ELAD FALTIN The optimal rpm secret – first publish in Harim.co.il (4/10/2009)
Limited number of articles was published on this subject. Most of these articles, unfortunately, rely on Academic research, loaded with too much data that would eventually be overwhelming to the amateur rider, or even to the advanced one, as ”too many trees are hiding the forest.
First of all, what is RPM?
RPM = Revolutions per Minute. Or – CADENCE.
Cycling rpm is the number of pedal strokes that rider perform in a minute. Like running, where we measure the ‘power’ of running by the frequency of the footstep.
What is the effective rpm?
It is the Rpm where which will allow us to ride faster in our target period, depending on the route area.
Complicated? Not really.
On Flat routes, Most riders will use ‘speed’ (Mean=fast RPM) than heavy big power strokes . As we will get to the mountains our RPM will get slower & slower because power is taking the main part (Mean=Low RPM).
According to a period of time our goal, as time is shorter, probably we need to use more power Vs speed (rpm) , on the other hand as the period of time is longer (Endurance) better to use speed than Power.
Research has shown that in a very long race or a hard ride, when we use a relatively (emphasis on relatively) high rpm, accumulated lactic acid will be better removed from the muscles.
Relative to whom?
Great question! Relative to ourselves. That’s basically the optimal rpm secret – there is no such animal. Each rider has a different genetics and physiology: red muscle fibers (muscular endurance) – white muscle fibers (muscular explosive power) – lactic acid threshold – the level Vo2Max etc.
Hence we can conclude that the optimal rpm power in cycling, depends on the rider and the type of the ride (Goal).
Are there low rpm riders? Or – are there high rpm riders it’s a very simple thing …. Well actually, not that simple….
If we are riding an average rpm of 95 -100 or more for 3-4 hours on flat route, we are riding in a relatively high rpm. If the average rpm (on the same route) is around 80-85 even 90 – we are cycling at a low rpm. Yet, this data can only be available after 1 year of training with a professional coach
Why? Because in the course of the years in which I am engaged in training, I met lot of riders that have used low rpm (their optimal pedaling efficiency is over 100 rpm …) when most of there rides were doing 70-80 rpm, mainly because of lack of awareness or knowledge (which can also eventually lead to injury).
Advantages and disadvantages. As noted earlier, the level of lactic acid threshold and Vo2MAX levels affect the ability of riding in high rpm.
The main drawback is that high RPM pedaling raises the pulse. The main advantage is that high RPM pedaling is sparing muscles energy, making them less tired. Riders fatigue increases as lactic acid accumulates in the muscles, exceeding its evacuation capability. This is actually the lactic acid threshold of the rider.
When we cycle in a high pulse level over time, we increase our levels of lactic acid in the muscles thus increase the fatigue. Increasing muscle lactic acid production costs also when we ride in low rpm (therefore: use less force to raise a pulse).
So what is it? The target: finding the optimal pedaling for each one of us.
In other words: what is the highest rpm we can ride, without reaching our lactic threshold. Personal training program and how it can be adjusted to each and every ride and rider?
Riders riding ability is perhaps the result of his fingerprints or his genetic ID card ability. The Coaches ability to determine, whether the rider should be riding in a high or low rpm and how much the rider is actually determined in the nature of his training. Should high rpm riders be trained only on low rpm and vice versa – low rpm riders should train only on high rpm? High rpm riders should focus mainly on raising muscle mass and vice versa: low rpm riders training will focus more on high rpm.
Still – it is not Black or white !
Probably a power rider (low rpm) will improve himself when he will succeed to generate his power with the mix of high cadence (rpm) to the bicycle (don’t forget every rider has his own ‘best’ RPM…but still any ‘best’ can improve).
(Generally – High rpm Riders= Red muscle fibers riders – which generally – tall and skinny)
(Generally – low rpm riders = white muscle fibers – which generally are have ‘lots’ of ‘big’ muscles).
Read carefully for the word Generally – Examples for High cadence training :
Endurance – 2 hours ride at 70-80% at cadence higher in 2-5 rpm than your average.
For advance riders – 2 hours ride at 70-80% at cadence higher in 5- 7 rpm than your average.