By Brad SengD3 Multisport.com Coach
When I first started doing triathlons and focused bike training, I kept hearing about this funny acronym “RPM”. I had no idea what it meant. Nor did I understand the direct relationship between efficient biking and the ability to run effectively off the bike. I was a match burner, surging my way over rolling terrain and using big gears on the climbs. Fortunately, I had a good coach who was able to get me to understand the importance of a smooth pedal stroke.
A common mistake by a lot of new cyclists and triathletes is to ride in too big a gear with low cadence ranges of 75-80rpms. Every athlete is different and we all have our own “sweet spot” when it comes to that magical cadence range. Generally speaking though, upper 80s to low-mid 90 rpms is an ideal range. Of course this will vary some with terrain. The key is to be able to bike efficiently while not spinning too high or mashing too big a gear. This takes practice and awareness when biking, but over time you should be able to find your sweet spot.
During certain times of the year I like to dose my athletes with specific sessions to improve efficiency and the ability to dial in the cadence ranges. One thing to focus on is eliminating any “dead spots” within the pedal stroke. This usually occurs at the six or twelve o’clock position in the pedal stroke. I also encourage athletes to imagine they are cleaning mud off the bottom of their cycling shoe with a scraping motion instead of pulling up when completing the pedal stroke. During easy recovery rides really focus on this technique and a higher cadence if you find yourself on the mashing side of things. If you feel like you are spinning too fast, make a gearing adjustment to a harder gear. Over time, you will know progress is being made as you notice you are able to ride a bigger gear at the same cadence ranges. Cycling with a more consistent cadence in the correct range along with proper energy output will enable you to bike faster and preserve your legs for the run.
Here are a few of my favorite sessions to improve bike cadence:
Note, ' = minutes, " = seconds, WU = Warm-up,
Spin-ups: Warm-up well for 15’. Next complete the following sequence two times – 5’ at 100rpms, 5’ at 110 rpms, 3’ at 120rpms and 1’ at 130rpms. Recovery is 3’ easy spinning between rep and 5’ between blocks. Remainder of ride easy spinning at comfortably high cadence.
ILDs: Isolated leg drill. This is best done using a home trainer for safety reasons. WU well for 15’ and then complete the following sequence 8-10 times – 30’’ biking w/left leg only, 30’’ w/right leg only, 1’ easy spinning with both legs. When doing the single leg work, unclip the non-working foot. Easy spinning for the remainder of time. This session will really help identify any dead spots with the single leg work.
Varied Cadences: Warm-up well for 15-20’ and then complete the following sequence 3-4 times through: 2’ high cadence, 2’ normal cadence, 2’ big gear w/lower cadence, 2’ easy. Remainder of ride easy spinning.
Head Coach - University of Colorado Triathlon Team
Assistant Coach – Team USA ITU World Championships Chicago
Coach - D3 Multisport
Certified Sports Nutritionist