High cadence in Spinning® is hard stuff!

By Jennifer Sage On September 8, 2011 Under Cadence, Form and Technique

Spinning musicThose of you who have been following me for awhile have heard me preach about the benefits and challenges of legitimate high cadence work, and the ineffectiveness of non-legitimate high cadence work in your Spinning® and Indoor Cycling classes.

This morning I taught a ladder class of high cadence intervals. We maxed out at a “high” of 108rpm, and ouch, that hurt!

Let me explain what I mean by legitimate high cadence….

When you work at cadences from 90-110rpm, with the proper resistance, it is one of the most challenging things you can do in an indoor cycling class, both in terms of technique and cardiovascular challenge. Proper resistance is the key concept there. The ride I did this morning was based on the beat of the songs, which were 85, 88, 90, 94, 97, 100 and the final song, at 108 rpm. Within each song the intervals were about 2 minutes of work and 1-1.5 minutes of rest, with some longer periods of rest here and there. By the time it got to the end of that work effort, I was (and my students were) begging for it to end! It took us to breathless, it stung the leg muscles, and it took a mental commitment to not quit early.

Oh, but what a great workout! My legs will be talking to me all day.

Above, I mentioned “non-legitimate high cadence work” – what do I mean by that? Letting the flywheel do the work, not connecting with the drive train correctly, bouncing around in the saddle, and basically, riding with a resistance that is too low. Heart rate might stil be elevated, because that’s what happens when your legs turn quickly, but the real challenge is when you combine that speed work with a proper amount of resistance. It is only when you employ the proper resistance that you will benefit from the training adaptations and teach the legs to turn the pedals more quickly.

But I bet that given a chance, many of your students will resort to letting the flywheel do the work, unless you provide them with the reasons and the positive motivational coaching to do it correctly.

Last week I taught a super hard strength ride, Stage 15 of the Vuelta a Espana. We simulated one of the steepest climbs in Europe – a 23.5% grade, and on that steep segment, our cadence dropped to the low 50’s rpm. Yes, that was very hard…and yes, I felt my legs all day. But it was nowhere near as technically or physically challenging as today’s higher cadence intervals. It’s possible I feel that way because living in the mountains as I do, I am just better and more accustomed to climbing, and riding at cadences below 80rpm. But even my non-cyclists who don’t climb those steep mountains around here are far more challenged by the higher cadence work. It’s just harder to do.

One of the Audio Master Classes on ICA (for members) is a profile called Cause and Effect, which teaches students about the causes and effect of various resistance-cadence combinations and about effective high cadence riding and how challenging it really is. The Audio Master Class teaches you, the instructor, how to coach faster cadences and how to instill this realization in your students. That’s the challenging thing.

My profile this morning capitalized on the knowledge of Cause and Effect. And while my regular students know how important the high cadence work is, I know that some of my students do not like this kind of challenge as much as they like the steep climbs of last week. Oh, they enjoy the workout and enjoy the music, but today’s profile makes them think and it makes them work harder! And you know as well as I do, that people like to do what they are already good at, and don’t always like to do what challenges them.

Hence….a fantastic reason to teach a high cadence profile such as this, or such as Cause and Effect! That’s why they pay us to do what we do – to challenge them and to help them get better at things they might not like to do.

Today’s profile will become an Audio Master Class this autumn, and of course will include the great playlist I used, but I will tell you what my last song was. I used the classic instrumental Jessica, by The Allman Brothers. It is 216bpm for a cadence of 108 rpm. For this song I did 1 minute intervals at 108rpm, with a 45sec to 1 min easy recovery (any cadence they want), alternating for the duration of the song. Hard, hard, hard! But it’s one of those songs that you can close your eyes and totally get lost in the song, and focus on the leg speed work.

How about your students? What do they think of high-cadence work?

9 Comments Add yours

  1. Pascal
    September 8, 2011
    7:35 pm #comment-1

    Yes high cadence are hard when done right. I am not sure you have watched last week the 15st Stage … most of them had really high cadence, really high … not bellow 80 but above really above.
    That is question me about using the words like hill or flat, I still use it but I prefer more or less power.
    This specific stage from what I have seen was not a good exemple about using low cadence when you climb. It was not usual of cause …

  2. AC
    September 8, 2011
    9:25 pm #comment-2

    Nice blog. I actually think it is easier to get participants to add power going at a faster rate than to add going at 70rpm or slower in a simulated climb. I maintain cadence @ 90 to 100 rpm, slowing legs to 80 rpm for active recovery, adding resistance when going slower, then accelerate with the added load to increase the effort put out.

