When it comes to cadence, there is no perfect number that everyone should strive to reach. Riders should instead strive to reach a cadence that is optimal for them and supports their overall fitness or race goals. In this article, we’ll discuss how to improve your cadence using an indoor bike and the data from a power meter.
What is Your Ideal Cadence?
Cadence is linked to muscle length and contraction speed. The height of your seat will impact your cadence. Try experimenting with your seat height to see if different heights feel better while you cycle. Your cadence will also be impacted by wind, terrain, and your overall level of fitness. Cadence on an average ride, outside of coasting down hills, or working your way up them, is usually between 60-100. However, there truly is no perfect number—how it feels when you’re cycling is an important factor for finding your ideal cadence. Your ideal cadence, or your cruise cadence, is the sweet spot where you’ll spend most of your time. Working at this number will improve the efficiency of your cycling mechanics. Cycling mechanics include the way the foot, knee, and hip relate to each other and how they work together. As you improve your body mechanics through cadence work, you will increase your body’s energy efficiency, which means longer, faster rides, with less fatigue. In contrast, poor body mechanics and working at the wrong cadence will tire you out more quickly, leading to fewer gains. If you plan to race, the type of race is also crucial in determining an ideal cadence. For example, where road racers may sit at 90 rpm, triathletes may be most efficient at 60 so that they can successfully run off the bike.
Indoor Bike Drills to Improve Cadence
For all these drills, imagine that there is a curtain hiding your legs and that the only way to tell your cadence is by looking at your upper body. Please incorporate these drills with proper warm-ups and cooldowns.
1. The Yo-Yo Transition Drill
Imagine that you’re holding a bucket of water on each arm, and your goal is to carry these buckets on your bike five miles down the road. Now, they are full buckets, so every time your upper body moves, you spill a little bit of water. The water represents your power—the power that your body is creating.
For this drill, focus on keeping your upper body relaxed, while using as little muscle tone as possible. This includes a relaxed grip on your handlebars. Gripping the handlebars wastes energy. Now, starting with your ideal cadence, you’re going to spin up for ten seconds and spin down for ten seconds. The focus is making a smooth transition while keeping your upper body relaxed, to conserve energy.
2. The Hand Agility Drill
This is a great drill for beginners, however, every cyclist can find benefits. You will be keeping the focus on a relaxed upper body and adding a focus on your hips. The goal of this drill is to help you maintain your cadence while shifting your hands (and thus your upper body) in different positions.
Start by spinning up to your cadence sweet spot. A fun extra challenge can be to close your eyes until your cadence feels right and then check your number. You likely can tell by feeling when you’ve reached your ideal cadence. Now that you’ve found your cadence, take a moment to feel it and notice the stability of your hips. Next, for thirty seconds, maintain that cadence while starting to move your hands to different positions on the handlebars. You will keep them moving continuously for thirty seconds. You’re still maintaining a relaxed upper body and minimal muscle tone in the forearms. As you move your hands, you’ll likely notice a shift in your cadence. You are practicing holding your hips steady and maintaining your cadence while your upper body shifts. This drill can also show you if your seat height is off if the different hand positions are uncomfortable.
3. Single Leg Pulls
This drill addresses the imbalance most people have between their dominant side and their less dominant side. Oftentimes each cyclist’s legs work a little differently. Usually, one leg is stronger than the other. Also, injuries can affect leg strength and muscle control. This will impact the amount of power each leg uses to cycle. This drill will improve your mechanical efficiency.
Find a good resistance setting on your bike. Start with your weaker foot hooked in. Let your other leg dangle comfortably. Now spin up to a comfortable cadence using just one leg for 30-60 seconds. Next, switch sides and use the opposite leg. Once you’ve completed your first set, use both legs to pedal at your optimal cadence for twice as long as your single-legged drills. If your drills were 30 seconds, pedal with both legs for 1 minute.