11 Tips To Improve Cadence In Cycling

Do you want to up your cycling game and improve your performance? One of the keys to success is improving your cadence.

I’m James and I’ve been cycling for more than a decade. As a competitive cyclist, there are several workouts and drills I usually do to improve my cadence.

In this article, we’ll explore what cadence is, why it’s important for cyclists, and most importantly – how to improve it with effective drills and workouts.

So let’s get started!

What is Cadence?

Cadence refers to the rate at which you pedal your bike. It’s measured in revolutions per minute (rpm).

Essentially, it’s how many times your pedals spin around in each amount of time.

Finding the right cadence for you can make all the difference in your cycling efficiency and performance.

The ideal cadence varies depending on terrain and effort levels, but generally falls between 80-100 rpm for most serious cyclists.

Maintaining a consistent cadence helps reduce leg fatigue and supports your cardiovascular system by allowing oxygenated blood to circulate more efficiently throughout your body.

Workouts And Drills To Improve Cycling Cadence

To improve your cycling cadence, there are a variety of workouts and drills you can try.

Below, we’ll explore 11 exercises you can do today to step up your cadence.

1. Strength Endurance

The ability to maintain a high-power output at a steady cadence for an extended period of time is essential for cyclists who want to improve their overall performance.

To build strength endurance, workouts should consist of two reps of 15-minute blocks at 80 to 90 percent of FTP (Functional Threshold Power), with a cadence between 50 to 60 rpm.

It’s important to rest for at least 10 to 15 minutes between each block for full recovery.

The lower cadence and higher power create more torque, which over time will help you progress by nudging up the power while decreasing the cadence.

endurance cycling training

2. Fluidity and Coordination

You can enhance your cycling performance by focusing on fluidity and coordination, allowing you to become a smoother and more efficient rider.

Based on my experience, I would recommend a workout session of 4x (4 minutes at 120 rpm + 1 minute easy) for 15-20 minutes.

The goal of this workout is to maintain a consistent and fast cadence while allowing for adequate rest periods to prevent exhaustion.

To achieve this, ensure that your upper body remains still while pedaling. This will allow the power transfer to come from your waist down, increasing stability as well as reducing energy wastage.

fluidity and coordination cycling training

3. Sprint Cycling Cadence Drill

This drill is perfect for improving bursts of speed during races as well as building endurance.

Here’s how to do it:

  • Start by reducing the gear or resistance moderately while increasing your cadence to 100 to 120 rpm.
  • Perform this drill in 5 to 10 repetitions with 1 to 2 minutes of rest between reps.
  • You could also perform this drill without reducing the resistance, but increase breaks to about three minutes if you choose to do so.
  • Remember to perform this drill after a regular warm-up and upon settling into your ride.

By incorporating this drill into your training routine, you’ll be able to improve your ability to quickly accelerate and maintain high speeds during races.

sprint cycling cadence drill

4. Iron Man Cadence Drill

This drill is perfect for those who participate in long-distance events or triathlons and want to improve their running after a bike leg. (1)

To start, self-assess an adequate RPM based on the split time you’re aiming for. From there, gradually increase your cadence by 5 RPMs while ensuring the rate is comparable to your level of exertion.

While professionals often aim for an RPM scale of up to 90 as a general standard, don’t be afraid to experiment and find what works best for you if you notice improvement.

5. Road Racing Drill

This drill involves gradually increasing your cadence throughout your ride while maintaining a steady heart rate and power output.

By finding a steady state and determining your cadence using a measuring device or simply counting knee raises on a leg per minute, you can then continuously increase your rate by 5 to 10 rpm per minute.

road cycling drill

Repeat this interval throughout your ride, and before your cool-down. You may find it helpful to use a timer or set intervals on your cycling computer to ensure you are increasing your cadence at the appropriate rate.

To further develop your progress, you could try increasing the time spent at a higher cadence by 5 seconds or reducing the intensity interval by 5 seconds.

For example, you could set a regular cadence for one minute, followed by an increased cadence for another minute.

6. Power Starting

power starting drill

This exercise is perfect for reinforcing higher cadence pedaling mechanics. To start, roll into a near standstill at 2-3 mph in a big gear.

