Cadence issue - spin to lose? Or win?

Wondering if a coach could give me a thought here: I’m a broken runner who’s been on Sufferfest since starting cycling just over two years ago. Destroyed my knees running and have taken on the lycra.

My question relates to cadence: I spin like a hamster in a wheel. It’s unintentional. I don’t even think about it. But as I ride around outside with my club, not a ride goes by without a comment: “can’t get over how fast you’re spinning” - “you’d be better to slow those legs down” etc etc

Anyway, on my most recent ride where I spun my way up hills happily and struggled to hang on with the group on the flats (as usual), one of my group said my cadence is too high. I average about 95 rpm on a four hour ride and go up to 140 on occasion (hills usually). He said that I would be a stronger rider and have more energy at the back end of a ride if I could maintain power and slow my legs down. High torque sessions are needed.

So I’m wondering whether he has a valid point as it’s obvious now even to me that I’m spinning substantially faster than anyone I ride with. Should I do some work to slow my legs down and increase the pressure on the pedals and how do I do that without killing my knees further? Is there a SYSTM training plan that would help with this. Thanks in advance.

As an aside, I think I ran at a relatively normal cadence but was known for a very fast and long sprint at the end of races. So I guess my legs just go quickly…

I wouldn’t say an average 95 is too high. I don’t even know if there is such a thing as “too high”. We tend to self select the most efficient cadence, which depends on our own physiology and training. A higher cadence puts more emphasis on your cardiovascular system and a lower cadence on your muscular system. In general a higher cadence would be preferable as your cardio system should tire slower than your muscles. I imagine your history as a runner means your cardio system is good, so you naturally lean towards a high cadence. Sounds like more of your issue is power on the flat. I’d guess you are quite light so get up hills well but struggle with absolute watts (or watts/CdA) for speed on the flat, so I’d may be look at training for that rather than worry about slowing your cadence down.

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Sadly I’m not light. 80kg. Down as a sprinter on SYSTM/SUF. FTP of 221. MAP 281. AC 361 and NM 908. Obviously I’m not a sprinter really but I can put out a bit of power when I need it by spinning very quickly.

You are right that I need more power on the flat. Not sure how to train for that.

In the Real Science of Sport podcast, they discuss this issue from minute 45 to minute 56:30. It is a good summary of the physics and physiology of what is going on. In a nutshell you have to find the point where you are most efficient between muscular and cardiovascular efforts for a given effort (hill climbing, riding well below FTP, etc.).

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@Hawk - as @TTDragon points out, 95 is not too, and self selection on cadence is typical. I think the issue here is your sustained power. Clearly if you can hit 908w you have no problem with torque, but I think your FTP and MAP numbers could bump up at bit.

I would start off with the following path in the SYSTM Training Plans:

  1. Cycling > General Fitness > All Purpose - this will get you in the groove of the Wahoo SYSTM training paradigm and ends with Full Frontal, and let’s see if we get some gains on FTP and MAP
  2. Cycling General Fitness > Building Blocks > MAP
  3. Cycling > Event Prep > Road > Time Trial
  4. Cycling General Fitness > Building Blocks > FTP
  5. Cycling > Event Prep > Road > Criterium

That should keep you busy for a while and over the course of completing those plans I betcha your FTP and MAP numbers go up and you no longer get dropped on the flats.

I would also always recommend doing Wahoo SYSTM strength. Start with Level 1 and progress from there. Wahoo SYSTM Strength can be done at home, most workouts are 15 - 20 mins, twice a week, and they make a big difference! Always, always, always, add SYSTM Strength to your plans.

Good luck, and keep us in the loop as you progress!

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No offense intended but yeah, this is 44 weeks of training. I would bet almost everyone would see an increase in FTP and MAP after almost a year of training. :astonished:

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Thanks Coach Corey. Yes, as Critmark observes, that’s a long period of training. But I’ve been doing Suf/Sys since I started cycling (actually before I started outdoor cycling…) a couple of years ago, so I’m used to regular programmes. However, I am guilty of always choosing climbing focussed ones (Volcano and Hill Gran Fondo) due to what I thought was a weakness in climbing - only to realise that I’m actually quite good at that but just spin to the point where everyone feels the need to comment. So I think it’s very helpful to have my next year mapped out for me. I’ll give it a go!

