Do you want to save your legs for that big climb at the end of your favourite long ride? Start training your cadence! Most beginner cyclists pedal at around 60-80 revolutions per minute (RPM) whereas pros are closer to 90-110 RPM. Unfortunately, you can’t just decide to turn your legs over faster to be like them. You need to practice it. The winter off-season is a great opportunity for this so let’s take a look at how to do high-cadence workouts right.

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Why focus on high cadence?

High cadence usually refers to pedalling in excess of 90 RPM. The advantage of doing this is that you can maintain the same speed with less stress on your leg muscles, knees, hips and back, which protects your legs from fatigue for a lot longer. There is a cost to this approach – the easier your legs work the harder your lungs and heart have to. This means cadence workouts will also be great for training your cardio.

© Profimedia

Why do high cadence in winter?

Unfortunately, changing your cadence takes time, it can be weeks or sometimes even months until it becomes natural for your legs to spin that fast. Several types of cadence cycling workouts fit well in the winter base-building, endurance phase of training. You can do high-cadence recovery, spinning workouts or intervals to get there. Let’s look at a few specific examples.

High-cadence recovery workouts

High-cadence training is ideal for recovery as it can be done at pretty much any intensity. The following 30 to 60-minute workout develops high cadence while also offering some active recovery.

Warm-up: Focus on maintaining a steady pace while spinning at 90-95 RPM for the first 10 minutes.
Spin-ups: Do a 105-120 RPM high cadence spin-up for 30-45 seconds every 5 minutes.

This workout doesn’t really need a cooldown because you should be using an easy gear that you can evenly pedal at 105-120 RPM with very low effort. You should stay somewhere between 65-75 % of the lactate threshold heart rate (LTHR) or below 55 % of the functional threshold power (FTP).

High-cadence spinning workouts

The next workout is similar in structure but pushes you a little higher in effort so it can no longer be used as recovery. Total time should be between 60-120 minutes.

Warm-up: Take 15 minutes to work yourself up from 85 to 95 RPM.
Spin-ups: Do a 110-125 RPM high cadence spin-up for 45-60 seconds every 5 minutes.

Use a gear that allows you to stay between 75-85 % of LTHR or 56-75 % of FTP at 90-95 RPM. Keep in mind that this should not be a high-intensity workout. Start with one hour and work up to two hours of high-cadence spinning.

High-cadence interval workouts

The third example could be considered an interval workout but the main focus is still high cadence, not pushing into the red zone. Total time should be between 70-90 minutes.

Duke’s Pass, Stirling, Scotland © Profimedia, Alamy

Warm-up: Take 20 minutes to work yourself up to steady 90 RPM.
Intervals: 3 x 10 min. intervals at 100-110 RPM at 85-98 % of LTHR or 76-90 % of FTP with 5 min. recovery between at 90 RPM.
Cooldown: 10 minutes at 90 RPM.

The goal is to keep your cadence between 100 and 110 RPM or 10 to 15 RPM above your normal cadence for those hard 10-minute efforts. Remember to shift into a smaller gear if you can’t sustain that cadence or if the effort is too high.

Don’t do it too often

Include these types of workouts only 1-2 times a week at the maximum. One reason is that it is quite taxing on your cardiovascular system. And the second is that it can slow the development of your musculoskeletal system if done too often. But if you make it a regular part of your training week, then you will see a marked improvement in your base cadence when the summer race season comes.

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