Dr. Ferrari, Question re: Triathlon cycling
marco, Canada 23 May 2003
Hi again, I very much respect your opinion and would be interested to know what your opinion is on the validity of the following.
For competitive Ironman athletes (top ten), is a strategy of lower cadence (85 - 90) an optimal approach, given that the athlete has to run a marathon after?
In theory, the lower cadence stresses the slow twitch muscles more and keeps the heart rate somewhat lower. Also, since slow twitch fibers consume less glycogen, fuel stores are saved somewhat for the run. Hence fast twitch fibers are spared for use on the run, where a faster-than-normal cadence helps the athlete break down the run stresses into smaller components.
Keeping in mind that a triathlete can't afford to end the 180k ride having depleted themselves 100% on the ride, is the above approach optimal for an experienced triathlete?
Thank you very much if you can spare the time to answer this question!
Germany 23 May 2003
Marco great Question
Iam a German Im too.
Iam Looking to Tell MF to this tropic
The ideal pedaling cadence changes accordingly to the power output of the cyclist.
Italy 23 May 2003
Example: pushing at 300 watts, the best cadence is about 80 RPM. At 400 watts, it is circa 95 RPM. (see the High RPM: further observations Article).
It is not the muscular contraction speed (for example, spinning legs at high RPM) that "recruits" a certain type of muscle fiber; the muscular tension plays a major role here instead: the higher the tension, the bigger the recruitment of white fibers (fast-twitch).
Hello, thanks for the informative answer! As with all great answers, it raises more questions! :-)
marco, Canada 23 May 2003
Since most triathletes won't push anywhere near their maximum power (they can't, they'd be destroyed for the run after 180k of TT-effort!), and even 300 watts is a high output for 180k (= roughly 40kph I think, on flattish, calm course), your answer implies that triathletes need to constantly focus on keeping muscle TENSION reduced. That means then that a higher cadence is OK, as long as it contributes to lower muscle tension. Hence spinning up hills at cost of increased HR . . .
Since most middle-of-the-pack triathletes are performing at 200 (+/- 50) watts, then a lower cadence is preferred for that reason. Although I can see that absolute wattage is not the issue, but rather % of that athlete's max wattage.
So in other words, I gather that a patient triathlete who intends to run fast off the bike (instead of riding a 180k TT) will be riding well below their maximum power output, even a top performer. Hence they should use a lower cadence. And in the back of their mind, they should use whatever strategies they can to reduce muscle tension during the ride to spare white fibers for the run . . .
...that's all about the ideal cadence in relationship with the power you are pushing. We are not referring to anaerobic threshold wattage or MAX output. It is simple a relationship between watts and RPM.
Italy 23 May 2003
By ideal pedaling cadence we mean the rate that requires the least consumption of oxygen and/or the lowest cardiac frequency.
Obviously a triathlete won't ride the bike part at his threshold intensity. Rather close to a medium pace.
We have to make a little difference here: in road cycling you don't have to run afterwards. In triathlons you have to.
With Dr. Ferrari's experience with top Ironman triathlete Olivier Bernhard over many years, we found that keeping a cadence that is about 90-95 RPM (that is a little higher than it might be the ideal cadence)over the 180 km, it helps reducing muscular tension and joints efforts. A fair advantage for the run!
So, what is theoretically correct from an ideal cadence point of view, it is a bit different in triathlon because of the run.
Our suggestion is to keep about 90-95 RPM on a flat course bike part for triathletes. A little higher than the ideal.
OK, got it -- thanks very much for your replies! This is interesting stuff and sheds a light on some of the contradictory statements found elsewhere on the Internet! I appreciate your taking the time to post a reply!
marco, Canada 26 May 2003
You are welcome.
Italy 26 May 2003
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