Are you running out of gears on the flat? Just curious. I am the opposite of you and a grinder. And I gradually got out of that habit by (on the flat) switching to one gear easier than the one I was comfortable in.

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Would doing Big Gear Varying Cadence type of workouts not help with building muscular endurance and get you out of the habit of spinning? Forcing you to follow the workout in a low gear and going slowly.

A thought, not a directive.

No Dame Lisa - I’m not running out of gears. Running the standard SRAM 46/33 and 10-33 cassette. But I can see the merit of perhaps trying to use a harder gear on everything. The issue I have is whatever I try I end up spinning faster than the recommended cadence - unless I focus exclusively on cadence which is not easy for long workouts

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Which ones are you thinking of Sir Dan?

Those are quite small chain rings really. I run a compact 50-34 up front, but you have a 10 rear which is smaller than my 11. Gravel or cyclocross gearing by any chance? My buddy does road group rides with us on his cyclocross and his cadence is mega high too but on his road bike with the harder gearing it comes down.

I don’t think the high cadence is a bad thing. You’re obviously keeping up. If you do strength work and some low cadence sessions like GOAT I suspect you’ll end up able to push higher power at your usual cadence on the flat and drop everyone. Have you thought about riding track?

No that’s a road setup - Sram’s standard one.

The ratio for 46 front 10 back is 4.60 which is slightly harder than your 50 - 11 set up which gives 4.55.

Sram’s just a little different to Shimano. But the ratios are pretty much the same.

I am going to try cyclocross though but not with my normal bike!

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Yep that makes sense now. Mine is a Shimano full compact tho. Loads here ride a half compact which is a 52-36 up front with the same cassette.

As others have said, 95 is not overly high and wouldn’t be the the cause of a perceived lack of power and, if anything, the higher cadence should result in less muscular fatigue than pushing a bigger gear on longer rides.

I am slightly heavier than you at 87kg and my average cadence is also around 95rpm. Prior to starting with SUF, 17 months ago, I used to attend a lot of spin classes which resulted in my comfort with high cadences, and similarly to you, I received a few comments about my cadence when I joined the local club.

Since starting with SUF my ftp has increased by 20% and now sits at 320w, but despite following the cadence targets of 80 - 90rpm set in many of the workouts, my natural cadence outside still feels most comfortable around 95rpm.

A few examples of my recent rides, where I have been pressing on shows that my highest power was also my highest cadence, albeit it was only a half hour effort.
65mile sportive; 2hrs 58min; 272w; 97rpm
10.5mile TT; 29mins; 323w; 103rpm
52mile hilly sportive; 2hrs 55mins; 285w; 95rpm
136mile endurance ride; 8hrs; 226w; 93rpm

In my experience the inclusion of longer 5+ hour endurance rides combined with a mix of focused sustained effort and map intervals goes a long way to increasing ftp and muscular endurance and helps me maintain consistent power on 3 - 4hr rides.

Yep, that’s me… 52/36 with 11/28 cassette. In the old days 53/39 or 52/42 with an 11/21 8 0r 9 speed cassette was the norm!!

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Hi @WahooCoach_Corey - Just setting up my year and there’s no programme called FTP in building blocks. There’s one called Threshold and one called Tempo. I suspect you mean Threshold but could you just confirm if that’s right please? Many thanks in advance

Diolch @Dafydd - I’m going to give the 4 chunks of training a go to see if I can up my FTP and flat power. Tried a slow ride last yesterday - I chose Long Scream. And I just couldn’t get down to 90 RPM. The only way I could keep the power up was to get back to my normal spinning. My standing at one point due to a numb backside, I managed to get cadence down to 94 average for the session with a max of 106 (quite slow for me tbh). Anyway, Tour of Cambridgeshire coming up so that’ll be a good test.

Not sure the gears are my issue though thanks. More likely to just be the user.

I’m not sure I understand. When you reduced your cadence, what happened? Did you go into a death spiral of decreasing cadence and higher torque until you just couldn’t turn the pedals anymore—or were you just uncomfortable? If you were just uncomfortable, you need to learn to stay uncomfortable for longer. It will pay dividends.

I might suggest starting with truly low cadence workouts like Power Station or GOAT to teach your body to spin slower in a more manageable way than Long Scream.