Cadence and Triathlon Performance

Cadence is how many revolutions per minute you complete in cycling or running.There are allot of different theories out there on what is the optimal cadence. Many believe that it is 90 or higher for both running and cycling. As triathletes cadence is a bit of a multidimensional issue since one has to run off the bike.

One theories is that, cadence on the bike, should be high to match ones cadence on the run making running off the bike easier. A study done on this topic looked at runner doing a 20 minute time trail on the bike and then going straight into a 3 K run much like in a triathlon. There were various cadences used ranging from on the slower side (around 70) to over 100. The results showed that run times were not so much effected but cadence in the first 300 meters was. Participants who had a slow cadence on the bike had a slow cadence in the run during the first 300 meters and visa versa.

This could potentially make a difference if one is in a sprint or Olympic distance and is racing at a high level as running cadence is very important.

Why is running cadence so important? Your muscles are deigned in a way to absorb forces such as gravity and then transfer this energy into movement such as running. This theory is know as the stretch shortening cycle. Essentially your muscles work as elastic shortening and lengthening to create movement. This process is most efficient at higher cadence speeds when running. At lower cadence speeds, the stored energy in the muscles is not used as effectively.

Here is an example you can try. Seriously, get stand up and try this……… NOW. Jump up and down rapidly, in place, on two feet landing, on the front of your foot.

When you are doing this your using the stretch shortening cycle in your muscles to make this movement highly efficient.

Now stand up again and jump one time every 10 seconds at the same height as before.

It was harder wasn’t it.

This is because you are not taking advantage of gravity and the stretch shortening cycle to the same degree. To jump that same height you are most likely bending your hip, knee and ankle joints more than before to create more of a spring force in your muscles to complete the same action.

What dose this have to do with running cadence?

The slower your running cadence the more energy you lose to propel your self forward. The faster your turn over the more you use the spring like qualities of your muscles to move forward. Just like in the jumping you just did, it was easier to jump rapidly vs once every 10 seconds.

To take advantage of this your cadence should be 90 or higher when running.

What is ideal for cycling?

Cycling seems to be more individual all though most top cyclist fall some ware between 80 and 100. One example of different types of cycling styles is Lance Armstrong versus Jan Ulrich. Lance has a very high turnover while Jan has (or had) a slower turn over and grinds away. You can make the argument that Lances style wins because he won more Tour De France races. Irregardless the are 2 world class cyclist with 2 very different styles yet both are world class fast.

In my opinion cycling cadence is more individual and one needs to experiment with what they are best with on the bike. Some will say that if your cadence on the bike is not 90 or higher it will be harder to run as it doesn’t match an efficient running cadence. As shown before, from the study, this may be true at first while running but then one can get the cadence to pick up.

Higher cadence right away on the run may be more important for top racers in shorter distance triathlons as often the pace is full throttle right off the bike. Thus higher cycling cadence may be more important.

In longer distances this may be less of an issue as Chrissie Wellington (2 time Ironman Hawaii champion) is displaying as she has a cycling cadence in the 70’s but still fly’s on the run.

My suggestion on all this is keep running cadence at 90 or higher and experiment with you cycling cadence to see what works best for you. You may find it way to hard to run off the bike with a slower cycling cadence. Most likely your cycling cadence will fall between 80 and 100.

Enough will all the jargon, it is you time to go and do it!

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