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Churn it or spin it

GrifterukGrifteruk Posts: 244
edited November 2013 in Training, fitness and health
Our club operates a dedicated 1hr spin class every Thursday over winter with an experienced instructor. Members say it helps maintain fitness as well as being a good social activity. All members operate at their own abilities, we are all knackered at the end and I have hit a new max HR of 202bpm.

I don't want to provoke a debate on whether spinning is a good or bad way to spend my time, nor discussion on getting out in the wind and rain (we do that as well). However I would be interested in people's views on one element.

We operate interval sessions of between 4 and 7 minutes and at various points during standing "climbs" there is a push to higher and higher gears. Without sounding big headed, I can cope with the higher gearing up to the maximum on the spin bike, but the net result is a significant lowering of cadence, down to 40-45rpm for the hardest gear. I don't tend to push that high and try to keep myself around 50-60rpm (although I acknowledge even this is low in comparison to a road cadence where I tend to operate at between 80 and 105 rpm).

My aim from spinning is cardio improvement and improving my ability to suffer on the bike for set durations. I would be interested in views on whether people think I would get more out of maintaining a faster cadence and associated high heart rate or to push a harder gear (which still comes with a high heart rate, just at a slower leg speed).

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  • cougiecougie Posts: 22,512
    I was taught to teach indoor cycling as I would ride outside.

    I'd really try and avoid slow cadences when climbing - keep it to 60 or so if you can. If you were out on the bike and you were down to 40rpm - you'd change gear or you'd be cursing yourself for going up a 1 in 3.

    You're putting a lot of strain on the knees at low cadence.
  • Knees will suffer but will your 'leg strength' or 'power' increase? Be interested to hear others thoughts on this. This is similar to the whole "should I buy fixed gear and mash a big gear" debate.
    The Human Cyclist - A blog, try it, you might like it...
  • phreakphreak Posts: 2,548
    Train for the kind of riding you want to get better on. Seems unlikely that you'll have any climbs that will require that kind of cadence, so why train at it?
  • cougiecougie Posts: 22,512
    I know big gears were popular when Moser was setting the hour record. He'd put it in a big gear and ride a slope.
    Then again he did lots of things we'd not be doing now !
  • bahzobbahzob Posts: 2,195
    I think you would get the most benefit from varying your approach and trying a variety of cadences.

    When I do short intervals I do each one at a different rpm. When doing long intervals I'll vary rpm just to make them more interesting.

    This way you will find out what is best for you which is really what you need to do as one size won't fit all.

    However this may not be the rpm that feels most comfortable which is why you want to force yourself to vary things. In my case I feel most comfortable at 75rpm but can sustain more power longer at 90rpm.

    I am not alone in this. One drill Bradley Wiggins did was to do threshold intervals in 5 minute chunks, 1 minute turning a massive gear at 50rpm 4 minutes turning his normal 90+rpm.

    A couple of tips for keeping cadence high while standing
    - Cleat position (or where you place foot on pedal if you dont use these) makes a big difference. The closer they are to the middle of the foot the easier it is. I recently moved mine from the front to rear and it had a massive effect on my sustainable power while standing up, mainly by meaning I could comfortably do 70rpm before it was more like 60.
    - You should feel as if your backside is doing a lot of work. Without getting into too much gory detail each rotation should feel like shifting weight so right butt cheek is over right pedal, using it to turn the crank then quickly shifting weight so left cheek is over left pedal using it to turn it etc. Just focussing on this should help keep cadence and power high. Other muscles, like the quads will do their bit but because of their position relative to the pedal can't do as much as when you are seated. (Which is one reason why doing a short stint standing up can help if feeling tired during a long effort, it gives some muscles a bit of a rest)
    Martin S. Newbury RC
  • GrifterukGrifteruk Posts: 244
    Thanks all some confirmation of my existing thoughts and useful other pointers.

    I agree that I wouldn't do this on the road, although given the durations of this slower cadence are often short (commonly 90 seconds or much less) I was interested to see if anyone could provide a justification or evidence to support this in terms of performance improvement. After all there is not much call for some training techniques in a race or long ride, but we still do them in training.

    The spin bike I use does have a power meter on it. As I use the same bike I would hope it is relatively consistent although probably not relative to my turbo or recently obtained powertap. Perhaps I will experiment with it alongside cadence this evening and see if I can perceive any trends which suit me best.
  • I'd have thought that at this stage of the year, some sort of "overload" training would be good (or at least not bad), as it's common in other endurance sports. So long as you don't overload to the point of injury, or spend so much time "weight lifting" that aerobic conditioning is compromised, then the low-cadence stuff described will build strength and give you more options when riding e.g. being able to power up climbs without changing down or accelerating hard whilst seated etc.
  • okgookgo Posts: 4,368
    It really won't.

