or are they? (Part 2)

Last week we had a quick look at the difference between Low cadence riding versus High cadence riding, and a few reasons why these differences occur (Different muscle fiber composition, Different Cardio-Vascular(CV) conditioning, Neuro-Muscular characteristics).

The final conclusion drawn was that cadence selection is a very individual choice, and something I believe, should not be changed because a friend or an article says you should change it.

But what if you wanted to change your cadence to a faster one? Perhaps to spare the Fast Twitch Fibers from fatigue, or to reduce the amount of Lactic Acid being produced by the muscles, or even to just become a more efficient cyclist.

Increased leg speed in any sport (Cycling, running, skating etc) is primarily an ability that is taught to the body.

The Neuro-Musclular system is said to be plastic - meaning, it is malleable and adaptive to new stimuli and skills (like pedaling faster).

So, here are a few things you can do to help you to increase your pedaling cadence:
  1. Buy a cadence sensor for your bike.
  2. Work at higher pedal cadences / do high cadence sessions.
  3. Work on your pedaling technique.
  4. Strengthen your Core stabilizers.
1: A cadence sensor makes your life a whole lot easier when doing drills to increase pedaling cadence. The alternative is to count the number of pedal strokes you complete for 10 seconds, and then multiply by 6 to get your RPM.

2: In order to work at a higher cadence without burning the legs and lungs out prematurely, you must change the gear ratios selected. Work in a ratio that allows you to achieve the goal cadence, without blowing the legs and lungs up.

A sample set might look something like this:
  • 5 X 5 minutes working at 100, 105, 110,115, 120 RPM
  • Allow 2.5 minutes "soft pedaling" between each 5 minute interval for recovery.
These should be completed at the start of a workout, as it is essential that the Nervous System not be fatigued.

3: Spending some time on your pedaling technique, will help you to educate the body on how to recruit the correct muscles through the pedal stroke, and thus reduce fatigue and a deterioration in your pedal stroke performance.

Sample drills for this include:
  • Isolated leg pedaling drill - will teach you to pedal smoothly through the entire pedal stroke without assistance from the other leg.
  • 30 Seconds Left leg only, 30 seconds Right leg only, 1 minute both legs together.
  • The key here is to focus on pedaling throughout the stroke - in circles. Ensure the gear is not so heavy that it leads you to pedaling in a "square" motion.
  • The 1 minute both legs is where you take the sensation from the Isolated leg component, and apply it to the high cadence, 2 leg pedaling component.
  • Push / Pull drill - will teach you to develop an "even" pedal stroke in the Down phase and the Up phase of the stroke.
  • All that is required for this drill is for you focus on pushing and pulling on both legs, throughout each pedal stroke.
  • 1 minute drilling, 30 seconds soft pedaling for recovery. Repeat 5 times.
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4: Strengthening your core stabilizers will ensure that you have a strong base of support for the movements required in cycling. Obviously the traditional exercises such as the front and side Plank, Medicine ball rotations and Glute Bridges are great for improved Core Conditioning.

Try this FREE workout to help you improve your Core Stability and Strength (use this Code for a FREE download: 8EDCB4DE)

On the bike, these 2 exercises are really great for improving cycling specific core strength:
  • Single hand cycling - (Do this on an indoor trainer) This requires you to ride with one hand on the bar and the other hand behind the back. Hold this position for 1 minute on each hand, then recover with both hands on the bars. Repeat 3 times.
  • No hand cycling - (Do this on an indoor trainer) Now place both hands behind the back and ride for 1 minute, recovery for 30 seconds with both hands on bars. Repeat 3 times.
Remember, while doing these activities, you must still be working on your pedal stroke and cadence.

Next week I will talk a little bit about cadences in different disciplines within the sport of cycling, specifically Time trialling versus Road racing.

James Greenwood is a competitive tri and multisport athlete currently training for Ironman Canada 2009. A level 1 Triathlon Coach, he holds a post graduate degree in Exercise Science, and is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist through the NSCA. James is also currently the resident health and fitness programs expert at MyPypeline.com, and has starred in a number of multisport specific fitness videos.
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