No evidence for benefit of low cadence work - why shoehorn it in?

Several recent meta studies have shown that there is no physiological benefit to low cadence or imposed cadence work on a bike.

You yourselves have admitted that strength gains are done off the bike - with your own strength plan.

Why do you keep forcing low cadence work into all of your videos when the risks to injury are so much greater than without? Is it just because it 'feels' harder so people 'feel' like the workout is more beneficial and so keep training?

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  • Official comment

    Hi Joseph,

    Thanks for your question. I pinged our coaches to get some input for you.

    1.  We haven't seen these studies but if you can link to them we will surely give it a look.  It isn't uncommon to use low cadence when climbing though.  There are many instances of riding in the real world where people ride for sustained periods at 50-60 RPM (30-90 minutes during long climbs). 

    2.  I'm not sure where the risk of injury comes into play.  Bike fit and setup are very important and if you or anyone else is prone to anterior knee pain or if doing low cadence work causes any pain, then, of course, you should avoid it.  There are a few workouts that contain low cadence but a majority don't.  We have these in place to properly prepare people for riding at a low cadence when outside.

    3. Effective training occurs at a variety of power outputs and at a variety of cadences. We tweak these components in workouts to create appropriate training stresses in some cases placing more load on the cardiovascular system for a given power by increasing cadence targets, as well as including lower cadence targets that shift to a great muscular load and force production at the lower cadence. We have predominantly what we would consider higher cadence work, though we feel that it is necessary to include variations to properly prepare our athletes to be able to perform in the real world.

     

    I hope that this helps a bit!  Happy Suffering!!

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  • My personal experience is that it is inevitable they you will cycle up a hill that is too steep & run out of gears, so you end up grinding. The pros may have all the cassette sizes, derailleur lengths & chainring sizes, but I sure don’t. I have a flat and and bumpy cassette. 

    Having neglected low cadence I found my power was markedly lower at the cadences I had. I’m glad they have videos with both low and high targets, as it helps maintain range, which is something I’ve not seen tested. 

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  • Hi Cody

    Thanks for getting back to me.

    The meta-study is linked here;
    https://www.researchgate.net/publication/312511608_Effects_of_Cycling_Training_at_Imposed_Low_Cadences_-_A_Systematic_Review

    Or for a simpler summary;
    https://www.cyclingweekly.com/fitness/why-amateurs-shouldnt-try-to-pedal-like-chris-froome-191779

    50-60rpm for 30 plus minutes? I can't imagine a single hill that could require anything like that - even the angliru or the zoncolan - the 12+ percent sections are only 4-5km long and most professional riders will be on an 11-30 for those stages?

    J

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  • Apologies - as to pain, it's simply that maximal force production is higher at lower cadences - this exaggerates any problems in pedalling - so it's generally safer for a population whose experience and ability to either professionally cleat fit or bike fit or predilection to pay for a fit might be mixed?

    Perhaps I'm mostly selecting the wrong videos as well! A string of low cadence vids have popped out - power stn, defender, 14 vice grips etc recently.

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  • Which video has “30 plus minutes” low cadence intervals? 

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  • Eerke it was in reply to Cody stating that there were regular occasions you would need to spin 50rpm for 30mins outdoors.

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  • Thanks Joseph, gotcha now. I thought I’d forgotten about a video,

    i think it comes down to the quickest way people can summit. I can only speak for myself as I haven’t seen research, but I’m sure, for me, the quickest way is to maintain most of the power on the easy bits & after I’ve settled in to a low cadence I find it difficult to then spin at a similar power. I prefer to just maintain the slog, so what I end up doing is changing gear. I’ve seen too many people take it easy (spinning quickly) for the easy bits & this is where I zoom past them. Same once you’ve crested; you need to maintain the power to accelerate to speed. I do let the cadence drift up a bit (~65rpm), but still a lot lower than my usual 93-94. 