    OP find a cadence that suits you are ride at that, 300w is 300w whether its at 60 rpm or 100rpm. Why people advocate overgeared training I have no idea, it does nothing any favours. If you want to get strong, go and do sqauts, they too will not make one jot of difference to cycling unless you are only doing very quick events from a standing start.
    Blog on my first and now second season of proper riding/racing - www.firstseasonracing.com
  • I'd have thought that at this stage of the year, some sort of "overload" training would be good (or at least not bad), as it's common in other endurance sports. So long as you don't overload to the point of injury, or spend so much time "weight lifting" that aerobic conditioning is compromised, then the low-cadence stuff described will build strength and give you more options when riding e.g. being able to power up climbs without changing down or accelerating hard whilst seated etc.

    To clarify, it is *highly* unlikely that continuous low cadence training would build strength, and is unlikely to build power at any rate greater than if you pedalled at a normal cadence. Even if you ride around at 50 revs/min (or any other number!), the forces are still way too low to increase your strength. Endurance cycling (whether it's a track pursuit or riding the TdF) is an extremely low force sport such that the vast majority of people already have sufficient strength to compete at world class level. On the other hand, only a tiny number of people have sufficient metabolic and cardiovascular power that would allow them to compete at world class level.

    On the other hand if you did want to increase your strength and increase it in a cycling specific manner, then you should do standing start efforts over about 50-m in a moderate to large gear.

    Finally, most cyclists simply do not have sufficient power to ride up very steep climbs in the gearing that is generally available at a moderate-high cadence and, are therefore forced to ride at a low cadence. this is something you need to be able to cope with. For e.g. if i ride up a 15% climb for a couple of minutes at 300 W at 70 kg i'm probably riding at 10 km/hr and therefore in 39 x 25 (my lowest gear) i'm probably suffering at < 50 revs/min. Note that i have not bothered to calculate the velocity, power and cadence, - i'm just guessing these as i'm short of time.

    ric
    Coach to Michael Freiberg - Track World Champion (Omnium) 2011
    Coach to James Hayden - Transcontinental Race winner 2017, and 2018
    Coach to Jeff Jones - 2011 BBAR winner and 12-hour record
    Check out our new website https://www.cyclecoach.com
  • okgo wrote:
    Why people advocate overgeared training I have no idea...

    I advocated it because training using higher loads than one needs to deal with when competing is a core part of other endurance sports. Is cycling so different? Genuine question - I don't know. I train using low resistance as otherwise I re-b*gger my back, so I've not been able to trial it myself.
  • Endurance cycling (whether it's a track pursuit or riding the TdF) is an extremely low force sport such that the vast majority of people already have sufficient strength to compete at world class level.

    Thanks for the thoughtful response. V interesting.

    Re the specific section I've quoted above, if one is an amateur racer or even a weaker member of a club run, then cycling is not just an endurance event. There are times when one can be required to produce a full-on sprint to get into a break or simply avoid getting dropped on a "power climb". If you've not trained for such efforts then you'll unperform relative to potential, one would think. It seems logical that to best prepare for such efforts you'd need a strength building phase of training followed by a "speed" phase, as this is fairly standard stuff in other endurance sports where a tactical sprint is often required.
  • imposter2.0imposter2.0 Posts: 11,724
    Endurance cycling (whether it's a track pursuit or riding the TdF) is an extremely low force sport such that the vast majority of people already have sufficient strength to compete at world class level.

    Thanks for the thoughtful response. V interesting.

    Re the specific section I've quoted above, if one is an amateur racer or even a weaker member of a club run, then cycling is not just an endurance event. There are times when one can be required to produce a full-on sprint to get into a break or simply avoid getting dropped on a "power climb". If you've not trained for such efforts then you'll unperform relative to potential, one would think. It seems logical that to best prepare for such efforts you'd need a strength building phase of training followed by a "speed" phase, as this is fairly standard stuff in other endurance sports where a tactical sprint is often required.

