To Spin Or Push A Gear


Its Friday Morning and I’ve just soft tapped my way across to work.

I was up pretty late working on a few things last night so I’ve a big grumpy head on me today to be honest.

I have a good bit on the card today so I probably won’t ride today excluding the commutes.

Yesterday I was out for a spin with Le Miserable AKA Sean Mc Kenna.

We knocked out some strength efforts yesterday – 6 x 4 minutes at approx. 50 rpm to be precise.

Just be aware these low cadences need to be worked down to and I’d advocate starting at 60-70 if you haven’t done them before.

So what is it about the big gears and why should I push them?

Low cadence efforts at a high intensity mean you produce more rotational force (torque) for every pedal stroke.

So your torque is the force you produce times the length of your cranks.

Then the part everyone talks about – your power is torque times your rpm.

If you produce a higher peak torque per pedal stroke you must have produced a larger overall muscle contraction to do so.

To produce a greater muscle contraction you’re either producing more force per muscle fibre or your recruiting more muscle fibres.

In either case the higher force results in a higher quantity of waste products associated with fatigue such as lactate and hydrogen.

If you compare that to a rider that turns over a high cadence he or she will produce far less peak torque values.

That said, they will also complete far more pedal strokes and thus more muscle contractions per unit time.

So we have become accustom to thinking that the higher rpm is far more efficient.

Scanning the research, this isn’t always the case and it really depends on a tonne of factors.

There are plenty of studies out there that show that lower cadences of approx. 70 rpm are more efficient than higher ranges.

There is some things that need to be pointed out with a lot of the studies that make it hard to apply to trained cyclists and that is a lot of the participants in the studies are not cyclists or are relatively untrained.

The type of training a rider does also has a huge bearing on what the most efficient cadence is – if you push big gears its probably lower than the 90 rpm value that everyone seems to believe is the golden ticket.

Essentially – you become efficient at whatever you train.

Peddling like a fairly all day everyday could in theory lessen your ability to horse a gear over a climb when you really need to.

To contrast that pushing a big gear all day will, in theory, pull the snap and acceleration out of your legs.

Depending on the rider

Most often with cyclists strength training is the stone untouched.

As a result I have seen riders make more gains and performance increases as a result of strength work than almost any other area.

You can always tell the riders that need it and you could probably answer the question for yourself.

Have you worked on your strength and torque before?

If not you should consider starting.

Round up

From a full review of the studies and literature in the area it appears that for trained cyclists interested in performance and producing big numbers peddling that bit faster (approx. 90 rpm) is more energy efficient than 60 or 70 rpm.

The big adaptations as a result of low-cadence training are more than likely related to the higher pedal forces produced

There is also a link with increased testosterone and possibly improvements in how much oxygen you can take in.

Take home point

To win races you don’t peddle a small gear fast do you?

You push a big gear fast.

If you want to be able to move a big gear fast – low cadence torque intervals are the ticket.

If your unsure lets talk about your training.

Long live strenghties!

Aaron Buggle

About the Author