Masher or Spinner! What’s Your Cycling Style?

By Nathan Parsons

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This is an area that most cyclists wouldn’t even consider when thinking about ways to increase performance.

“Cadence is an individual thing, a really high cadence (spinners) or a low cadence (masher) may work, or it may not” says Spencer Brown, the head of Strength & Conditioning at Peak Performance, in Warwickshire. “But training at higher cadences certainly does increase your pedal stroke efficiency, and if done on rollers, you’ll get the added benefit of neuromuscular adaptations too”.

“In any case, even if you continue to mash on the bike (<70 rpm), the increase in efficiency from high cadence training will allow you to ride faster using less energy anyway.”

There has been much research on cadence. One study looked at recreational cyclists during varying levels of revolutions per minute (rpm). They found cyclists were able to ride longer when using lower cadences (50rpm), versus the classic advice given to beginners of 95rpm, or the even higher 110rpm pro level riders use on the track, in a professional peloton and during hour records.

Pro’s can ride at high cadences for many hours...

...and what we see is that club-level riders tend to ride at ever lower cadences as they tire. However, the lowest amount of oxygen was used when pedalling at 60-70rpm - significantly less than 80-100rpm. Therefore, muscles have better neural efficiency when spinning, but this increases oxygen cost. To what extent this can be further trained is not clear, but the fact that professionals can ride at high cadences for hours and that club-level riders tend to ride in ever lower cadences as they tire, suggests cadence is a parameter for training.

There are some obvious variables that will affect your riding on- or off-road. For example, gradients, the type terrain/surface you choose to cycle on and wind speed and direction. That said, the same principle still applies – speed is a function of your effort (force), your gear selection and cadence.

How do I improve my cadence?

There is no substitute for indoor training which eliminates any uncontrollable variables like wind/gradient etc. It’s a perfect way to test, train and re-test. This way you’ll be guaranteed to reach your goals because you’ll have a structured training plan based on accurate and objective test results. In addition, using a set of rollers is a great way to improve Cadence and cycling technique, which can also bring in some other factors to make this training modality suitable for threshold training.