Cadence is the number of revolutions (of the crank) per minute. It is how fast we are pedaling and is measured in RPM, revolutions per minute. Now, also remember that a watt = how hard you pedal X how fast you pedal. When we want to make more power on the bike, we can pedal harder, we can pedal faster, OR we can pedal both harder and faster.
It’s important to be able to make power at a wide range of cadences. For example, choose any of your power zones; it is important to be able to produce power in each zone by pedaling at 70 rpm, 85rpm, 100rpm, everything in between, below and above.
Terrain and weather
When we ride outside, we ride across varying terrain in all kinds of wind conditions. These changing terrain and weather conditions can change the demand on how we make power. A very steep hill, a big root or a rock obstacle will require us to make a big power surge at a low cadence. A long hill might keep us in a medium cadence range for a long period of time, while a big tail wind on a flat road or a slight downhill road will require a higher cadence to keep up with the demand to maintain our chosen power. We are not robots, and we do not train on perfectly flat and smooth roads outside. Therefore, being able to make power at a wide range of cadences will make us better equipped and more effective cyclists.
Muscular vs cardiovascular demand
When we are capable of riding at lower cadences, we can shift the focus of the workout to a muscular demand. The lower cadence requires more force production. (Pedaling harder instead of faster.) This can help us build strength and develop muscle endurance. Strength will help us pedal even harder and make more power in the future. Deeper muscle endurance will help our fatigue resistance which will help us finish our races and challenges strong.
Alternatively, when we choose to train at higher cadences, we can shift the demand back onto our cardiovascular systems. This can help us maintain the focus of building our aerobic engines in the off season. Ultimately, it is important to develop both our muscular and cardiovascular systems. However, using cadence manipulation helps us really focus on one system while lessening the fatigue cost on the other system.
Neuromuscular fatigue resistance
Lastly, we often think about the physical component of fatigue resistance, but there is also the neuromuscular component. With every pedal stroke we need to send a signal from the brain to the legs to fire! Pedal, pedal, pedal x 1000s and even 10s of 1000s of times. We can train this signaling pathway to be more efficient and endure longer with specific cadence workouts. When you do your first high-cadence workout, even if only in the endurance range, you might feel strangely fatigued. Your legs feel ok, but you are tired! Your brain is tired. Pay attention as you move through the BaseCamp season and notice how your ability to do more work at higher cadences over time increases. Your neuromuscular fatigue resistance will improve.
To increase your power on the bike, you can 1) pedal harder, 2) pedal faster, or 3) pedal harder AND faster!