By training with high cadence cyclists can improve their efficiency. Conversely, a low cadence has the advantage that it can deliver more power at a relatively short maximum effort of 15 minutes. This emerged from research in highly trained cyclists carried out by Australian researchers.

In the late nineties and early two thousand cyclists Jan Ullrich and Lance Armstrong fought fierce battles in the peloton. Besides the fact that Armstrong almost always finished in the main tours in front of Ullrich, there was another remarkable difference between the two riders. Armstrong was always cycling with a very high cadence uphill in mountain stages; Ullrich was the opposite with a huge gear also uphill and a very low frequency. The question is which option is best: training with low or even high cadence.

Lance Armstrong high leg tempo                                         Jan Ullrich low leg tempo

Well trained cyclists had to train for six weeks with a higher RPM then usual (110 revolutions instead of 90 revolutions per minute). After this period their self selected cadence changed to a higher frequency. If they, on the contrary did slow revolutions during training (at 70 rpm) their self-selected cadence did not change.

Cyclists who train with a higher cadence cycle perform one percent more efficiently just over half of their VO2max. In other words the percentage of energy allocated to cycling goes up. This does not apply to cyclists who train with lower cadence; for them the researchers found no difference in efficiency.

However, after a training period with a low cadence, performance improves. During a cycle test of 15 minutes in which with the riders had to deliver as much labor as possible this training group  improved their average power output more (from an average of 269 to 312 watts). The other exercise group also improved, but the improvement was significantly less (from an average of 269 to 291 watts). At the same cycling speed, the slower cyclists deliver more force per revolution than when they pedal faster. The researchers believe that this is the explanation why cyclists can deliver more power after training with low cadence.

Read article 086 Overview Interval Training: PE 10


Especially when cyclists have to provide short-term efforts, such as on the track or during a short time trial, it is wise to train regularly with a low cadence. This type of training increases muscle strength, according to the researchers.

For cyclists who ride long stages it is wise to do regular training with a cadence which is significantly higher than they are used to. They can help improve their efficiency. Whether this also applies to cyclists already at a high cycling cadence is unknown. The researchers have no clear explanation for this training effect. Whether this directly improves endurance is not clear, but they will save energy in any case.

training with a high cadence improves efficiency


Many cyclists are convinced that a large part of the training is carried out with a small resistance in which the pedaling frequency is 100 or higher. This belief arose from top riders like Lance Armstrong and Chris Froome, specialists in the field of performing with a small resistance. So training with a small resistance should definitely be part of the training. On the other hand, don’t exaggerate this kind of training because in that case it is not the optimum yield derived from the training.

By training with heavy gear heart rate remains relatively low and the muscles become stronger so they can develop more strength and thus the rider can go faster. By training with a lighter, so smaller gear, the hart rate rises at the same wattage. In this way, especially the heart-lung system is trained. By training with a heavy gear, so big resistance, the muscles are mainly addressed. It is the art to train both systems in the correct balance. Training with a heavy gear gives more power and training with a lighter gear gives more efficiency.

Also read Article 086, PE 10: Two interval workouts with different RPM

RPM = revolutions per minute = cadence = leg pace = pedaling frequency.