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Big Gears for a faster bike split

“Go To” bike sets from Ironman champions

Photo by: Kevin Mackinnon

“I have a love/hate relationship with low cadence work on the bike,” says American Olympian and Kona fourth-place finisher Sarah True (pictured above). “It’s not my favourite type of session, but it’s just so effective for Ironman strength!”

True is hardly alone when it comes to appreciating the benefits of low cadence, big gear sessions on the bike.

Wahoo-sponsored athletes Sarah Crowley, Heather Jackson and Sarah True are all fans of “big gear” bike sessions.

“Currently, a go-to workout on my KICKR are big gear workouts,” says Heather Jackson, another Ironman champion who has done well in Kona – she was third there in 2016. “Treat this sort of session just like you are going to the gym to lift and get stronger, but when you do these on the bike, they are that much more specific to riding. Low cadence and pure strength turning the cranks. I’ll do anywhere from 5 minute up to 10- or 12-minute big gear efforts with usually 6 to 8 reps, depending on the length.”

Sarah Crowley gets some training laps done at the Daytona International Speedway. Photo: Kevin Mackinnon

Increasing strength

Another two-time bronze-medalist from Kona, Sarah Crowley, is also a fan of this type of training:

“I love to do big gear work,” the Australian says. “It’s especially useful as a triathlete because you can keep your heart rate low, but still get the benefit of increasing strength.”

Crowley suggests this as a big gear set:

  • 15 mins warmup
  • 10 x 4 mins at 40 rpm / 2 mins easy spin
  • 15 mins cool down

Related: Three classic bike workouts designed to work on speed and power

Lauren Brandon racing at Ironman Mont-Tremblant.

90-minute big gear set

Another Ironman champ, Lauren Brandon, is also a fan of this type of training.

“One of my favourite aspects of a big gear, or low cadence bike workout, is that it is a great way to build strength in the legs,” she says. “You want your cadence to be around 60 RPM during the big gear intervals. Try not to grind on the pedals, but instead think about keeping a smooth pedal stroke. Also, try to do these intervals in your TT position. Think about keeping your upper body relaxed and develop the power from your legs.”

Warm up

20 minutes (10 easy, 5x 1-minute hard/1-minute easy)

Main Set

4 x 10 minutes big gear/low cadence (this should be 80-85%) with 5 minutes easy with high cadence

Cool down

10 minutes easy