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Leg Speed: Optimize your Cadence

Vintage metronome

The run at the end of a triathlon is often where things start to fall apart in a race. In order to have the best possible chance of running close to your potential, you have to ride the bike with the run in mind. How you ride has a direct effect on how you run. There are many factors to consider when optimizing your ride for the run, but the biggest and easiest to address is cadence.

Triathletes with consistently strong run splits know that their cadence on the bike is going to distaste their foot speed on the run. For most athletes, an ideal run cadence is between 90 and 100 steps per minute. This varies, of course, from athlete to athlete based on individual height.

Having a cadence on the bike that changes often will detract from foot speed for the run. The goal of any long-course triathlete should be to hold 85 to 95 rpm, regardless of whether you are going uphill or downhill. An even cadence throughout the ride is always best. Pick a cadence that is comfortable and keep those pedals spinning at the same rate the whole way. Athletes who “grind” (typically below 85 rpm) the gears too much, with a slow cadence, will have heavy legs on the run. Athletes with a very high cadence (above 95 rpm) will not maximize power potential throughout the ride and will likely spike their heart rate, wasting needed energy.

Here is a sample one-hour workout to help practice holding an ideal cadence range. 

– Warm up for an easy 10-minute spin, then build cadence in 10-minute intervals, depending on your time.

– 10:00 at 85 rpm Screen Shot 2015-08-17 at 12.50.57 PM

– 10:00 at 90 rpm

– 10:00 at 95 rpm

– 10:00 at 90 rpm

– 10:00 at 85 rpm

– Cool down at your natural cadence for 10 minutes.

– You can use whatever duration of intervals you like. The point here is to practice targeting a specific cadence to develop a feel for what that cadence is like.

Remember that, in order to run well, you have to cycle well first, which means paying attention to the details. Knowing how to ride your ideal cadence will go a long way in helping you nail your run.

Paul Duncan is a triathlon coach at outstripendurance.com. Follow him on Twitter @PaulDuncanJr