Cycling is one of the best aerobic exercises. And when it comes to establishing an effective indoor cycling routine, there are certain metrics you can monitor to improve your performance and get the best results. One of the most important metrics is cadence.
What is cadence in cycling and why can it make all the difference in helping you achieve your fitness goals?
To find out, read on.
What is Cadence and Why is it Important?
Cadence is the speed at which you turn the pedals of your bike. It’s measured in revolutions per minute (rpm) with sensors. Peloton Bikes are equipped with a power meter that measures your cadence automatically. Your cadence increases proportionally with your speed, so the faster you pedal, the higher your cadence.
Naturally, cycling cadence varies from rider to rider, depending on their strength and stamina, and in different situations. However, finding the perfect cycling speed for you is important for several reasons:
Your cadence directly impacts how efficient your pedaling is—you’ll be able to cycle more powerfully with a smooth cadence.
Improving your cadence not only leads to efficiency, but also places less strain on your muscles with each pedal stroke.
By being able to cycle at a higher cadence, you will fatigue more slowly and be able to ride longer and harder.
Of course, enhancing your cadence takes time and training. But by improving your cadence, you’ll be able to maintain a consistent speed, which will help you become a better rider.
Beginner vs. Advanced Cycling Cadence
Whereas beginner cyclists tend to pedal slowly, at around 60-85 rpm, more experienced cyclists usually average between 75-95 rpm, and professional cyclists are able to sustain over 100 rpm during attacks or more than 110 rpm during sprints.
Typically, cycling at a lower cadence places more strain on your muscles, while a higher cadence shifts the load to your cardiovascular system. That being the case, if you are new to cycling, you should start with a cadence in the 50-60 rpm range or a pedal stroke that feels like a walking motion. Focus on moving one foot at a time until you are moving smoothly. Then gradually switch to an easier resistance and increase your cadence until you are comfortable pedaling out of the bike saddle in the 90-rpm range.
If you are an experienced cyclist, varying your cadence may be more important than finding the ideal speed. Using a high cadence at lower resistance helps to train your neuromuscular system to pedal more smoothly, while a lower-cadence/higher-resistance session helps to increase your strength.
Is Cadence or Resistance More Important?
“Cadence, or how fast you go, builds your cardio and has a big impact on your efficiency as well as your ability to manage fatigue,” says Peloton Bike, Tread, and strength instructor Olivia Amato. “Resistance builds strength.”
It’s important to work on both cardio and strength, so neither is more important than another, however, if you’re just getting started and need to choose a focus, Amato recommends focusing on resistance. “If you don’t have enough resistance on the bike, you aren’t working your muscles effectively,” she says. “Riding with proper resistance will strengthen your calves, quads, hamstrings, core, back and glutes. Once you hit the resistance that the instructor cues, then you can work on getting your cadence up.
High vs. Low Cadence
The difference between high and low cadence is measured in revolutions per minute (rpm), and varying cadences have different potential benefits.
For example, if you are looking to develop muscular endurance and cycling-specific power, low cadence (50-60 rpm) against a high resistance is most effective.
On the other hand, a cadence of 75-80 rpm against moderate resistance, is considered perfect for building endurance. This can help your body adapt and grow stronger, while being easy enough to maintain for a 20- to 60-minute ride.
A high cadence (100 rpm or higher) is known to develop a great pedal stroke and improve strength.
What Is The Best Cycling Cadence?
Different cadences make different physiological demands on your body. Whereas low cadences require more force to be exerted in each pedal stroke, which places a greater burden on your muscular system and activates more fast-twitch muscle fibers, high cadences typically involve less force per pedal stroke and shifts the load to your cardiovascular system and slow-twitch muscles.
On average, 80-100 rpm is considered a good cadence for experienced cyclists. However, clinical evidence supports the notion that lower cadences in cycling are more bioenergetically efficient—i.e., your body requires less oxygen to perform the same motion when you’re pedaling slower. Based on this simple standpoint of metabolic efficiency, research indicates that the optimal cadence is around 60 rpm. But the question remains—is it right for you?
Peloton instructor Christine D’Ercole points out that pedaling faster requires that more oxygen reaches your muscles, but it can also strengthen your cardiovascular system and build endurance. So, you’ll be huffing and puffing more as you increase your cadence, but thanks to all that extra oxygen, your legs will continue to pump and you’ll be able to fly through longer and longer rides.
But you’ll want to give your body’s cardiovascular system some time to recover, too, D’Ercole says. You can do this by making sure you include slower cadence and higher resistance into your cycling workout. This can help you build strength while giving your cardio a little break.
While pedaling slowly requires less oxygen and energy expenditure, it won’t help you produce the power you’ll need to do your best, whether you’re in an indoor cycling class or a race situation.
