Text Box: There are many factors, not all of which are understood, that effect someone’s optimum cadence.  Genetics, event specificity, fatigue, equipment, terrain, and probably more including training or lack thereof.  I believe that it is not the same for everyone.  One speed does not fit all, having said that I believe that everyone should include some fast and some slow cadence training into their training and riding.  I see this training concept also supported by other coaches in their use of fixed gear training during base along with big gear, strength and hi-cadence drills.  

Before I go any further I would like to emphasize one of my beliefs on cadence: It isn’t about pedaling speed but more importantly about the smooth versus abrupt application of force that should be your focus.  In an email discussion which I had years ago with Dr. Andy Cogan about cadence and the recruitment of Fast and Slow Twitch Muscle Fibers, Dr. Cogan made the comment that he believed it is not so much the speed as the intent which stimulates the bodies decision on which and how many of these differing types of muscle cells should be recruited.  Remember the old Isometric exercises.  I.e., the more abruptly and greater a load that is applied, the more the body has to respond by bringing more cells of differing types to the task of moving the load.  The body is efficient and will recruit the more efficient fatigue resistant slow twitch cells preferentially.  However, if the load is applied abruptly, or if the load becomes too high the body will also need to recruit the stronger but less efficient fast twitch muscle cells to help out.  Fast twitch muscles are stronger and fire faster, but use more glycogen and fatigue much faster than slow twitch cells.  

So with these principles in mind, you can tailor your training and riding.  If you want to train Fast Twitch muscles, use drills that emphasize abrupt hi-load movements.  Conversely, if you want to focus on slow twitch muscles make sure that your movements are smooth and under lower loads.  A moderate to high cadence that allows the smooth application of force will be more efficient through the higher recruitment of slow twitch muscle cells.  Ironically, if the cadence is either too low, or too high, the abrupt application of the load and loss of smoothness will introduce the use of the less efficient Fast Twitch Fibers.  Your optimum cadence can be increased through training drills.  The benefit of this is the greater reliance on the cardiovascular system and the lighter and less fatiguing loads on your muscular system.  Lance achieved his high cadence through years of focused training.  Lance’s optimum cadence is also quite possibly higher than your optimum cadence.  Lance has one of the highest VO2max’s ever recorded at the training center in Colorado Springs, CO.  Jan Ulrich is a stronger athlete, (able to generate more force).  Although it is arguable that Jan should have trained to develop a higher cadence, I believe that his optimum cadence would always be lower than Lance’s optimum cadence.  This is a complex subject of which we still have very limited knowledge.  Weight training, leg speed drills, bike fit, efficiency drills, genetics and how fatigued you are all have an impact on your optimum cadence.  For starters, focus on smoothness at a cadence   85-95.  Relax, and use your gears to find the cadence which feels smoothest and most comfortable given the load, that is probably the right speed.  Read more on the benefits of cadence in my follow up article: “Cadence and Gearing”

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