TBT: A Physiology Lesson For Students Who Pedal with Too Much Resistance

This article first appeared in 2011. It has been updated with new information. 

You’ve all had that student who pushes too high of a gear at cadences well below what you are asking, sometimes as slow as 50 rpm or even less. This can be risky for both the knees and the back, especially for inexperienced cyclists, but how do you get them to listen to you?

Here is one way to do it—a physiology lesson. I used this with success in my own class, but I realize that while we do want to educate our riders, sometimes their eyes glaze over when you give them too much physiology. Therefore, your lesson needs to be short, interesting, and appropriate to what you’re doing in that moment.

I was doing an intensity ladder with faster climbs of 70–85 rpm. I had given the objectives of the class in the beginning: to progressively and systematically increase intensity, up to threshold. This class does not have meters of any kind so I was coaching a heart rate increase of around 5 beats, and using the beat of the music to guide cadence, as well as having them match my legs.

I noticed a rider who was pedaling very slowly and laboriously. She was obviously using some force to do so, as she had to contrive her upper body to turn the pedals. She wasn’t one of my regulars but had come a couple of times to my class. I didn’t want to single her out, so I used a few of the following cues:


  1. I have a regular who always pedals slow with obvious higher resistance than the rest of us. I can’t get her to bring it down so maybe this might make her take notice. Thanks.

  2. I have a question about too much resistance. I noticed in one of your videos, you talked about not breaking your form in your upper body when climbing a hill. How do you know when you have added to much resistance?
    I have been loving all the videos and articles.

  3. Love this – and plan to use it! Thanks for putting it in clear, concise language

  4. I also have a participant who does the same thing. No matter how many times I try to coach, she will bring her cadence up to the same point and then fall back. I haven’t talked to her about it as I figure that she’s getting ‘something’ out of it. She also told me that she used to be a cycle instructor but retired when she relocated. My only assumption was that was the way she used to teach and is not up on education as well as not choosing to try something that would provide benefit.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *