How to Use These Training Variables on the Bike to Your Advantage
Ditching your comfortable cadence and resistance combo can help you get fitter, stronger and faster.
By Colleen Travers•
September 18, 2020
You’ll hear every Bike instructor give a similar speech before a ride, walking you through cadence, resistance and how your output gets calculated. Depending on your fitness goals, it’s a good idea to maneuver those metrics within the suggested range so that you’re pushing yourself to reach your best personal outcome. We talked to Peloton Bike instructor Christine D’Ercole who explained the benefits of turning that red knob, how riding in and out of the saddle can impact your muscles differently and why you need to switch it up in order to increase your strength and endurance for future rides.
How to Conquer Cadence
If you’re a new Member, riding at a higher cadence (between 85 to 100) can make your legs burn, but over time you’ll find this speed causes less fatigue on your muscles because you’re building up endurance. “It may sound counterintuitive, but a faster cadence relies on slow-twitch muscle fibers, which are used in long-distance endurance rides,” Christine says. “Developing the ability to pedal at a higher cadence will also strengthen your cardiovascular system because doing so is dependent on oxygenated muscles. This means you’ll be breathing heavier, but your legs will last longer, and this can help you extend the length of your rides over time to 30 minutes, 45 minutes or even 60 minutes.”
Alternatively, riding at a lower cadence (and thus a higher resistance) will work fast-twitch muscle fibers which are used for sprinting but fatigue quicker than those slow-twitch muscle fibers. By working these fibers, your body can learn how to produce that surge of power that can spike your output and help you jump up on the Leaderboard. “It’s a good idea to do some slower cadence and higher resistance work in order to develop the strength you need to climb hills, and by slowing down [even at a higher resistance], you’re able to get a cardiovascular recovery after an effort,” Christine says.
Resistance Isn’t Futile
A lower resistance will typically produce higher cadence, but that isn’t always the case if you’re just starting out. “If you’re struggling with this, try drills where you start at your natural cadence and accelerate by 5 RPMs every 30 seconds for two minutes, repeating this circuit three times,” Christine suggests. “Over time, your body will acclimate to the demand, and you’ll be able to go faster and improve your efficiency.”
Once you’ve worked on efficiency, it’s time to turn it up and increase that leg strength with more resistance. “Perpetually choosing either fast and light or slow and heavy will limit the body’s adaptations to that single aspect,” says Christine. This can result in overuse of certain muscle groups and injuries. Plus, being able to go from a slower cadence with higher resistance to higher cadence and a higher resistance is what will give you more power and output. To do this, you need both light and heavy resistance training in your rides to help you get there.
Switch Up Your Saddle Position
Deciding when (and if) to get up and out of the saddle can get a little tricky. “Standing can achieve greater power and speed to get up a hill, through an interval or to cross a finish line, but it often comes at a cost,” Christine says. “It puts a greater demand on the upper body which can potentially cause more fatigue all around, requiring you to sit back down and lose speed and power.”
This doesn’t mean you should never do it though—and particularly for long endurance rides, you need to learn how to stand out of the saddle for short periods in order to give your lower body a break. Just remember: Riding out of the saddle requires you to mobilize your upper body and stabilize your core, so make sure to strength train with 10-minute or 20-minute arms, upper body or core workouts on the days you’re not on the Bike. And make sure you’ve got the mechanics down right to protect your joints and back. “Bring your body up over the cranks [the arms that connect to the pedals] to help use gravity to your benefit,” Christine says.