Around the world, cyclists who watched Lance Armstrong win the 1999 Tour de France were stunned. I know I was. And one of the things that stood out the most was his pedaling style, his high cadence. It didn’t take long for cyclists everywhere to start mimicking his style, riding at 100rpm or more, spinning as fast as they could, thinking it would help them ride like the Tour champion.
While they were right to consider changing their cadence to go faster and ride more efficiently, they were thinking of this critical variable in the wrong way. Cadence is not a black or white, wrong or right, fast or slow choice. Never think you can set cadence like a thermostat and leave it alone for the rest of the ride.
Instead, cadence should change dynamically, based on the terrain, race dynamics, and your own needs as a rider, no matter what wattage you are producing. If you’ve ever paid attention to your car’s RPMs while driving, then you already understand the basics of how cadence works for cyclists, because it is essentially the same. Higher RPMs help you accelerate quickly from a stop light. Lower RPMs give you better gas economy at highway speeds. You wouldn’t try to drive in third gear at 70mph on the highway, right?
For the foundation of the Cadence Control point on the North Star of FORM Execution, there are two key concepts that tie in directly with our comparison with a car engine. Both concepts relate to momentum, which as I’ve mentioned is the key to riding fast and riding well. To gain momentum, focus on high cadence, usually 90-100 RPM, combined with high power. To maintain speed, you switch to low cadence, around 70-80 RPM, with low power.
If you can develop your Cadence Control and start using it strategically, it translates into a number of cycling’s key performance components.
Cadence Control can help you develop more torque when you need it. Simply pedaling a steady wattage won’t necessarily translate into speed. People like this often are caught on the cadence hamster wheel, spinning fast but going nowhere. When you time your cadence to deliver power at key moments to gain momentum or sustain it, that’s what produces torque.
Like I hinted at with the car analogy, carefully using your cadence can reduce stress on your own human engine. Low cadence is generally more stressful on your muscles. High cadence tends to tax your cardiovascular system. So, by using Cadence Control strategically, you can maximize your body’s efficiency.
Have you ever tried to pedal at a high cadence and found yourself bouncing in the saddle? Believe it or not, that uncomfortable feeling wasn’t only because your muscles weren’t accustomed to spinning at 120 RPM. In fact, there are tons of connections between your mind and muscles, known as neuromuscular connections. Chances are, those lines of communication were old or broken because you rarely engage all of your different leg and core muscles to spin at such a rate of speed. We’ll now teach you to use high-cadence drills strategically to keep those neuromuscular connections active.
You’ll be glad you have those connections when you have to call on your legs to do a burst of speed. That’s when Cadence Control really shines. You need to gain momentum fast, so you switch into high cadence, high power mode to deliver as much circular force as possible to the pedals. Then, if you’ve mastered Cadence Control, you’ll shift into low cadence, and lower power to maintain that momentum with less exertion when the terrain or race dynamics allow.
One or the most fun ways to use Cadence Control in real life is to do what we call “surfing the terrain.” Simply by adjusting your cadence, you can smooth out a road that has repeated small hills. You change your cadence strategically to absorb the bumps in the elevation profile. When you roll over the crest of one of these small hills, you can quickly pick up momentum by applying a burst of high cadence. Then, you settle into a low cadence to sustain the momentum into the next little hill.
In that same way, you can smooth out the ups and downs of the pace in a peloton. It can be frustrating to always feel like you’re on the back foot as one rider after the next drops the hammer on the front of the group. And you can waste a lot of energy by closing gaps or responding to attacks. Fortunately, once you refine your Cadence Control, these situations become far less taxing. When you’re cruising in the draft, you use low cadence to maintain momentum, and whenever the pace picks up, you can hit the high cadence to close the gap. As you ease into the draft again, you move back to low cadence.
When you start to do training rides and workouts with the FORM Method, your cadence is just as important to monitor as your power. Every workout should have a specific objective with your cadence and sticking to that will help you become an expert at Cadence Control.
Cadence Control Foundation
In CINCH Cadence Control the following two concepts are the backbone of how we use cadence for performance.
1. Use High Cadence (90-100 RPM) with high power to gain momentum.
2. Use Lower Cadence (70-80 RPM) with lower power to maintain momentum.
Cadence Control Key Performance Uses
So let's take a look on how Cadence Control affects the following key performance components of cycling.
