Ask the Expert: Getting Fast or Getting Frustrated

What else can be done for a rider to improve their cadence range?  I’ve got a rider who has been working with me for about a year and half.  She is in her 50s and very fit.  She runs, strength trains, and cycles about 2 times per week. Her goal through winter training was to raise her cadence out of the 80s. We’ve really focused on speed, cadence, pedal-stroke drills and she’s still struggling to meet her goal. She said her gear/resistance feels light so I’m hesitant to back off on the resistance any further. She’s still unable to increase into the 90s. Her form and control are good and she can put out the watts, but just not at a high cadence.  I know cadence ranges are individual and trainable, but is the 80s it for her? I don’t want to keep pushing her if this is her max leg speed, but I don’t want her to feel like she’s failing if she is not able to pedal faster. 

Thanks for the tips, Renee Shapurji

Renee, this is a great question and an issue that has challenged many, including myself. When I first decided to get serious about cycling some 25+ years ago, a good friend of mine, a Category 1 cyclist (domestic pro), told me my cadence needed help (although he did not use those particular words). My average cadence was 70 rpm; this is not an exaggeration or a typo. Besides making me chase his …glutes all over creation, I was forced to endure workout after workout of high-cadence drills. These drills consisted of 15 seconds to 4 minutes at 120 rpm. At first I was only able to turn the pedals for a few seconds at high speed, but over time the speed started to develop. How much time am I talking about? Six to eight months! That is six to eight months performing  two to four cadence workouts per week. It was a tremendous amount of work, but if I had a hope and prayer of competing, my average cadence needed to move into the 90s.

My slow stumble to success may seem discouraging and maybe you are tempted to convert your indoor bike (or outdoor bike) to a overpriced garment rack. The point I’m trying to make is that it takes time to develop speed IF you are dedicating multiple workouts and hours per week. If not, the improvement can take more time.

Renee, since it appears you have done a great job exploring drills and options, I’ll suggest a couple of foundational approaches to ensure all bases are covered. As always, we want our ICA members to chime in and share their experience.

Mechanics Are Still Mechanics


  1. This is a great article, and I was also really interested in your response, Renee. I have several riders who struggle to gain rpms too, so I’m putting all this info in my toolbox.

  2. This is very confirming because i echoed your message and tips which tells me i’ve learned well from what you have endlessly brought us through ICA.

    i didn’t give my rider the 6-8 month time frame, i fudged more on the 4 month time frame to possibly see a small increase so she wouldn’t get too overwhelmed or discouraged; and that was IF she increased her number of training days of focus on this skill. She’s seen her cadence increase just not as high as she would like to hit and sustain for the drills in class. I encouraged her that even 2-3 more RPM is improvement. I just wanted to make sure that telling her to not get caught up in the power output right now is appropriate. They’ve been such great listeners and learned so much about the importance of power that they are hungry for those numbers too.

    I think my rider will be quite open and very appreciative of your time and effort to look a video of her pedaling, as am I.

    After i posted this question I had a rider at a different studio ask the same thing about her cadence work and inability to attain 95+ without reducing her resistance significantly and seeing her watts drop way down. She’s only been riding one time a week for about 8 weeks now and has only been exposed to the mindless interval HIIT classes with no obj, plan or practice at this skill and probably hasn’t had a proper bike fit. I didn’t want to speak badly about the other classes or studio’s focus so spieled off the same tips and suggestions.

    i told them they are on the right road because they are tracking & measuring what they are doing; asking and wanting to know more and that’s encouraging for their potential to succeed at increasing their cadence as a goal.

    As always, thank you for your time, effort and advice.

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