Understanding the Cadence Factor in Indoor Cycling

Posted by Stuart Giere on Sun, Oct 27, 2013 @ 09:10 AM

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Whether you have attended a spinning class or have just observed one through the window at the gym, you will be familiar with the tendency toward sprints, where legs are pedaling so fast you can barely perceive the movement. However, many students taking indoor cycling classes have not developed the skills to pedal at anywhere close to this speed, which results in riders bouncing in the saddle and wasting energy that is not used for productive power.

Despite this, students usually believe that they are exercising hard and getting a good workout due to their high heart rate and the abundance of sweat. In fact, they are not working their muscles nor making any improvements to their fitness or cycling technique. Instructors, always non-cyclists in these situations, even encourage their students to cycle harder and faster, sometimes reaching speeds that exceed 140 RPM.

Ironically, by simply slowing down the pace and turning up the resistance, students could improve their aerobic development, muscular strength, leg speed, anaerobic threshold, and muscular endurance.

Why the Trend to Pedal So Fast in Spinning Classes?

While it is very difficult to pedal fast outdoors, it is easy with indoor cycling. This is because indoor bikes usually have fixed-gear systems and weighted flywheels of up to 45 pounds that create a smooth feel as cyclists pedal. Although there are benefits to this setup, it then becomes the responsibility of the person exercising, and the instructor, to keep pedaling at a reasonable speed in order to improve neuromuscular abilities that will allow for a faster cadence outdoors and a useful workout.

The Dangers of Cycling at Too Low a Cadence

There is a similar trend to pedal at the opposite end of the spectrum: at such a low cadence that riders need to grasp the handlebars and pull just to be able to turn their legs. Instructors often urge students to raise the resistance to levels so high that they are only able to cycle at around 40 RPM, in some cases even reaching as little as 15 RPM. This is not only unproductive, but it also poses the danger of experiencing injury.

The General Rule of Indoor Cycling

If a movement or technique is bad, ineffective, or potentially dangerous to a cyclist, it is the same for a non-cyclist. Pedaling at cadences much higher or lower than you would be able to achieve on an outdoor bike all fall under this category. If your instructor encourages you to cycle at these cadences, leave the class. You should try to receive training from someone who is a cyclist themself, or practice on your own, or you risk losing out on all the benefits indoor cycling has to offer.

Furthermore, remember that heart rate is not a very reliable indicator of the effectiveness of a workout. A high heart rate during rapid sprints may be at least partly generated by bouncing in the saddle, which makes it difficult for your muscles to contract quickly. In addition, heart rate is an indirect, and often incorrect, indication of how hard you are working; you can better judge the effectiveness of your workout through the use of power measurement or muscle oxygen monitoring.

Lastly, when spinning, always try to limit your cadence to between 60 RPM and 100 RPM, although the exact cadence to which you are able to cycle effectively will depend on your level of experience and fitness.

 

Muscle Oxygen Monitoring for Cycling: An Introduciton 

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