    The 'strength' issue has been discussed many times on here - might be worth doing a search. As Ric says, road cycling is not a sport where strength plays a huge role. Strength and power are not the same thing.
  • It doesn't matter whether you're last in the group* or first at the TdF, it's an endurance event. Aerobic metabolic pathways become dominant at around 90-secs. So, once something extends past 90-secs it's an endurance event. By the time you get to *4*-minutes it's about 75 - 80% aerobic.

    *the slower someone is, the more it is an aerobic event, by way of the fact it *must* take them longer to do (because they're slower).

    It's incorrect to think that you may need a "full on sprint to get into a break". This is because, for anyone, a full on sprint can only be sustained for a couple of seconds before power starts to decay. So, even highly trained sprint athletes fatigue over a 200-m match sprint on the track. In something like a kilo TT on the track you'd have fatigued rapidly over the 60-secs (maybe a starting effort of ~2000 W with a finishing effort under 500 W). If you've had to do something else before hand (e.g. you're riding in a group) you're already doing something that would prevent you from a) making a full on effort and b) the event has lasted longer than the "sprint" from the peloton to the break. Additionally, it would generally take more than 5-secs of effort to make the bridge between peloton and break.

    Furthermore, while it's perfectly likely a struggling rider would have to make a relative effort that is substantially greater than a fitter person just cruising up a hill, it would still be aerobic because of the likely prior work that is being done (i.e., the person hasn't sat down and rested for an hour before it). They would of course have an anaerobic contribution to their energy, but this is still not a strength related issue.

    If the person riding up the hill is struggling and making a severe effort (and therefore have some anaerobic contribution) but is riding up the same hill at the same velocity as someone significantly fitter who is just taking it easy and who is the same mass and has a similar aerodynamic profile then the power between the two riders would likely be very similar or the same. Accordingly, the forces required at the pedal are going to be very similar (depends on power, angular velocity of the cranks and crank length) and they therefore won't require anymore strength than the fitter person (and if they get dropped it'll be less force!). Even a fit person smashing it hard up a hill is going to generate very little force. And, to win (in the TdF) smashing your way up something like Alpe d'Huez at race winning pace, will require an average force of the equivalent of about 26 kg between both legs if the rider weighs about 70 kg. Given that standing up would require you to generate bodyweight (i.e., 70 kg in this instance), the 26 kg is a fraction of that.

    So, if i ride up Alpe d'Huez (etc) and i keep my standard bottom gear (39 x 25) i'd find
    1) my power is significantly lower than the pros (by about 200 W)
    2) my velocity would be significantly lower
    3) my cadence would be lower because my velocity is lower (which in turn is lower because of my power)
    4) i would suffer
    5) it would *feel* awful
    6) it does indeed feel like you are strength limited, but this isn't the case. i'm limited by my cardiovascular and metabolic ability. forces are still really low. They'll be lower than the pro smashing it up and their forces are piddingly such that most people can generate them.
    7) i can of course lift myself to ride at pro world class level up Alpe d'Huez. i can manage it for about 90-secs before (literally) collapsing in a heap.

    Anyway, the short of it is, you're not limited by strength unless there's something fundamentally 'wrong' with you.

    Ric
    Coach to Michael Freiberg - Track World Champion (Omnium) 2011
    Coach to James Hayden - Transcontinental Race winner 2017, and 2018
    Coach to Jeff Jones - 2011 BBAR winner and 12-hour record
    Check out our new website https://www.cyclecoach.com
  • Given that standing up would require you to generate bodyweight (i.e., 70 kg in this instance), the 26 kg is a fraction of that.
    Not at all disagreeing with the main thrust of the "it's not about strength" principle, since I don't know enough to really comment.

    However, I've often heard this comparison with the force required to stand, or walk up stairs (requiring the ability to lift the whole body weight with each leg), and as an analogy it is clearly flawed.

    Walking up stairs, the body weight is almost vertically above the supporting leg on each step, and each step the leg extends from a much more extended angle. The only time cycling is ever close to this is when standing. For most of the ride one is seated.

    Now, I've just done a little test sitting on a chair and some bathroom scales.

    Sitting down, leaning forward in the cycling position, the maximum force I can apply to the scales with either leg on its own is 27kg if I don't hold on to the desk in front of me (as if I'm just relaxed on the bars when out on the road).

    If I do hold on, and push up as hard as I can with my arms (ie much harder than is realistic when cycling normally) while pushing down with my leg, the absolute maximum force I can apply with either leg is 35kg.

    Now, I'm not a very powerful cyclist, so I expect out on the road I'm not pushing as hard as 26kg.

