high cadence cycling—spinning your pedals in excess of 90 revolutions per minute (rpm)—came into vogue during the lance era, when armstrong famously spun like a centrifuge to drop the his arch nemesis jan ulrich, who by comparison pedaled like a potato masher. a new study published in the international journal of sports medicine shows that amateurs don’t get any added benefits from high cadence cycling. to test how cadence can affect performance, an international team of scientists led by king’s college london recruited a group of nine recreationally active men and women ranging in age from 21 to 55, and had them pedal hard enough to hit their ventilatory threshold (the intensity where your breathing becomes labored) using cadences ranging from 40 to 90 rpm. the researchers measured their pedaling force, heart rate, and thigh muscle oxygenation, or how much oxygen your cycling muscles are getting to make the energy you need to keep going. the whole idea behind high cadence cycling is that your muscles contract more frequently, but not as intensely. at 90 rpm, their heart rate had increased by 15 percent, their efficiency decreased, and their muscle oxygenation dropped.
they weren’t able to keep up with their oxygen consumption. that’s not to say you can’t train yourself to be efficient at high cadences over time, as professionals and elite level riders often do, formenti told bicycling. “if one is not trained at cycling and tries to spin very, very rapidly, there could be contraction of stabilizing and postural muscles to contain the ‘wobbling,’” formenti said. as anyone who’s ever ridden with a power meter knows, you can produce the same wattage and go the same speed by pedaling 60 rpm, 100 rpm, or any other cadence. if your legs are giving out before your lungs, go to an easier gear and increase your cadence. if you’re gasping for air, but your legs are fine, switch to a harder gear and bring it down.
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