Acting on Cadence Data

Just a quick addendum to my last post on Inertia and Cadence, I wanted to go over a process I’ve used for assessing my race cadence and using that to inform training. I took most of this info from Allan & Coggan’s Training and Racing with a Power Meter, chapter 6: Interpreting the Data.

Cadence vs. Power

Allan & Coggan use scatterplots using software such as WKO+ or Golden Cheetah to compare data streams such as heart rate vs. power, distance vs. power, power vs. cadence, etc. These charts can reveal trends in your pedaling style during racing and training and be used to align your training to be specific to your race behaviours. I’ll talk about two charts related to cadence.

These screenshots come from Golden Cheetah (GC) v3.3.0. I’ve explored the program only superficially and there’s so much more it can do! I’ll continue to play with it and post what I learn

The first chart shows my Cadence vs Power for a long road race last season (sorry for the terrible default colours of GC!).

The first thing that stands out is an obvious bunching around cadence of ~100 rpm for a wide range of power outputs, from ~100 to ~500 watts. This reflects a fairly steady tendency to remain around 100 rpm, with a slight preference for higher cadences at higher power (and therefore higher torque/higher inertia, discussed in the last post). I like this consistency. I would call this a good example of cadence endurance.

A smaller bunching of the data shows up at lower cadence and higher power; ~70-80 rpm and ~300-500 watts. Knowing the course, these are probably short, punchy climbs where I’m jumping out of the saddle and trying to stay in the big ring to get over the top.

The kind of climb I need to train on

I usually tell myself that I prefer climbing out of the saddle at ~82 rpm but the evidence here suggests that my self-selected race cadence for out-of-the-saddle climbing is a bit lower. I would take from this that I might be pushing too high a gear out on the road and that I may need to work on climbing at higher out-of-the-saddle cadences.

In Brief: Goal Setting

Taking this information I can apply it to process & performance goal setting.

    • Process: Z5/6 (Threshold, VO2max) Intervals on the turbo trainer out of the saddle at 80+ rpm
    • Process: Intervals on actual short-punchy climbs out of the saddle at 80+ rpm, power irrelevant, focus on consistent cadence endurance, technique & stability
    • Process: Self-assessment: does this reflect a reluctance to shift into little ring? Do I need to adjust/maintain my drivetrain? Do I need to learn when in the pedal stroke to effectively shift?
    • Performance: Ensure proper gearing going into climbs to avoid getting caught grinding out low out-of-the-saddle cadence
    • Performance:1 min out-of-the-saddle intervals on the local training hill at 80+ rpm and 400+ watts

Cadence vs. Speed


I’ve highlighted basically the speed & cadence range for my most common gear ratios. The horizontal blue line is at 110 rpm to compare where I tend to shift up. I can see that I tend to shift at ~105-115 rpm, with an increase in that maximal self-selected cadence as speed increases. About this cadence vs. speed comparison, Allan & Coggan say:

“This could indicate a need for improvement in pedal speed, or… that more muscular strength is needed when [shifting] into a harder gear.”

Allan & Coggan, ebook loc. 2297

I’m actually fairly happy with these findings for myself since again it shows a broad but consistent range of cadences between 75-110 rpm. I could always increase that comfort range using specific training at slightly higher and lower cadences than self-selected.


Allan & Coggan in Training and Racing with a Power Meter encourage higher cadences, along with the traditional (and still contemporary) view that higher cadences are preferable for aerobic-based endurance cycling. And I would still agree with this view, despite my previous look at research on cadence indicating that lower cadences were more energetically efficient.

In a discussion with a teammate, I tried to summarize my interpretation on aligning the research with standard thinking. This is purely opinion, I’m not even 100% confident this accurately represents the facts of current best evidence (but I’ll do my best to verify and clarify this).

I believe self-selected cadence at submaximal workload is a function of balancing cardiovascular (aerobic) and neuromuscular (glycolytic) contributions to force generation for any given pedal stroke. Higher cadences may be less aerobically efficient, but lower force-per-pedal stroke recruits fewer Type II (fast twitch) muscle fibers and preferentially recruits more efficient motor units first (low threshold or slow motor units). This allows a greater reliance on aerobic/oxidative metabolic pathways and provides a sparing effect for limited, lactate-producing metabolic pathways that burn muscle glycogen to produce that same workload.

    • Lower cadence = higher gross aerobic efficiency, but greater motor unit recruitment
      • = Greater expenditure of limited muscle energy reserves
        • = Greater muscle fatigue
          • = No kick when you really need it after hours in the saddle.
            • = Cramping?.. That’s a loaded topic for another day


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