A for Athlete


Cadence is how many revolutions per minute you complete in cycling or running.

There are many different theories out there on what is the optimal cadence. Many believe that it is 90 or higher for both running and cycling.

A triathlete's cadence is a bit of a multidimensional issue because one has to run off the bike.

One theory is that cadence on the bike should be high to match one's cadence on the run, which makes running off the bike easier. A study done on this topic examined runners doing a 20-minute time trial on the bike and then going straight into a 3 K run (much like in a triathlon). Various cadences were used ranging from the slower side (approximately 70) to more than 100. The results showed that run times were not so much affected; however, cadence in the first 300 meters was affected. Participants who had a slow cadence on the bike had a slow cadence in the run during the first 300 meters and vice versa.

This could potentially make a difference if one is in a sprint or Olympic distance and is racing at a high level.

Muscles absorb forces such as gravity and then transfer this energy into movement such as running. This theory is known as the stretch shortening cycle. Essentially your muscles work as elastic shortening and lengthening to create movement. This process is most efficient at higher cadence speeds when running. At lower cadence speeds, the stored energy in the muscles is not used as effectively.

Jump up and down rapidly, in place, with a two-footed landing, on the front of your feet. When you are doing this you are using the stretch shortening cycle in your muscles to make this movement highly efficient. Then change the cadence and stand up again and jump one time every 10 seconds at the same height as before. It was harder, wasn't it?

This is because you are not taking advantage of gravity and the stretch shortening cycle to the same degree. To jump that same height you are most likely bending your hip, knee, and ankle joints more than before to create more of a spring force in your muscles to complete the same action.

What does this have to do with running cadence?

The slower your running cadence, the more energy you lose to propel yourself forward. The faster your turn over the more you use the spring-like qualities of your muscles to move forward. Just like in the jumping you just did, it was easier to jump rapidly versus once every 10 seconds.

To take advantage of this premise your cadence should be 90 or higher when running.

What is ideal for cycling?

Cycling seems to be more individual, although most top cyclists fall somewhere between 80 and 100.

Different cycling cadence styles[]

Consider Lance Armstrong versus Jan Ulrich. Lance has a high turnover while Jan has (or had) a slower turnover. Different world-class cyclists have different styles.

A cycling cadence is more individual and one must experiment with what he or she is best with on the bike. Some will say that if your cadence on the bike is not 90 or higher it will be harder to run because it doesn't match an efficient running cadence. As shown from the study described above, this may be true at first while running but then one can get the cadence to pick up.

Higher cadence right away on the run may be more important for top racers in shorter distance triathlons because often the pace is full throttle right off the bike. Thus higher cycling cadence may be more important.

In longer distances this may be less of an issue as Chrissie Wellington (2-time Ironman Hawaii champion) displays. She has a cycling cadence in the 70s but still flies on the run.


Keep running cadence at 90 or higher.

Experiment with your cycling cadence to see what works best. You may find it way too hard to run off the bike with a slower cycling cadence. Most likely your cycling cadence will fall between 80 and 100.