What is Cycling Cadence & How to Improve It

Each performance monitor metric gives you insight into how you performed during your ride.

5 min read


What is Cycling Cadence & How to Improve It

Indoor cycle bikes have taken the home fitness revolution by storm. Cycle bikes are affordable, space-efficient, and perfect for any fitness level.

Stationary Bike typically come equipped with a performance monitor. The performance monitor displays standard metrics like speed, distance, calories burned, heart rate, time, and cadence to help keep track of your performance.

While each metric is important and gives insight into how you performed during your ride, this article will focus on cadence, what it is and how to improve it.


What is Cycling Cadence?

I was fortunate enough to learn how to ride a road bike as a child. Learning to ride as a child helped lay the foundation for any future bike riding now as an adult.

There is a reason the expression "just like riding a bike" exists. It is because once you learn how to ride a bike, you never forget. Although, even if you never learned as a child, it is an easy activity to pick up later in life.

Therefore, as an adult looking to stay active and healthy, an indoor cycle bike is an obvious choice. While riding, utilizing proper cadence ranges is important to help you feel a more smooth and efficient pedal stroke.

Cadence is how fast you are pedaling, measured in revolutions per minute (RPM). One revolution occurs when the pedal stroke makes a complete 360° cycle.


Improve Your Cycling Cadence

When watching someone ride or riding yourself, the motion of the pedal is quite simple. Although, when we look closely at the synchronization of all the muscles required to turn the pedal, it is beautifully complex.

Muscles that make up the quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings, and calves all contract and relax at different points in the motion. This coordination between all the muscles is called neuromuscular control and co-contraction.

In short, the brain sends a message to a muscle to contract/relax at a certain speed and force. However, numerous muscles are working simultaneously; therefore, many signals are sent within milliseconds of each other.

As a result, the different groups of muscles (quads, hamstrings, glutes) work synergistically to move the pedal. The increased efficiency in co-contraction of muscles and neuromuscular control is what improves cadence.

Neuromuscular control is when you can control the physical demands placed on the body. It is essential for cycling because pedaling at high cadences (100+) is not an easy task. When not ready for high cadences, it's a classic; your brain is trying to move faster than your body can control.

This lack of control on your pedal stroke causes your cadence to become less efficient. Therefore, it is crucial to control your pedal stroke when pedaling at a high cadence and not let the bike control you.

To not look like the Roadrunner running away from Wiley the Coyte, let's dive into the different cadences and how to use them effectively.

As a general rule of thumb, here are the cadence ranges with corresponding efforts:

1) Cadence 50-70 RPM

This is your climbing cadence to mimic biking uphill. Climbing can be performed out of the saddle (standing up) or seated. It is rider-dependent, but on a shallow climb, you stay seated, then come out when the hill steepens.

When out of the saddle, you can produce more power with each stroke because standing shifts your body forward, providing more leverage. However, it is a bit more taxing on your cardiovascular system; balancing between sitting and standing is important.

With a higher cadence comes a higher resistance. Some bikes allow you to measure and view the resistance on the performance monitor, but most do not. When maintaining a low resistance to simulate a climb, increase the resistance to accommodate this cadence.

A low pedal rate with a high resistance works to improve your leg strength. Improving lower body strength will help make pedaling at any cadence easier.


2) Cadence 70-90 RPM

This range is broad but is generally your jog pace. Stay within 70-75 RPM for a faster climbing pace, then move to 80-90 RPM for a moderate resistance flat-road jog. This cadence should feel pleasant and smooth and is a good pace for beginners to spend time in to learn.

It isn't too fast where your feet are moving more quickly than you can control, and you can apply a moderate resistance to build strength.

Use this range to build strength endurance in between your sprints and climbs. For more skilled riders try, coming out of the saddle to practice a higher cadence while standing.


3) Cadence 90-120 RPM

90-120 RPM is your sprint pace. 90-100 RPM is a great warm-up pace with low resistance to get your brain and body moving together. It is also a good pace for recovery periods between heavier/more intense bouts of movement.

I always encourage a high cadence, low resistance to keep things moving. Pedaling very slowly at a 50 cadence under a higher resistance is inefficient for recovery or warm-up periods. It is like trying to pedal through the mud.

Keep the resistance low to practice pedaling at higher rates to improve your neuromuscular control. When you feel comfortable with a 90-100 cadence, breaking out over 100 for sprints is extremely valuable.

It will push to challenge your cardiovascular system while working to improve neuromuscular control further. As a general rule of thumb in exercise, increasing speed raises the difficulty of the task/exercise.

The same rules apply when pedaling on a bike. Increasing the cadence to over 100 cadence forces your legs to move very quickly, and it becomes more challenging to contract/relax muscles in the cyclic motion.

Practice pedaling at 100+ in chunks of time (30-120 sec) to improve the co-contraction of muscles and neuromuscular control. Start in small bits of time, then slowly increase the duration as you feel more comfortable.


How to Train by Using Different Cycling Cadence

As I hope you learned, each cycle cadence is essential and should be incorporated into your rides. If cycling is newer to you, stick to that middle range (80-90 RPM) to learn the motion and feel comfortable on the bike.

Then, branch out to lower cadences with a higher resistance to improve your leg strength and riding out the saddle. Lastly, push your cadence over 100 to enhance your cycle pedal form and efficiency on the bike.

A more efficient pedal stroke paired with stronger legs will help your production at low cadence/higher resistance. Recall, your goal with cadence practice is to become more efficient and eliminate unwanted movement.

Streamlining your pedal stroke will make for a more productive and enjoyable ride. Utilize all three cadence ranges to feel a more smooth and efficient pedal stroke.

Happy riding!


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