Factors Affecting Cadence Choice During Submaximal Cycling and Cadence Influence on Performance

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Ernst A. Hansen
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Gerald Smith
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Cadence choice during cycling has been of considerable interest among cyclists, coaches, and researchers for nearly 100 years. The present review examines and summarizes the current knowledge of factors affecting the freely chosen cadence during submaximal cycling and of the influence of cadence choice on performance. In addition, suggestions for future research are given along with scientifically based, practical recommendations for those involved in cycling. Within the past 10 years, a number of papers have been published that have brought novel insight into the subject. For example, under the influence of spinal central pattern generators, a robust innate voluntary motor rhythm has been suggested as the primary basis for freely chosen cadence in cycling. This might clarify the cadence paradox in which the freely chosen cadence during low-to-moderate submaximal cycling is considerably higher and thereby less economical than the energetically optimal cadence. A number of factors, including age, power output, and road gradient, have been shown to affect the choice of cadence to some extent. During high-intensity cycling, close to the maximal aerobic power output, cyclists choose an energetically economical cadence that is also favorable for performance. In contrast, the choice of a relatively high cadence during cycling at low-to-moderate intensity is uneconomical and could compromise performance during prolonged cycling.

The authors are with the Department of Physical Performance, Norwegian School of Sport Sciences, Oslo, Norway.

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