-10-21, 06:16 PM
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I just ran into an interesting post on the Hunter Allen website. I hope we can agree that he's not a fool
https://shoppeaks.com/tractor-pulls/

He makes a very good argument for low cadence training, but with a twist. To his article, I would add that these "tractor pulls" will be more effective if one has done a lot of low cadence training so that one's muscles fire appropriately, keeping the pedal force tangent to the pedal circle all the way around. Many of us have probably seen "Stomps" suggested, which is much the same thing except for the added focus on directed effort, the 30" possible duration of these tractor pulls, and the suggested 20 intervals in a row. There's an obvious correlation with gym work, where again the objective is exhaustion of the affected muscle group in order to attain greater fiber recruitment.
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Old 11-16-21, 05:13 PM
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My knees hurt just thinking about it.

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Old 11-16-21, 07:26 PM
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Old 11-17-21, 12:22 PM
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Old 11-18-21, 10:35 AM
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Off-season is my low cadence time. Of course, it's also weight room time. I've cut the weights back to a couple days a week now, concentrating on squats, deadlift, stiff leg dead lift and lunges. There's a mix of low cadence, less than 50 at FTP and a bit higher, with high cadence 110+ Z3. Both also incorporate position changes including drops hoods and tops. Low cadence include standing drops. Tractor Pulls are a hell in themselves, and will come later in the off-season. I think it's important to consider weights before messing too much with low cadence, because I believe they go hand-in-hand.
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