Cadence pyramid

cadence-pyramidAim of Session

To increase the fluidity of the pedal stroke at higher cadences whilst also bringing awareness of how cadence and power interact to deliver exercise stress


Session description

WARM UP: 15 minute warm-up in zone 2, included in session time
MAIN SET: Best done on the turbo or rollers. Hold Zone 2 HR throughout session, in specified time blocks, start at 60rpm move on to 70rpm, 80rpm, 90rpm, 100rpm and 110 rpm. After time at 110rpm, return down the same cadences. If using 1 minute increment, a block is 11 minutes. 5 min normal pedalling between blocks. See Coach comments for length of blocks and the number of pyramids to complete
COOL DOWN: 15 minute warm-down in zone 2, included in session time


Each pedal stroke requires number of muscle contractions to generate force. Generally, a more powerful muscle contraction will take a longer time to occur. For cycling, the most forceful contractions may occur on a hill climb where a greater amount of force is needed. This will often result in a reduction in cadence. Using a higher cadence means the muscle does not need to produce as much force for every contraction. If not as much force is required, more slow-twitch muscle fibres can be recruited to work aerobically and use fat to fuel force production. This preserves all-important muscle glycogen stores. Training at higher cadences can also result in adaptations to slow-twitch fibres, making them more fatigue resistant.

Application for the Rider

Becoming competent and smooth at higher cadences can allow for a decreased energetic cost to ride at the same speed. If a rider has to produce a smaller force during each muscle contraction, it is logical to suggest that this will delay the onset of fatigue. Having a fluid technique at higher cadences can also be important to maximise power production when you are sprinting and pedalling faster. 

Practicalities and tips!

  • Be patient! This is a session that does take time to attain proficiency. In your first attempt, you will probably find it tricky to get the right gear, especially if only 1 minute increments are being used to go up and down.
  • Set the resistance appropriately on the turbo (as this is the best mode to do this session with). A nice easy resistance will mean you can just use the gears to produce the right combination of cadence and power.
  • Remember, this is a zone 2 session with emphasis on muscle fibre recruitment. As the cadence goes up, heart rate will climb for the same power - the key is to keep your HR in zone 2, necessitating a smaller gear and lower power. As you get more efficient, you will notice your HR will rise less because of the cadence, allowing you to compromise the power less as you climb up the pyramid.
  • At the highest cadence (110rpm) be focused on not bouncing in the saddle. A programme of core stability alongside this training will help you engage the torso and stay more controlled.

Evaluation of the session

  • Compare this session to a normal zone 2 ride - how does the heart rate to power relationship compare? Can you pick out where the cadence takes the body out of its comfortable range?
  • Look across each pyramid - what is the average heart rate to power?
  • Over time, compare the heart rate to power relationship within each pyramid across sessions. Can you see if HR is being less affected by cadence?


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