How Cycling Cadence Works

Cycling Cadence Drills

Your upstroke can be just as important as your downstroke.
Your upstroke can be just as important as your downstroke.

Considering what we've learned about cadence, if you're interested in trying your first triathlon or just want to improve your performance, you might want to try cadence drills.

But before we dive into the drills, we should mention that, if you're serious about improving your cadence, the experts recommend getting a cadence meter. These devices can attach to your bike and will be an invaluable tool to help you easily monitor your cadence at a glance. More expensive gadgets will display cadence along with other factors, including speed or even heart rate.

The simplest drill merely involves practicing a specific portion of the course in a lower gear than what you would naturally choose. Increase your normal cadence only 5 rpm at a time [source: Dallam].

Several cycling experts recommend a particular high-cadence drill using the same basic steps, with only slight variations. Begin by cycling on a low gear at your normal cadence, and gradually increase your cadence until you start to "bounce" in the saddle. At this point, you can start to reduce your cadence slightly so that you no longer bounce. Sustain this cadence for 1 or 2 minutes before gradually slowing the cadence back down to your normal pace.

Some cycling training books discuss improving the mechanics of your pedaling method while focusing on cadence -- in particular, the upstroke. It may seem inconsequential, as the downstroke is really where you get your power, but experts say your upstroke is important to improving efficiency alongside cadence. It's good to pull back at the rise of an up-stroke, with a motion as if you were scraping mud off your shoes [source: Williamson]. Author Thomas Chapple argues, for instance, that just as cadence allows your muscles to contract and relax "in harmony," so does a good full pedal stroke in this scraping-mud method [source: Chapple].

Now that we understand the basics of cycling cadence and how it affects your performance, you should have a good idea of how to incorporate this in your training for the next triathlon.

Related Articles


  • Chapple, Thomas. "Base Building for Cyclists." VeloPress, 2007. (July 27, 2010)
  • Cheung, Stephen. "Optimal Cadence: What's Right for You?" (July 27, 2010)
  • Dallam, George, Steven Jonas. "Championship Triathlon Training." Human Kinetics, 2008. (July 27, 2010)
  • Ertl, David. "Are You a Masher or a Spinner?" (July 27, 2010)
  • Peveler, Will. "The Complete Book of Road Cycling and Racing." McGraw-Hill, 2008. (July 27, 2010)
  • Williamson, Derick. "3 Supercharged Early-Season Cycling Workouts." (July 27, 2010)