January 24, 2018

Cycling and Running Cadence

Does your cadence (the rate at which you complete a pedal or foot stroke) really matter?

cycling and running cadenceIf you’ve ever watched your tri buddies on a bike ride you’ll notice that some of them are spinning really fast while others are spinning really slowly but they’re all going the same speed. Seems weird that there would be a lot of variation but there is.

Everyone is built differently so it’s hard to make generalizations but I’ve read and practiced a bit on the subject and have drawn my own conclusions.

Let me start by saying that I’ve got two top age-group friends that are “mashers” (people that pedal slowly) that race different distances. Russ Jones races mostly sprints and Chris Johnson races mostly Ironmans – both pedal around 80 RPM – and both are extremely strong cyclists. Of course there’s a guy by the name of Lance Armstrong who is a high cadence guy.

Same thing with the run. You’ll see some runners that take huge, slow strides while others take shorter quick steps. Again, it would seem like there would be one optimal way to do it.

Joe Friel in the Triathlete’s Training Bible explains running cadence this way: “If you run a 5km race with an average step length of 1.5 meters and an average cadence of 170 steps (not RPM) per minute, your finish time is 19 minutes, 36 seconds. But if you take three more steps per minute and step length stays the same, you finish 20 seconds faster. Or, if you increase the length of each step by 0.025 meter (about 1 inch) and stride rate remains at 170, your time is improved by 19 seconds. If you are able to accomplish both the faster stride rate and a longer stride, you lop of 39 seconds and have a new personal best of 18:57. Small changes in technique can produce significant results.”

Point taken. Something to give a try.

Here’s my take on it. I try, and usually succeed, at keeping my cadence on the bike, and run, at 90. I find that on the bike it gives me the ability to run “fresher” than if I’m grinding away at a lower cadence. It simply feels better. In fact, in some sprint races I’ll spin even faster and find my final cadence to be closer to 100 than 90!

On the run I regularly count my RPMs so I know I’m right around 90. By taking longer strides I find that I end up with more muscle soreness and more prone to injury. Of course, I’m an aging triathlete so some of you younger folks may not experience this problem, but if you can run efficiently, at any age; it’s going to help you in the long run.

Pay attention to your cadence while cycling and running. Test faster and slower turnover on your rides/runs next week and see what you think. It may be hard at first if you’re cadence is slower but give it a try; it might just help you find a new PR!

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