Be sure to focus on keeping your core stable and preventing your back from rounding. Then, accelerate as powerfully as possible without changing gears.

Continue this drill for 10 seconds or until the gear spins out, then take 5 minutes of crucial rest between Power Starts, completing 5-8 repetitions.

7. Seated High-Speed Sprints

This drill is effective for races preparation and feels like unleashing a stampede of wild horses.

To execute this drill, ensure that you’re in proper gear and posture. Start by sitting on your bike seat and finding a flat stretch of road or an indoor trainer. Shift into a gear that allows you to maintain high cadence (90-110 RPM) while seated.

Once you have picked up speed, gradually increase resistance until you reach maximum effort for 10-15 seconds, then recover for 30-60 seconds before starting again.

seated high speed drill

This exercise can be used during high-intensity interval training sessions (HIIT), or at the end of endurance rides when fatigue sets in but there’s still some gas left in the tank.

The benefit of this drill includes improving leg strength, developing neuromuscular coordination, increasing anaerobic capacity, and activating fast-twitch muscle fibers.

8. Fast Pedaling

Fast pedaling will help you develop a smoother pedal stroke and increase your overall speed on the bike.

To begin, select a gear that provides some resistance but not too much. The idea is to maintain a high cadence while ensuring that your legs don’t bounce up and down.

Start with three to five 1-minute efforts with 2 minutes of rest in between. As you progress, gradually increase the duration of the drills to 3 minutes with 5 minutes for recovery.

fast pedaling drill

Aim to keep the rate of perceived exertion (RPE) at about 5-6 on a scale of 10 and expect an increase in heart rate as you pick up speed.

The objective is not to pedal as fast as possible but rather to focus on proper technique and consistency.

9. Metronome Method

Are you tired of feeling like your cycling routine is lacking rhythm and accessibility? The Metronome Method can help.

You can develop a smoother pedal stroke and increase your overall speed on the bike with the use of free metronome apps and cool-down periods between switching cadences.

Here’s how to get started with the Metronome Method:

  • Start with a 10-minute warm up at a comfortable pace
  • Once warmed up, increase your cadence to five steps faster than your typical rate.
  • For example, if your average cadence is 80 RPM, set the metronome to 85 RPM.
  • Maintain a consistent rhythm for 3 to 4 minutes before cooling down at your typical cadence for 10 minutes
  • Repeat this process three to four times, gradually increasing your cadence each time.

10. Music Drills

Looking for a way to spice up your cycling workouts and make them more enjoyable? Why not try incorporating music drills into your routine?

By listening to uptempo tracks with specified beats per minute (BPM), you can improve your cadence and keep it consistent throughout the workout.

indoor cycling music drills

There are plenty of Spotify playlists available that offer a variety of genres, so you can find the one that best suits your taste.

However, it’s important to note that increasing cadence too quickly may result in injury, so be sure to prioritize warming up and cooling down.

11. Single-Leg Focus

Single-Leg Focus drills are incredibly beneficial for cyclists looking to improve their ability to apply power efficiently and utilize the entire pedal stroke.

By devoting 90 seconds entirely to one leg, you’re able to focus your attention on pulling your foot over the bottom, slightly lifting your knee upward, and then softly kicking your knee over the top.

Maintain a cadence of 80-100 rpm during these drills to optimize your effort while still holding your target cadence.

Make sure to also select the best gears for your effort level to avoid unnecessary strain on your muscles and joints.

To progress, start with three to five 1-minute Fast Pedal efforts separated by two minutes of moderate-cadence recovery.

As you become more comfortable with this type of training, gradually progress to longer efforts with longer recovery between them.

Why Is Cycling Cadence Important?

Knowing when to use a high or low cadence is crucial.

A high cadence of 90-100 RPM can be beneficial for endurance and efficiency on flat terrain or when climbing hills.

On the other hand, a low cadence of 60-70 RPM can be useful for increasing power and building strength during steep climbs or sprints.

Understanding how to adjust your cadence according to different riding conditions can help you improve your overall performance as a cyclist.

When To Use High Cadence In Cycling

Pedaling like a hummingbird’s wings, you’ll want to hit those high RPMs during sprints, attacks, accelerations, and any prolonged high-power efforts like time trials and solo breakaways.