Despite varying schools of thought, the wealth of evidence suggests that the most effective cycling cadence depends on your situation and event type:
Low to moderate cadences of 70-90 rpm are considered comparatively weak but efficient, and
certainly useful for ultra-endurance riding when your primary concern is energy conservation.
High cadences of 90-100 rpm are better in most racing and time trial situations when power
production is most important.
Extremely high cadences of 100-120 are most effective when the highest power is required for short periods, such as during attacks, sprints and surges.
If you’re taking a cycling class with a Peloton instructor, the suggested cadence will vary throughout class to challenge your body and give you moments to recover.
Measuring Your Cadence
Measuring and tracking your cadence can help make your pedal stroke more efficient. If you’re on a Peloton Bike or Bike+, you’ll be able to view your cadence on-screen during class and through the Peloton App after class. This is the most seamless experience for real-time tracking and goal setting.
On your own bike? With the Peloton App on Apple® iOS, you can connect a Bluetooth®-enabled cadence sensor directly to the app to see your real-time cadence in your cycling workouts, helping you to follow along with the instructor’s cues throughout your cycling workouts.
The Peloton App for Apple® iOS supports third-party Bluetooth® cadence sensors, which allows you to see your real-time cadence displayed right in the app.
To connect your cadence sensor, simply turn on the device, and depending on the model, install it on either your crank-arm or shoe, then:
Start a cycling class on the app.
Click the connected devices button.
Tap on your device to pair your cadence monitor with the bike. Your live metrics should start to appear.
The next time you workout with your cadence monitor, it will automatically pair with your Peloton.
Tips For Improving Your Cadence
Ready to start mastering cadence? The best place to start is diving right in and trying it, says Amato. “The only way to get faster is to go faster. Be consistent and try to hit the higher cadence for shorter amounts of time and then work your way up,” she says. These are a few more ways you can improve your cycling cadence:
Practice cadence drills: Cadence drills can improve the quality of your pedal strokes overall and can be incorporated into almost any easy or moderate workout to rehearse movement patterns and develop efficiency. Examples of cadence drills include:
Endurance cycling: This is great practice for raising your natural, self-selected cadence. As you are riding, increase your cadence 3-5 rpm and hold for 5 minutes. If your heart rate increases by more than a few beats per minute, reduce your cadence. Once you finish the drill, pedal normally for a few minutes before repeating.
Single-leg focus: This drill is designed to develop your ability to apply power more effectively through your entire pedal stroke and is best completed on the trainer. For 90 seconds, devote all your attention to one leg and be sure to lightly pull your foot across the bottom, lightly lift your knee upward, and then softly kick over the top. Pedal for one minute, then switch your focus to your other leg.
Isolated leg training: This drill seeks to develop your ability to apply power through the entire pedal stroke. While on the trainer during a low-power interval, completely unclip one foot and rest it on anything else that safely keeps it out of the way. Then start with a slow cadence and pedal with one leg for 10-20 seconds. Pay close attention to the bottom and top of the pedal stroke. Keep tension on the chain and switch legs anytime your form slackens.
Kick and pull: This drill helps reinforce your ability to maintain tension through the weakest portions of your pedal stroke, the top and bottom quadrants. As your knee approaches top-dead-center, lightly kick your toes into the fronts of your shoes, and as your feet approach bottom-dead-center, lightly pull your heels into the backs of your shoes: kick and pull. Focus on just the kick for 30-60 seconds, just the pull for 30-60 seconds, then both for 30-60 seconds simultaneously.
Vary your cadence throughout your training: Using a high cadence at lower loads will train your neuromuscular system to pedal more smoothly, while a lower-cadence/higher-load session will help to increase your strength.
Cross-train off the bike: Having flexibility and mobility in your back, hips, and knees can help improve your cadence. By strengthening these muscle groups and keeping them flexible, you can reduce the fatigue often experienced in your legs while riding. Less leg fatigue means a greater ability to maintain higher cadences for longer.
Perfect Cadence? Or Perfect For You?
There is no ideal cadence for every cyclist. Finding the perfect speed and effective pedal stroke for you will take time, practice and adjustment.
Want to up your game? The Peloton Bike or Bike+ can transform your cycling workouts into game-changing cardio. You’ll have a front row seat in every class where you’ll be able to keep track of in-workout metrics, such as heart rate, output, cadence and resistance. You can even pair the machine’s heart rate monitor or Apple Watch® to track and sync metrics from every workout.
Peloton offers a wide variety of live weekly cycling classes with world-class, motivating instructors and an extensive and diverse on-demand library of classes that range from 5 to 90 minutes—all designed to provide the perfect total body workout.