    But I think it's clear that the margin of strength available (ie the size of the force that can be applied) over strength required is nowhere near as big as 73Kg - 26kg, simply because that 73kg (or 730 N if you prefer!) force cannot be applied when seated in the cycling position.

    I'd be interested in your thoughts.
    Is the gorilla tired yet?
  • i'm not entirely sure i can replicate my cycling position sitting down.

    anyway, i've just sat down on the sofa, and lent forward from my waist with my arms out in front as if i was holding my handlebars (ish). then stood up without holding anything. seemed easy enough. i don't have any scales to measure the weight i can exert. but given i just stood up...
    Coach to Michael Freiberg - Track World Champion (Omnium) 2011
    Coach to James Hayden - Transcontinental Race winner 2017, and 2018
    Coach to Jeff Jones - 2011 BBAR winner and 12-hour record
    Check out our new website https://www.cyclecoach.com
  • I have to say that this is genuinely fascinating. And thanks again for the considered responses.

    Rowing is primarily an aerobic sport and a single stroke doesn't require much strength. The Boat Race commentators regularly used to describe the effort required on a stroke as like lifting a 50 pound bag of potatoes from the floor to your shoulders.

    Yet rowers spend a lot of time rowing at low ratings. Typical regatta race pace is 40 strokes a minute, yet a lot of training is done at 20 strokes a minute, with the energy supplied per stroke higher than during racing. They also spend a lot of time lifting weights, which isn't just a bad weather option in the winter, as the dreaded rowing machine is always available.

    The primary reason for such training is to improve the efficiency of the stroke and enhance the ability to sprint off the start and tactically thereafter. I wonder if the difference is that in cycling, however slow you're going you can simply select the gear that enables you to pedal at your normal cadence - technology permitting re low gears on long climbs - whereas in rowing, the gearing is fixed so to row slower than race pace - which is standard form during long sessions, one can only sensibly row at a lower rating/cadence.
  • BenderRodriguezBenderRodriguez Posts: 907
    edited November 2013
    Churn it or spin it? I would say that you need to do both. However, this is not because 'churning' it will make you 'stronger', as in the sense of being able to squat heavier weights or whatever. What matters here is how varying the cadence influences the recruitment of 'fast twitch' as opposed to 'slow twitch' muscle fibres.

    First thing to remember is that the torque required to turn the cranks is predominantly determined by the power output. To go faster you need to press harder. However, the gear used also plays a role here. So, to produce say, 300 watts on a climb, one could 'spin' a low gear at 90 Rpm or more, or 'churn' a bigger gear at 70 Rpm or even less. Most rider's self-selected cadence on a climb will tend to be somewhere around the low end of this range, largely because this maximises their power output for the amount of oxygen that they can supply. However, in order to develop the torque required, this lower cadence will tend to recruit a higher percentage of 'fast twitch' muscle fibres, which in turn will result in a higher concentration of blood lactate and the early onset of fatigue. Consequently, training designed to increase one's climbing cadence, although being more demanding aerobically will, by reducing the torque needed, allow the slow-to-fatigue 'slow twitch' fibres to meet more of the work load, so delaying the onset of fatigue.

    The upshot of the above is that, if you need to climb a single Alpine col at maximal speed, 'churning it' will give you the fastest time. However, if you have a succession of such climbs, perhaps during an Alpine sportive, you need to gear down and minimise the use of your your fast-twitch muscle fibres if you are to last the course.

    An important point to note here is that those quick-to-fatigue 'fast twitch' muscle are very amenable to training and if 'hammered' with a high training load can become far more aerobic in nature, largely due to an increase in the number of mitochondria they have. So, you need to do some training to 'set' your preferred climbing cadence when riding hard (i.e. at MLSS) at a rate that will allow you to maximise your endurance by using a lower gear / higher cadence. However, you also need to do some training that is designed to maximise the recruitment, and so enhance the aerobic capacity, of those fast twitch fibres. You can do this by going simply going harder, but this will soon lead to fatigue. Alternatively, whilst still demanding a high (typically MLSS) work load, one can increase the recruitment of those fast-twitch fibres by using a higher gear at lower cadence.

    One final point, although one's position and so forth will have an effect, it makes sense that ones preferred cadence when climbing should not be too dissimilar to one's preferred cadence for the same power output on the flat. If your preferred cadence for a '10' is 100 Rpm, but one's preferred cadence on a climb is 70 Rpm for the same power output, that is quite a mismatch. I have a feeling that this sort of mismatch is in part simply due to habit, with most people being over geared on climbs from the first day they get on a bike, primarily because makers still tend to sell road bikes with a bottom gear that only a pro could use comfortably.
    "an original thinker… the intellectual heir of Galileo and Einstein… suspicious of orthodoxy - any orthodoxy… He relishes all forms of ontological argument": jane90.
  • Wow.