High cadence shifts the stress of hard efforts more toward the aerobic system rather than skeletal muscles. This is important because it allows for greater endurance during these types of rides. (2)

Nail your endurance training to improve your body’s aerobic capacity so that you can pay this increased metabolic cost to maintain a high cadence for a longer time.

When To Use Low Cadence In Cycling

Sometimes it’s nice to take a break from pedaling like a maniac and switch to low-cadence cycling.

Low cadence can also be used in specific situations where efficiency and energy conservation are crucial.

For example, when accelerating from a stop or slow speed, using a low cadence allows you to generate more power with each pedal stroke, which helps get you up to speed quickly while expending less effort.

Additionally, maintaining a low cadence while drafting or riding in packs can help conserve energy by reducing the amount of wind resistance you encounter.

How Terrain Affects Cadence

Understanding how the terrain affects your pedaling is crucial to maintaining an efficient and sustainable cardiovascular load while cycling.

For example, when faced with a steep climb, shifting to a lower gear can help reduce the torque demand on your muscles and make it easier to maintain a steady cadence.

On the other hand, when cycling on flatter terrain, maintaining a higher cadence will put more stress on your cardiovascular system.

cyclists riding on hilly terrain

When climbing uphill, it’s important to shift into an appropriate gear that allows you to maintain a steady cadence without putting too much strain on your muscles.

Similarly, when cycling downhill or on flat roads, keeping up a high cadence can help increase your speed while reducing muscular stress.

By understanding how terrain affects cadence and using gears like oval chainrings to manipulate load efficiently, you can improve your overall performance as a cyclist.

Measuring Cadence

One basic technique involves manually counting how many times the right knee comes up in a minute. However, this method can be inaccurate and distracting while riding.

A more accurate option is using advanced techniques such as a bike computer that includes a cadence sensor or a smart trainer that provides real-time data during workouts.

Electronic cadence sensors such as Wahoo’s RPM Cadence sensor attach to the bike chainstay or crank arm, as well as power meters that measure cadence and send data to a computer, are also available.

What’s A Good Cycling Cadence?

Generally, a cadence range of 80-100 rpm is seen as an ideal cadence among professional cyclists and experienced riders. (3)

However, there is no one-size-fits-all answer, as every cyclist has different physical abilities and training goals.

Pro cyclists usually have a cadence of around 75 – 95 rpm when maintaining a consistent speed on flat terrain, hills, and extended climbs.

On the other hand, casual riders typically pedal at 65 – 85 rpm due to an underdeveloped aerobic system and less efficient technique.

For most people, the optimal cadence usually falls between 80 – 85 rpm range.

However, this may not apply to all cyclists, especially novices who may experience leg fatigue or struggle with muscular endurance.

Benefits Of Training At Different Cadences

Training at different cadences offers a range of advantages, allowing you to optimize your cycling economy and mechanical efficiency.

By varying your cadence, you can challenge your muscles in different ways and improve the neuromuscular adaptations that lead to greater power output.

For example, training at a higher cadence can help you develop a more efficient pedal stroke by reducing dead spots and minimizing energy losses.

On the other hand, training at a lower cadence can increase your muscular endurance and resistance to fatigue.

road cyclists riding during a competition

Moreover, improving your cadence can result in metabolic adaptations that enable you to utilize fuel more efficiently for mechanical work.

Specifically, when you train at higher cadences, you activate fast-twitch muscle fibers that rely on glycogen as their primary fuel source.

As a result, these fibers become better adapted to using carbohydrates for energy during intense efforts.

Conversely, when you train at lower cadences, you engage slow-twitch muscle fibers that burn fat as their main energy source.

Therefore, incorporating different types of cadence workouts into your training program will not only enhance your performance but also make it easier for your body to switch between fuels depending on the demands of the ride or race.

Bottom Line

Cadence is important as it affects your efficiency, muscle usage, and overall performance.

By following the tips in this article, such as practicing with a metronome, focusing on pedal stroke efficiency, and gradually increasing your cadence, you can improve your cycling cadence and become a stronger cyclist.

But don’t be discouraged if you struggle with maintaining a certain cadence. It’s all about finding what works best for you and adjusting accordingly.

With determination and practice, you’ll soon be spinning those pedals like a pro!

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