1. Power Delivery (Torque):
Power delivery is specifically how much of the actual power you generate translates into actual speed or momentum. Watts, simply put, do not directly result in performance. It is the cadence and timing of the cadence that influences the performance. Use the proper Cadence Control foundation concepts above when deciding when a how to deliver the optimal power delivery.
2. Muscular and Cardiovascular Stress:
In general low cadence is harder on your muscles than high cadence, and high cadence is harder on your cardiovascular system than low cadence. So what does this mean? You need to alternate between both of them following proper Cadence Control to use your body's engine to it's full capacity.
3. Neuromuscular Connections:
Cycling is a sport of repetition. We pedal over and over often in the same position and in similar cadences. The human body always takes the path of least resistance, and in the daily grind, this can be the mind cutting off contact to your unused, or even over-used muscles. We call this mind-muscle connection the “neuromuscular” connection. In order to re-connect these important connections (added performance and reduced risk of over-use injury) we use high cadence and Low Medium or Medium PowerTrain Zone Power. To control this, you must activate all the muscle groups in the legs, core, and upper body.
Creating and maintaining momentum is the golden goose of cycling performance. Cadence Control with proper Power Control is how you most effectively create the most momentum. Use high cadence and high power in terrain where you can gain momentum and then on terrain you can maintain that momentum use low cadence and low power to hold it with less effort.
5. Fuel Economy:
The different ends of the Cadence Control spectrum (high/low) have distinctly different effects on the fueling system For an example, high cadence is less economical fuel wise than lower cadence for the same power. Thus, it should be used sparingly in the right places at the right times with the majority of the ride moderate to low cadence to be the most economical with your fuel tank.
Acceleration is best done with high Cadence Control. The reason for this is you can gain MORE momentum out of the same power if you apply high cadence and the right gear selection than low cadence and the same power.
Deceleration, or using your pedaling to slow yourself down rather than you breaks is done by shifting to a harder gear, standing, and slowly decreasing the power and cadence. The upper body acts like a parachute while the harder gear, slowing cadence, and decreasing power works in harmony to gradually slow you down.
Why would you want to do this instead of use your breaks? Simple. As soon as you need to re-accelerate or you find the pace you want to go at, you do not have to use energy (and the higher zones that come with it) to get back up to speed.
8. Smoothing out the Terrain:
Smoothing out the terrain is perhaps one of the most badass things you will learn with CINCH with Cadence Control. We call it “Surfing the Terrain™,” but essentially this concept is using cadence changes to a lower cadence “absorb” bumps in the terrain such as hills, rough road, and headwind. Then you use a high cadence right after the “bump” to make a momentum run-way. Once back up to speed be sure to lower cadence and lower power.
9. Smoothing out the Peloton:
Ever get frustrated or feel like you are wasting energy in the peloton responding to all of the surges and gaps? Well CINCH is here to save you using Cadence Control! While in the draft use a mid range cadence (70-80rpm). Then when those obnoxious surges come, shift to a higher cadence or 100-110 rpm. See if just that change will start to close the gap and if not apply just a little bit of power and you will find yourself heading towards the wheel in front of you almost effortlessly. When you feel yourself moving towards the riders wheel in front of you, first shift to a few harder gears, then stand (use your upper body as a parachute), and ease off the power gradually. Choose one side of the rider in front of you and come up on them while a little next to them on that side. Sit back down and resume the mid-range cadence until you slide back into position.
Cadence Control in Your CINCH Workouts.
You are now up to speed on the what and why of CINCH cadence control, it’s time for you to see the how. In each of your workouts I will build you custom intervals that will teach, train, and execute all of the above uses of cadence. In each section of the interval I will write a specific cadence for you to control during effort. The cadence value and specific usage will change throughout the workout, but will always align with the 9 Cadence Control Key Performance Uses.
I would like to see you do your best to control the cadence (hold close to the target number) in all scenarios during the workout. Some scenarios you will find easier than others, but don’t worry about the challenge as I always design the workouts to test you just enough to get huge growth out of it.
Finally, your ability to control the cadence in different scenarios will not only enhance your current fitness, but it will also help me to see when you are ready to advance to another level.
Enjoy and embrace these new concepts such as Cadence Control will give you more speed and make you a much better rider than more watts!