  3. Jennifer Sage
    September 8, 2011
    10:27 pm #comment-3

    I did watch the stage but I taught it prior to seeing it. And yes, many did pedal fast uphill, but that’s because they used very low gearing. Cobo had a 34/32! Those riders can spin uphill at high rpm with that kind of gearing, even a 20+% grade! But if you watch the video I posted a few posts ago, there were some who pedaled quite slow at times when it got steep (including Wiggins). Both he and Froome got dropped and had to struggle with their cadence, perhaps even dropping to 30-40rpm for a couple pedal strokes before getting back into a rhythm. I don’t think they had the 34/32!

    But our students don’t know all that and most won’t understand much talk about gearing. To them a steep hill is hard, and that means more resistance, and that usually means their legs slow down. There is no “granny gear” inside, no equivalent to a 34/32! If I had my students put on enough resistance to simulate a very steep hill, AND pedal at 90rpm, they would have been blown away (or hurt their knees). Indoor bike resistance knobs simulate harder gears OR a steeper grade, but they cannot simulate the exact same experience as being able to use a low gear on a steep hill – unless you take away that resistance….and that just takes away the hill. See what I mean? It’s just one of the things that riding indoors cannot simulate.

    I understand what you are saying about not wanting to use “hill” or “flat” because of its limitations. When we say a hill is 60-80 rpm and a flat is 80-90 rpm it is too black and white. Can you ride a flat slower than 80rpm? Absolutely! Just ride a big gear into a headwind, or lower your intensity and power. Can you ride a hill faster than 80rpm? Sure can – just have lower gears and powerful legs and lungs! I love high cadence climbs.

    However, for our students, that visual of the road being flat or at some sort of slant is very helpful for them. My suggestion is don’t take away that visual from them by not using the word hills or flat (especially the non-cyclists among them). If you want to do high cadence climbs (like I did in one of my audio Profiles on ICI and will soon be offering on ICA) then simply use really good verbal cueing along with that visual of going uphill. Same for a flat road that might be slower than 80rpm.

    This is one of the reasons why I don’t like the stated cadence ranges! I almost always say “ish” afterward, like 80-ish rpm.

  4. Jennifer Sage
    September 8, 2011
    10:44 pm #comment-4

    AC, that’s a great way to do it. You have power meters too, so they can really see the results of their effort!

  5. Pascal
    September 9, 2011
    5:40 pm #comment-5

    Thanks nice reply Jennifer you we can always learn or find ideas reading you.
    I teach a classe this morning, Friday is hills work. It could be describe as 3 hills block.
    But in the first one after teaching it I saw one big benefice if I could have use powermeter (and I am not a fan of power meter). The first climb had in it 9 “surge” or little pic or intensity without being too hight, but I asked them to keep something more than decent in between … and that was not easy … I saw some who was unloaded or slowing too much so they did some interval with high range of level althrough I did not asked it (It is certainly easy like that than what I really asked). With a power meter I would have the number to help people not dropping theyr power in between those “surge”.

    • Jennifer Sage
      September 9, 2011
      7:06 pm #comment-6

      Thanks Pascal, look forward to having you as a member of ICA one of these days! You would love the current series on visualizations and imagery – for all different kinds of classes! 😉

      Yes, that is a perfect example of where having a power meter would really “prove” to riders how their output can change so quickly, and keep them on the track that you set in class.

  6. Marsha
    September 13, 2011
    10:37 pm #comment-7

    During the TDF, I taught a class called In Sprinters’ Shoes. It was fun, but the entire class of high cadence work was dismal. Clearly, we needed to work on this. So, I set a challenge and the class voted to accept: An entire hour of 90rpm plus with good, effective resistance and great form in one year. No feet slowing down to 70rpm and no one who can’t use enough resistance to raise their intensity to LT. I love setting challenges because improvement is hard to quantify indoors without power meters. We’re working on it and I will definitely use your interval profile. Thanks!

  7. Jennifer Sage
    September 13, 2011
    10:54 pm #comment-8

    Awesome challenge Marsha! Let me know how it goes. I might take your idea and ask my class to take on the challenge. High cadence is their biggest challenge as well (most of them). Only, I can’t do 90-minutes – I have a 6am class and most leave at 7 to go to work or get kids to school. But even 60 minutes at 90rpm is a huge challenge!

  8. Barry
    February 27, 2014
    6:35 am #comment-9

    I fully agree with this, most participants can not pedal at high cadences for long and is maybe the reason some instructors encourage slower speeds because they can not cope either. As a cyclist (Road) I prefer the higher cadence for
    1. CV benefits
    2. It is kinder to my ageing knees
    3. It offsets fatigue
    I did read somewhere that the human brain is conditioned to pedal at around 60 rpm as this is similar to walking at 120 steps per minute so it would explain why non cycling participants find it difficult to spin faster, however this is what we should be encouraging them to do with the correct resistance to make them work out of there comfort zone

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