Proving that we still have a lot to learn

A bit back I stumbled on this post by Joe Friel’s Blog.  Essentially Joe is the god of all things when it comes to triathlon training (and to a large degree running/cycling).  While all of his posts are awesome from a technical/scientific/detailed standpoint, this one was interestingly different.  It pointed out that as much as we think we understand how the body responds in an athletic environment, sometimes we just haven’t figured it out yet.

The study was regarding the effect of cycling cadence on the run in a triathlon.  In short – did a higher or lower cadence result in a faster run.  Many of us have read or been told that a higher cadence is ideal.  Something in the 90-100 RPM category.  However, along comes a French (it’s always the French!) study that essentially says an significantly lower RPM rate (about 72RPM) actually resulted in a faster run split:

“What they found was that when pedaling at a cadence 20% lower than freely chosen the time to exhaustion on the run increased by 37% on average over the freely-chosen-cadence performance”

This was contrasted with a US study just three years prior that found a 100-110RPM cadence was faster on the run.

“Buff researchers found that after cycling at a high cadence (100-110 rpm) the run times were nearly one minute faster on average than with the freely chosen bout.”

So what gives?  Well, it helps to shine the light on testing methodology, focusing in on why results are so dramatically different between two otherwise identical tests.  It also points out that not all circumstances are equal.  If you take two theoretically identical tests yet with dramatically different results – that begs the question of how are you supposed to race with that data?  Meaning, if something in a controlled environment can’t be controlled – then a place like a race is simply just the wild wild west.

Sometimes you just have to go on feel – and experience.  Playing around with your cadence and see what effect it has on your run.  Eventually you do enough bricks or training sessions and you are able to determine for your body based on either perceived exertion or real data (HR/speed/etc…) what works best for you.  And hey – if you get enough data together, you too can toss your research into the ring.


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  1. Do you know if the changes in cadence affected their bike finishing time? I mean, it seems like saving a couple of minutes on the run is worthless if your bike time is slower…

  2. It seems that if we find one study, we just need to wait a bit and another study will provide us with the opposite conclusion.

  3. I’m a 92 cadence guy, my legs are just too big to do the whole over 100 thing.

    I found that if I eliminate the cycling portion of the race, my run splits are much faster.

    Squirrels suck, kill all the little Mother Fu@$ers :)

    Nice new ride, don’t be “ghetto” like me and race with training wheels on a beautiful Aero machine.

    Love the Zipps!!!!!!!!

  4. SLB

    Interesting stuff, inconclusivly my natural bike cadence is 80-85 and my run one is the same…kinda spooky, was I a bike in a former life?

  5. How does a researcher control for all the variables in a study like that? It seems to me the reason the results are divergent is because controlling for everything in a race situation is too difficult. How would you even set up that experiment?

  6. I’m with danielle on this one..

    good point…

  7. well, thanks for sharing!

  8. Interesting notion, how to fit the bike/run efforts together so you maximize both. And the answer is…?

  9. There’s a lot we still don’t know about the world around us, and that includes our own bodies. But that doesn’t mean we can stop learning – in fact, it only means we need to be even more diligent in our research. As scientists uncover new facts about how the body works, they are able to develop better treatments for various health conditions. And as these treatments become available to more people, their quality of life will improve significantly.