    Who would of thought riding a bike was so technical.

    Fascinating read.
  • Great response thanks everyone. Unfortunately after spending a lot of yesterday hacking plaster off walls by the time it came to spin my lungs were full of dust and I was good for nothing !!

    It is indeed very interesting and whilst I ain't got my head round it all yet gonna spend a bit of time thinking on this over the weekend.

    cheers all
  • BenderRodriguezBenderRodriguez Posts: 907
    edited November 2013
    bahzob wrote:
    This way you will find out what is best for you which is really what you need to do as one size won't fit all. However this may not be the rpm that feels most comfortable which is why you want to force yourself to vary things. In my case I feel most comfortable at 75rpm but can sustain more power longer at 90rpm.

    That is just what I have found. However, it takes a real mental effort if I am to avoid trying to minimise the aerobic demand by letting the cadence drop.
    bahzob wrote:
    One drill Bradley Wiggins did was to do threshold intervals in 5 minute chunks, 1 minute turning a massive gear at 50rpm 4 minutes turning his normal 90+rpm.

    That would seem to fit in with what I said about both 'hammering' those slow-twitch fibres and training yourself to ride at the most sustainable cadence, even if this is more aerobically demanding. I hadn't thought of doing both in the same session though. Do you have more details / a source for Wiggins' approach?
    "an original thinker… the intellectual heir of Galileo and Einstein… suspicious of orthodoxy - any orthodoxy… He relishes all forms of ontological argument": jane90.
  • most cyclists simply do not have sufficient power to ride up very steep climbs in the gearing that is generally available at a moderate-high cadence and, are therefore forced to ride at a low cadence. this is something you need to be able to cope with. For e.g. if i ride up a 15% climb for a couple of minutes at 300 W at 70 kg i'm probably riding at 10 km/hr and therefore in 39 x 25 (my lowest gear) i'm probably suffering at < 50 revs/min

    This approach might well work 'for a couple of minutes', but on a long, Alpine-style climb, you really do need to gear down.

    For many riders, a 34 'compact' front ring and 30 sprocket is about as low as they would consider, but even at a lowly 70 Rpm in this gear still gives a respectable 'Alpine' climbing speed of 10 km/hr, with 80 Rpm giving 11.5 km/hr and 90 rpm almost 13 km/hr, which is enough to see you get up the most commonly timed section of Alpe d'Huez in under 62 minutes. Even that 70 Rpm on 34 x 30 would see you get up Alpe d'Huez in 1 hour 20, which would be a respectable performance, especially at the end of something the the Marmotte. (80 rpm would see you getting up the Alpe in about 1 hour and 9 minutes.)

    Speaking of the Marmotte, climbing at an average of 10 km/hr (around 800m/hr vertical) should see you come in with a sub 8 hour time, and that is with an average climbing cadence of just 70 Rpm on 34 x 30. Anyone who is likely to take longer than 8 hours really should look at fitting a triple with 'tourist' sized chain rings. A 26 front ring with a 27 rear sprocket will still see you doing a shade under 8.5 km/hr at 70 Rpm!

    One caveat I would add here is that the slower you get, the lower the torque you need to generate, even on a climb, so if you are a slow rider you might well be able to pedal at a lower cadence without 'burning out' all your fast-twitch fibres in the process. The likes of Wiggins will have to generate a lot of torque to climb at the speed they do, so a higher, 90 Rpm plus cadence makes a lot of sense. For mortals a minimum cadence of 80 Rpm is probably a good compromise, with 'donkeys' prossibly being best off with a minimum cadence of around 70 Rpm. That said, all this assumes that your 'slow twitch' fibres will be up to the relatively modest job demanded of them and this may not be the case, especially if your balance of 'fast' versus 'slow' twitch fibres is heavily weighted in favour of fast twitch fibres. As ever, YMMV!

    All this pretty much follows what is found on the flat, with the optimal cadence being higher for higher power outputs, whilst if you are rolling along 80 rpm (or even less) is usually found to be the most efficient, in a lab situation at least.
    "an original thinker… the intellectual heir of Galileo and Einstein… suspicious of orthodoxy - any orthodoxy… He relishes all forms of ontological argument": jane90.
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