How to Develop a Faster Cadence, Part 3: More Drills, Seven Profiles, and One Workshop to Help You Improve Cadence

In part 2 of our series on developing a faster cadence, we covered four considerations that should be addressed before attempting to pedal more quickly. 

We also discussed ways to improve riders’ focus through visualization and mind-body exercises. That is because leg-speed drills need to be done on a very conscious level in order to ingrain the movement into your muscular patterns. (I always hesitate to use the term “muscle memory” because it’s not really even a “thing.” However, if that helps you understand this concept better, so be it.)

What is happening is that repeated patterns create adaptations in the muscles. This occurs both on a metabolic level where muscle fiber usage is impacted (please see the profile Betwitched, see link at the end of this post), as well as a neuromuscular level. These beneficial adaptations are aided by being set up on the bike properly, pedaling with less tension in the body, and concentrated focus.

Now let’s look at different drills to improve cadence. We will start with foundational drills to help improve your pedal stroke—it’s tough to improve cadence if you’re not turning the pedals in a biomechanically sound way! We will then get into cadence ladders, spin-ups, and accelerations. Finally, there are links to seven different ICA profiles that specifically focus on these drills and one virtual workshop that will showcase how to coach the concept of cadence improvement and the effect of higher cadence on intensity to your riders.  


Seven ICA profiles and one online workshop (plus ride) that will help you on this topic:

Surges and Accelerations This high-intensity profile is very engaging and will keep your riders focused and challenged. It has always been a massive success with my classes. The ride begins with a cadence ladder, gradually moving from 80 to 100 rpm in a smooth and continuous manner and then going back down. You repeat the ladders, accelerating more quickly through this range of cadences each time. By doing this drill first, you lay the technical groundwork for the much quicker accelerations and intensity surges to come. 

Spin-Ups and Accelerations  (NOTE: this was the first edition of the “Surges and Accelerations” profile above; this one was created the very first year of ICA in 2011, one that I had been already using for many years at the time. I’m including it here so you can see the evolution of ICA educational profiles, as well as possibly pick up some other ideas, as I changed a few things in the newer edition, but the older version is still applicable and you may prefer some of the original songs.) A “spin-up” is a cycling term for a training technique used by cyclists to develop a quick, smooth acceleration and improve leg speed. This profile is the perfect follow-up to our Cadence Ladder profile, as it builds on the skills developed there while adding the specific technique of accelerations. You will do both seated and standing spin-ups in this profile, so expect to work hard!

A Cadence Ladder: 80–100 RPM  This profile will help your students develop pedaling skills and increase their comfortable range of cadences. It is an ascending ladder from 80 to 100 rpm. You can also take the techniques outlined in this profile and use them as shorter drills in other classes. (NOTE: As of this writing, this profile is in line to be updated, similar to the Surges and Accelerations profile above. I’ve taught variations of this over the years; it’s time to pull out the best of the best and give it back to ICA Members!) 

Betwitched This high-intensity profile is an exploration of slow-twitch and fast-twitch muscle fibers. Sometimes discussing physiology with students can get a little dry or go over their heads. Not this time!

Slow Twitch vs Fast Twitch Intervals The premise of this profile is to compare and contrast high-end steady state aerobic efforts with high-intensity anaerobic intervals. Both have benefits and should be part of every athlete’s training regimen.

Progressive High Cadence Tempo Intervals A highly effective training ride that targets the aerobic system while also working on leg speed and efficiency.

Cause and Effect An educational profile designed to help students discover the important relationship between cadence and resistance and the impact it has on their heart rate, perceived exertion, muscular strain, and breathing. This class may prove to be a breakthrough of understanding for some of your students, especially those who tend to ride with too little or even too much resistance. It will help them learn to connect better with their own pedaling, and realize how important good pedaling technique is on their output.

Cause and Effect Workshop and Master Class ICA members can now watch a 1-hour virtual workshop called Cause and Effect that also includes a virtual ride using the above profile. This workshop is targeted at those who do not teach with power. However, if you do teach with power, it will heighten your awareness on how to dial in resistance and coach intensity without always talking about numbers. This workshop and the accompanying ride includes:

  • Why do we have cadence ranges? When is cadence too high or too low?
  • Understand the relationship between cadence and resistance and their effect on intensity through the theoretical equation C X R = I (cadence X resistance = intensity).
  • Learn the best way to teach how to add resistance.
  • Explore how to use perceived exertion to guide students to increase resistance at various cadences or increase cadence against a given load.
  • Learn creative ways to cue resistance.
  • How to use the tempo (BPM, or beats per minute) of the music to guide your cadence.

Additional ICA articles on leg speed: Prepping for a Reset: Developing Leg Speed  


Other articles in this series: 

How to Develop a Faster Cadence, Part 1: Why Cadence Matters
How to Develop a Faster Cadence, Part 2: Four Considerations for Training Leg Speed
How to Develop a Faster Cadence, Part 4: Three Video Tips for Quicker Pedaling

4 Responses to “How to Develop a Faster Cadence, Part 3: More Drills, Seven Profiles, and One Workshop to Help You Improve Cadence”

  1. MeghanMoore says:

    Thank you for this series on how to develop faster cadence! I have been using it in one of my more focused classes for the last several weeks and used the cause and effect ride this past Saturday. I found it a very challenging ride as I also need to improve higher cadence work. It may not be difficult to reach higher cadences (95 or better) but it was difficult for my class and myself to maintain with adequate resistance and challenge for efforts >1 min. We now have some areas to work! Thanks for the great ideas for coaching and drills to really dial in the technique. I have found it very effective to use the face of a clock drill during recovery with eyes closed to really focus on the mind-body connection and visualization. Then I like playing “find the time” as a good association/dissociation during sustained, challenging efforts.

    • You are so welcome Meghan! I’m so glad the drills and profile have helped. I love how you use the “find the time” drill as a way to highlight association and dissociation. Great idea!

  2. LisaDahl says:

    Thanks for this focus. It is something I need to work on doing more in my classes! Question – many people in my classes can’t hit as high of cadences standing as they can seated, even with a touch more resistance. Most top out in the low 80’s. I was reading the Cadence Ladder profile and see where it goes to standing at higher cadences. There are some coaching cues on the playlist for standing but it would be great if you could address coaching higher speed while standing in particular in your series! Thanks!

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