    For example, I’ve climbed Zoncolan virtually several times. I settle into a low cadence in the first hard bit & then just maintain it. Still not broken the hour yet though; maybe I should practice increasing cadence whilst maintaining the power more. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were loads of people like me though; just settle into a cadence & then zone out till after then end. 

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  • "50-60rpm for 30 plus minutes? I can't imagine a single hill that could require anything like that - even the angliru or the zoncolan - the 12+ percent sections are only 4-5km long and most professional riders will be on an 11-30 for those stages?"

    But most of us are NOT professional riders. I rode (the real) Alpe d'Huez this summer - overtook 49 people on the way up and was overtaken once. I'm not claiming to be very fast but I'm certainly not the slowest old fella around on two wheels. It still took me a couple of minutes over an hour to do the climb. I did a further climb that week that was 2.5x the amount of ascent.

    Whilst at times my cadence would have been in the 70-80 range, I think the vast majority of it was below that. I do think that low cadence riding has real-world specificity about it, although on Sufferfest I don't think you ever get to do more than a few minutes of high power/low cadence at a time. It feels like your point is misdirected.

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  • Joseph I wonder how much of the article you read:

    "Practical applications 
    With respect to practical applications, it is first and foremost worth noting that training at a large range of cadences, from very low to very high, probably will be beneficial for performance in competitive cycling."

    Their own statement, but oddly in the next paragraph they claim there's no evidence for benefit from low cadence training, which basically just seems to mean all the studies had some issues and gave varying results.  

    But some other quotes:

    "The authors observed a larger upregulation of the anabolic hormone testosterone after low cadence sessions compared with the high cadence sessions."

    For some people that's reason enough alone.

    "Despite the seemingly better adaptations in the high cadence  group on efficiency, the low cadence group achieved a greater improvement of average power output during a 15-min all-out trial as compared to the high cadence group (16% vs 8%, 176 respectively)."

    "The study revealed larger improvements in time trials performed in  the terrain in which the interval-training sessions were performed. Interestingly, only the low  cadence group increased time trial performance in both flat and uphill terrain"

    "It might be speculated that there are some slight effects of the low cadence training that are only detectable when the cyclists are becoming quite fatigued as compared to standard indicators of performance being tested in a more unfatigued condition."

    And I could go on.  It's all quite complicated because it depends on many different factors.  I've been less than impressed with the applicability of most studies I've read on it.  The way you find out what works well for cycling events is to do cycling events, not VO2 tests.

    There's also the issue of training that you can actually maintain.  In my opinion low cadence work is just less mentally stressful, and working some in changes things up and makes it easier to keep to a program.  I also don't believe it's so risky.  The way you avoid injury is by getting tougher gradually in a controlled environment.  A turbo trainer is a great place for that. 

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  • Very nice topic, and something I am interested in, since I kind of fall out the wagon.

     

    I had been thinking about asking this, so please help me figure it out.

    To me, it is the "high" cadence stuff at power that stresses me out, and gives a much higher sensation of fatigue.

     

    The low cadence work (Power-station for example) feels much much easier to me.

    Regarding risk, I have wonky knees, and as long as I do not exceed my FTP by very much, >50rpms is ok. Just need to keep the core engaged to be stable, and no knee problems.

    I have to agree with Cody on the 30 minutes stuff, as I have performed climbs in Granfondos that took around that time in 50-60 rpm with the gearing (and weight) I have.

     

    So, what am I doing wrong ? Or better put, what can I do/work on to improve ? 

    Low cadence feels fine, I can even put out more power for longer at lower cadences (say ~70 rpm).

    The cadence itself is not an issue. High cadence is also fine for me, 120rpm 140rpm, but, with LOW power.

     

    My issue is that pedaling at threshold power @ 90rpms kills me. Both mentally and Physically. My legs feel like bricks, and cadence drops.

     

    From the information that is around there, you should get more efficient and have less fatigue at threshold at higher cadences, >90, >100 rpm, so why for me it is the other way around ?

    Is it because I am a "sprinter" ? Or do I simply suck at pedaling ?

     

     

     

     

     

     

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