Last week we looked at how cadence and gearing can be used as a very good way of increasing your power output without having a meter to actually measure what it is. To recap, there are two ways you can do this. One is to turn a single gear progressively faster, while the second is to turn progressively harder gears at the same cadence. In either case you’re having to produce more power and that means you can create effective training sessions based on two of the principles of conditioning, ‘overload’ and ‘progression’. So, having established the basics of cadence, let’s have a look at a few sample sessions where you can put cadence to use and improve your power output.
First of all have a good idea of what it is you actually want to improve your power for. Simply going out and riding in harder gears or higher cadences is a bit too random, so let’s look at a couple of typical scenarios where you might want to improve your power and how you might devise a set of simple training sessions to achieve just that.
10 mile TT
Power meters are absolutely awesome for time trial training as they remove all the guesswork from pacing. Use one properly and you can determine almost exactly your ‘critical’ power, that’s the maximum amount of power you can sustain for your event duration. But, although without a power meter you can’t put an actual number on the watts you need to sustain for 10 miles to perform at your best, you can nonetheless increase your power output with cadence-based training sessions that will improve your performance.
Begin with your Personal Best time for a “10”, and for the sake of argument let’s say it’s 25 minutes. Your training session should take place on an indoor trainer for the sake of consistency and should look like this:
Warm up: Your standard warm up for a 10 mile TT.
2 minutes easy spin recovery.
25 minutes in a gear that allows an average cadence of 90-100rpm at an intensity level of around 90-95% of max.
Once you have established what the gear and cadence are, you’re in business. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, you did the 25 minutes in 53/17 at a cadence of 95rpm; you can set up a training session whereby you incorporate progressively more time in one gear harder, say 53/15, in order to increase average power in the session as a whole.
So, for example, you might begin by incorporating 6 x 1 minute intervals in 53/15 into your 25 minute effort at a cadence of 95 rpm. Then the following week you might incorporate 8 intervals in this increased gear. As you progress you might extend the durations of these intervals in the harder gear. And so on. So what you’re doing is applying the principles of progression and overload to a highly structured training session that is very specific to your 10 mile TT. And although you don’t have a power meter to tell you how many watts you’re putting out, the fact that you are doing increased durations in harder gears at the same cadence means you’re putting out progressively more power. And that’s what counts.
Improving power on the kind of long climbs you see in sportives is highly advisable for riders at the more ‘competitive’ end of the event. Unlike the short time trial though, sportives demand that you ride for several hours and often up very long hills, particularly if you compete in European events in the Alps or Pyrenees, where it’s highly desirable to be able to climb in a gear which you can turn relatively quickly. In this kind of event, grinding away in a big gear at low cadences would have a detrimental effect on you the longer the ride, and the greater the number of hills you encountered. So a more efficient, high cadence climbing technique is well suited to hilly sportives.
To develop it, simply find the longest climbs you have available in your area and ride up them without changing gear at around 90% effort, recording your cadence. Then it’s simply a case of repeatedly doing the climbs in the same gear, aiming to increase the cadence and therefore more power. On longer climbs you can split the effort into shorter, more measurable blocks of work. So if you climbed at a cadence of 80rpm for 10minutes, your second climb could include 4 x 1 minute intervals at 85rpm in the same gear then 6 x 1 minutes at 85rpm.
The following week, you could try including some intervals at 90rpm. And so on. So, session-by-session, you’re increasing the amount of time at the higher cadences and therefore your power in a way very specific to improving your performance in sportives. Use a variety of hills and a different gear on each one to get a range of climbing and cadence dynamics in each session.
Power climbing for road races
Power climbs are the kind of short, sharp rises you see particularly in short circuit races where, already traveling at some speed you have to jump out of the saddle and kick down hard in order to get up a short, steep hill. You can train to increase your power on such a hill if you have one available but can just as readily do it on the flat or even on a turbo trainer. All you do is pick a straight road and identify two points which represent the length of your hill (don’t make it too long or you’re no longer doing a power climb.) ride up to the first point at around 18mph then ‘jump’ out of the saddle and kick down hard, trying to spin the gear up to speed as quickly as possible.
Count the number of pedal strokes you can get in to the moment you reach the finishing point. Return to the start taking sufficient time pedaling an easier gear to recover from the effort, then go again. You have two choices now: you can either use the same gear and try to increase the cadence or you can use a harder gear and try to match the cadence of the first attempt. If you can achieve either, then you’ve increased the power. Use a variety of gears and different gradients in different sessions and make sure you record the number of reps, gears etc. you use in order to make progress on the sessions week by week.
So there you go, just a couple of examples of how cadence can be used to increase power. You can hopefully see that these principles could be applied to a wide range of training sessions with great results so long as you follow the principles of conditioning, measure your efforts and gradually make progress on them. Basic cycle computers with cadence monitors are very inexpensive theses days and a fraction of the cost of power meters but you can also learn to count cadence quite readily. Simply count the number of times one of your feet reaches the bottom of the pedal stroke in a 20 second period, multiply it by 3 and you have your RPM.
And that’s it, what are you waiting for? Get out there and start building your power.
About the author:
Huw Williams is a British Cycling Level 3 road and time trial coach. He has raced on and off road all over the world and completed all the major European sportives. He has written training and fitness articles for a wide number of UK and international cycling publications and websites and as head of La Fuga Performance coaches a number of riders, from enthusiastic novices to national standard racers.