Cadence, or revolutions per minute (RPM), becomes important in trainer sessions, as variance in RPM can shift the type of load you feel, simulate different terrain and dial in specific types of training. Many triathletes find an optimal natural cadence between 78 and 85 RPM, but there is a wide variety of RPMs that feel natural to any individual athlete. I have some athletes who sit comfortably at 97 RPM (typically those who are stronger from a cardiovascular standpoint), and to force them into a lower cadence would slow them down. We structure trainer workouts around an athlete’s “base” cadence—the RPM they naturally settle into if they are doing an endurance-based interval on a flat road. While we may look to evolve this over time, it is usually best to use this as a platform to build from.
Your trainer program should include plenty of specific sessions that focus on muscle tension, or lower RPM intervals. Working at a lower cadence will shift the stress to your musculoskeletal system and force over-recruitment of cycling muscles. While maintaining a relaxed upper body, good form and constant tension on the chain, your breathing will become easier as the load is shifted to the legs. Extended intervals at low, constant RPM can simulate hill climbs and are a superb addition to the program. Alternatively, you should also train at the other end of the cadence spectrum, with plenty of high RPM work to improve efficiency, create a neuromuscular overload and accelerate muscular fatigue during longer sessions. Higher RPM, typically at a lower power, is often more stressful and uncomfortable for triathletes, with the claustrophobic feeling of a higher heart rate and heavier breathing.
Build trainer sessions with both intensity and cadence variability to keep your training effective and engaging.