Pro Cyclists Share Their Go-To Methods for Improving Cadence

a person pedaling an indoor bike at high cadence
How to Improve Cadence, According to ProsTrevor Raab

"Hearst Magazines and Yahoo may earn commission or revenue on some items through these links."

Whether you’re a super spinner who thrives turning the pedals at a rapid rate of 95 revolutions per minute (rpm) or you’re more of a masher who revels in that sweet 55 rpm spot, practicing different cadences can make you a more efficient, effective rider.

Improving your cadence makes it easier to climb hills, cover moves in races, adapt to changing terrain, and even deal with the awkward moment when your electronic shifting runs out of batteries and you’re stuck in a random gear. (It happens to the best of us.)

To help you smooth out your pedal stroke, we turned to a few pros for their tips on how to do cadence training, from world champion track racers to ultra-distance gravel grinders and Paris-Roubaix winners. Here are their favorite drills and workouts to improve cadence. Just note you’ll need a cadence sensor to actually train using rpms, but they’re an inexpensive addition to your electronics cache at around $40.

7 Ways to Train for Improved Cadence

1. Hit the Rollers

Track racers are big fans of rollers—the stationary setup that places your whole bike on three barrel rollers, forcing you to balance and keep your pedal stroke smooth. Olympic sprint gold medalist Kelsey Mitchell talks about hitting 200 rpm on the rollers as one of the drills she dreads, and Pan American track champion Ruby West says that riding on the rollers is the best way to make your pedal stroke as smooth as possible. Using cadence as a cue is a great way to really tune into exactly how you’re putting out power as you pedal.

Track World Champion turned gravel aficionado, Ashton Lambie also loves the rollers. “Just spending some time on rollers is a great way to improve cadence,” he says. “You probably know someone who has a set, or go in with some friends for a good pair without resistance, like the Tacx Galaxia. Just do your recovery rides on them, maybe a few spin-ups, or some cadence pyramids.”

Ashton’s Lambie’s Cadence Pyramid

“The key for this workout is to adjust the cadence for a range where you start off comfortably, and continue to keep a smooth pedal stroke as your cadence increases,” he explains. “If you’re bouncing around on the rollers or trainer, just back the whole workout down 5 rpms and focus on developing a comfortable, natural cadence. The power for this whole workout should be quite low as well, and is great for lighter training days!”

10 mins easy spin warmup

Do 4 sets of the following:

  • 1 min @ 95 rpm

  • 1 min @ 100 rpm

  • 1 min @ 105 rpm

  • 1 min @ 110 rpm

  • 1 min @ 115 rpm

  • 1 min @ 110 rpm

  • 1 min @ 105 rpm

  • 1 min @ 100 rpm

2 min easy spin cooldown

2. Keep It Simple

Don’t overthink high cadence drills, says former World Tour racer turned gravel grinder Ted King. “I like doing one minute at high cadence—at or over 100 rpm—and then one minute at normal cadence for 20 minutes in total,” he says. “That is something that I’ve done often. People overthink these drills a lot of the time, thinking it should be a certain power or pace, but really, what you’re trying to do is improve your neuromuscular efficiency.”

The nice part about King’s drill is that you can incorporate it into any ride, even an easy spin or longer endurance effort. It breaks up the ride and improves your efficiency! “Working on that higher cadence is a great lesson in efficiency,” he says.

3. Use the Indoor Trainer to Hone Cadence

It can be hard to focus on cadence when riding outside because there are so many other things to focus on, like cars, potholes and stop signs. That’s why 2023 Paris-Roubaix winner Alison Jackson used the indoor trainer in her offseason to work on both high and low cadence drills, simply incorporating them into intervals she’s already doing.

You can do the same by turning on ERG mode on your trainer and doing your workout with a focus on high or low cadence during the intervals—the trainer will hold your power steady as you speed up or slow down your pedal stroke.

“I like using the Wahoo ERG mode in connection with the workout that I’m doing so that I can stay in the right power zone while playing with the cadence,” she says. “High cadence drills—keeping your power steady but spinning at 100 to 115 rpm—are great to improve neuromuscular efficiency.”

Low cadence work also has its benefits: “We’re also doing a lot of torque efforts this year, really trying to use every part of the pedal stroke and get all the muscles activated,” she adds. “In those, the intervals are done at a cadence of 50 to 60 rpm.”

King agrees here: “I call low cadence intervals ‘on-the-bike gym work,’” he says. “In these, keep your upper body very strong and statuesque and then think of the 360-degree pedal stroke. So rather than just smashing your legs down, down, down, like a couple of pistons, think about every single one of those 360 degrees with both of your legs.”

4. Add Cadence Work Between Intervals

“One of my favorites—or most hated—cadence drills is one that my coach puts in midride between harder intervals,” says Alexey Vermeulen, who’s finished second in the Life Time Grand Prix Series two years running—and is the only athlete in the series to beat Keegan Swenson in a race!

During your next threshold or tempo workout, add this 16-minute drill in the middle of your intervals, or include it just after:

  • Spin to 100 rpm for 1 minute, then 1 minute relaxed

  • Spin to 105 rpm for 1 minute, then 1 minute relaxed

  • Keep adding 5 rpms for the next 6 sets, aiming to finish at 140 rpm (but don’t panic if you can’t hold 140 rpm just yet—this takes practice!)

“Just spin fast and focus on hitting the numbers,” says Vermeulen. “Once you can’t hold the rpm for a full minute, you go back to 100 and start from there.”

5. Mix Low and High Cadence Work

Last year, British racer Danni Shrosbree made headlines when she came in third at Unbound—her longest ride ever at that point! She loves blending high and low cadence work into one brutal workout, which can be done indoors or outdoors:

Warmup 10 minutes easy

Do 3 sets of the following, with 2 minutes easy spinning between:

  • 2 mins at 50-60 rpm in high endurance/low tempo pace

  • 1 min 90-100 rpm at threshold pace

  • 2 mins at 50-60 rpm in high endurance/low tempo pace

  • 1 min 90-100 rpm at threshold pace

Cooldown 10 minutes easy

6. Do High Cadence Work Early

Your cadence work doesn’t have to be complicated. US MTB National Champion, Savilia Blunk tries to add in higher cadence work early within her rides. “My favorite way to train cadence efficiency is to focus on a higher cadence in the beginning of the training,” she says. “For example, if I have a three-hour ride, I try to focus on keeping the cadence at over 100 rpm for that first hour. This stimulates the muscle-mind engagement, and my body will automatically keep that higher cadence for the rest of the three hours!”

7. Use Downhills Wisely

Sure, climbing is a great workout, but have you ever considered using the downhills for some bonus stimuli? KOM king (that’s right, double king) Phil Gaimon is obviously one of the most skilled climbers in the world. And with so much climbing in training comes a lot of descending. Because of that, he says, “I like doing max cadence intervals on downhills. You get a long straight descent and you’re just sitting there. See how high you can get your max cadence!”

You Might Also Like