Ride Your Life training tips
What is the ideal pedaling cadence to keep during your rides? What is the perfect pedaling rhythm for your physiology and characteristics? What is the most appropriate pace for your goals?
Observing a professional race, it often happens that you see athletes side by side pedaling at entirely different speeds both on flat ground and uphill, but apparently making the same effort.
So what does the pedaling cadence depend on? Is there an ideal rhythm?
HIGH CADENCE OR LOW CADENCE?
Over the years, scientific studies have often shown that pedaling at a low cadence is more efficient than pedaling at a high tempo. So, in other words, with the same energy, oxygen consumption is lower at a reduced pedaling speed (Takaishi et al. 1996).
However, most of these studies were carried out by testing athletes on relatively low power, or in any case, lower than in a competition.
Tests at higher power reveal that the optimal cadence increases as the intensity increases. (Takaishi et al. 1996, Lucia et al. 2004).
This would explain why it is generally more natural to pedal at high cadences in intense and short steps, such as reps at Vo2max, rather than during low-intensity endurance work.
Therefore, pedaling at a low cadence requires less oxygen consumption, but creates more significant muscle fatigue, reduces lactate disposal, and leads to greater use of fast fibers. On the other hand, high cadence requires less muscle activation but usually has a higher energy cost, especially at reduced intensities.
RIDING CADENCE AND TYPE OF CYCLIST
Therefore, which is the ideal pedaling cadence also depends on the physical characteristics of an athlete.
Very strong and powerful cyclists, usually with large muscle masses, tend to pedal more at a low cadence. In this way, they suffer from more significant neuromuscular stress but incur a lower energy cost.
On the other hand, less powerful cyclists with less muscle mass but perhaps with high aerobic capacities and a high Vo2max may prefer high pedaling cadences, bearing a higher energy cost and greater cardiovascular stimulation but reducing muscle fatigue.
You don't necessarily need to belong distinctly to one or the other category, but most cyclists find themselves in the middle of these two extremes.
CONSIDERATIONS FOR SPEEDS AND CLIMBERS
As mentioned previously, pedaling at a low cadence involves more significant use of fast fibers, essential for maximizing the power expressed in the final sprint.
Pedaling for a long time at cadences that are too low can, therefore, be counterproductive in the final phase of the race, risking making us arrive with muscles that are too stressed to carry out an effective sprint. While a higher cadence could be helpful to "save the leg."
The opposite problem can arise for the high-frequency pedaling style typical of climbers. Those in this category usually have high Vo2max values and reduced muscle mass and may feel more comfortable pedaling at a high cadence but with higher oxygen consumption.
In this case, being prepared to sustain even slightly lower cadences for long periods can help to reduce energy consumption and maintain high power for longer (Stebbins et al. 2014).
CONSIDERATIONS FOR AMATEURS
Especially since the 2000s onwards, it has happened several times among professionals to see great champions make the difference with actions at high pedaling cadences; above all, Chris Froome of the Sky team.
This has prompted many, even in the amateur world, to try to imitate his style with his famous "smoothies." However, recent studies have shown that, even here, "don't try this at home" is a must, and trying to emulate professional athletes can prove to be ineffective for those who are not professionals.
Pedaling at a high cadence is more efficient when maintaining high energy. This is not difficult for a professional athlete. At the same time, amateurs often push very light gears and pedal at high cadence when they are at low intensity. In this situation, the ratio between the oxygen that reaches the muscles and what is absorbed is much less efficient (Formenti et al. 2019).
There is no pedaling cadence better than others while there is a more efficient and effective one, but it is not the same for everyone; it depends on several highly variable factors.
Pedaling cadence also trains. Every cyclist needs to look for the optimal one for himself and his goals and train it to maximize the efficiency of his athletic gesture.
"The most economical cadence increase with increasing workload." - Olivind Foss, Jostein Hallen / European Journal of Applied Physiology. 2004
“Optimal pedaling rate estimated from neuromuscolar fatigue for cyclists” - T Takaishi, Y Yasuda, T Ono, T Moritani / Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1996
“In professional road cyclist, low pedaling cadence are less efficient” - A Lucia, A F San Juan, M Montilla, S CaNete, A Santalla, C Earnest, M Perez / Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2004
"Effect of cadence on aerobic capacity following a prolonged, varied intensity cycling trial" - C L Stebbins, J L Moore, G A Casazza / J Sports Sci Med. 2014
"The effect of pedaling cadence on skeletal muscle oxygenation during cycling at moderate exercise intensity" - F Formenti, C Dockerill, L Kankanange, L Zhang, T Takaishi, K Ishida / J Sports Med. 2019
"Skeletal muscle oxygenation during cycling at different power output and cadence" - L Shastri, M Alkhalil, C Forbes, T El-Wadi, G Rafferty, K Ishida, F Formenti / Physiol Rep. 2019
Daniele Bazzana - BC Training
Athletic and Biomechanical Trainer