Benefits of Low Cadence Bike Reps

For many triathletes, particularly those racing over longer Half or Full IM distances, low cadence intervals and/or seated hill reps form a regular part of their base conditioning.

The aim of this blog is to get into a little of the thinking behind low cadence, strength endurance (SE) training to help athletes better understand the place of these sessions in their Front Runner Tri programmes.

Theory:

Power = Force x Cadence

The general theory as to the benefits of lower cadence SE work is that the lower cadence training will help muscular strength by recruiting more muscle fibre at higher force. ie Same Power = Force UP x Cadence DOWN. This conditioning can then be used to build economy and fatigue resistance or  as a platform for higher force or higher cadence work in subsequent training blocks to elicit more angular velocity (cadence). There isn’t a great deal of scientific research into the area but it is extremely common anecdotally for Triathletes and Cyclists to purport significant benefit.

Specificity:

In terms of specificity, low cadence work is generally most appropriate for those racing longer distances. It is generally agreed that in longer distance races such as Ironman, age group athletes tend to be more economical at lower cadences vs higher cadence. Most triathletes of all abilities will tend to shift load from central (NM and Cardiovascular) systems to peripheral (local muscular system) as duration of effort increases and therefore almost all athletes will naturally ride at a lower cadence as they transition to races from shorter (sprint) to longer distance (IM).

Application:

These efforts can be incorporated within longer endurance rides by way of low cadence seated efforts uphill (typically 6-20min duration) or in isolated intervals (typically 8-20min intervals 80-90% FTP) depending on your goals and objectives.

Sometimes, athletes even change from a 4-6 week period of seated low cadence hill work to longer low cadence tempo intervals to transfer benefits more specifically.  This is most common in those training for Half or Full IM and perceived to lack bike strength.

Longer continuous efforts at extremely low cadence tend to be avoided as they lack specificity in the absence of any logical theoretical benefit.

Risks:

The biggest risk is knee pain. The extra force means muscle tightness and joint compression of the patella is common. Ensure that mobility (ie foam roller, spikey ball) and flexibility (Physio/Massage; stretching) precedes and proceeds your low cadence work to keep injuries at bay.

Extreme low cadence training (ie <30RPM) with holding of breath under strain may have more significant risks to the heart and circulatory systems.
Front Runner Sports Coaches Raf Baugh, Derek Cross and Thomas Bruins are all accredited Triathlon Coaches who are current or former world class professional athletes. Raf is a Physiotherapist and Thomas and Derek are both qualified Engineers.
Front Runner Sports coach over 50 triathletes from around the world with evidence based and passion driven training programmes to help athletes achieve their goals. We coach athletes from beginner to professional with a special interest in online programming for age group and executive triathletes.
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