Pro Tips: Talking Cadence with Julie Krasniak

A few weeks ago I noticed an Instagram conversation around cadence. It was a photo of Julie Krasniak scarfing a snack, but one commenter noted that she was riding in the small ring, which led another commenter to note that he had seen her ride 120 miles in the small ring, spinning 110 RPMs all the way. Julie then provided a brief explanation of her high-cadence strategy. It got me thinking.

I average 80-85RPMs for most rides. I don’t think about it much. But what if I did? What if I could bump it up a bit? Would there be any benefits? Would it make me more efficient. I started asking around to find answers and I started at the original source: Julie herself. Krasniak is a pro cyclist with the Rapha Focus, a 4th generation bicycle racer and 12-time French National Champion. She was kind enough to answer a few questions for me via email. In the next installment, Coach Russell Cree of Upper Echelon Fitness and Rehabilitation will break down some of the science and training strategy behind the things that Krasniak mentions here.

Krasniak recently moved from France to Portland and is improving her English language skills at an impressive rate. I have left her responses mostly un-altered, except where necessary for clarification. 

1. I’ve heard you spin a pretty mean cadence. How many RPM’s do you average on a ride? How many RPMs were you averaging when you were riding on junior gearing?

I try do be around 110. When I was junior and before, our game was to be around 120 because it was the cadence of guys on track who were beating chrono!

2. Is it the same on a hilly ride or a very long ride?

You can’t do it on a hilly ride, but you can try. The goal is to get closer and have everytime the right gears to take the best of a high cadence, it’s never spinning and you everytime have to feel pressure on the pedal.

3. Where did you learn this?

My dad was a bikeracer then a coach, and he was really focus on that because it’s how he was training when he was on national team, in Poland and in France. Also it’s the best way to improve. When you pro, you ride everyday anyway, everybody do the same kind of intervals, the trick is to focus on how you do it, you have to focus on details to be better.

4. Obviously, you’ve been very successful with it, why do you think it works? What are the advantages?

I wasn’t that successful. But I believe I did good on races because of that. I was a small format, climber profile; small muscles, fragile health, but I do have really high endurance capacity since very young, and I did win or do really well at races on flat because I mixed this natural capacity with a work on my cadence. It was really important for TT and I liked to race it. If you able to keep high cadence, whatever the ride, you can be 100% all the time when other competitor will need rest. It’s why riding on a [stationary] trainer is so hard, because you never stop to turn your legs, you get no rest. You want be able to do that on race, give everything. Training that way is a good way to be ready. On mountain bike, you can’t never let your focus go down, so even you are on a downhill, you body keep the effort and it make you confident to keep pedaling. Same when you escape on the road, it’s time to never stop to pedaling until the line, which it’s not the case if you are on the pack.

5. I noticed when riding the Tour de France last year in a peloton of older Dutch men that most of them push a very big gear, turning over maybe 65-70 RPMs. Is that a Dutch thing? :)

Well, push a big gears works, to win a sprint or for cyclo. But if you want win Tour des Flandres, you need a different strategy! Cancellara dropped Sagan, seat on his saddle, and you can see his cadence is higher than the one of Sagan, who have to sprint to try to keep up, and then he just explode, while Cancellara just seat on line, aero, keep turning his legs without showing a shadow of pain. Cancellara is a great example of what you can accomplish working on your cadence – be world champ of TT, yellow jersey on Tour de France, eventually win Tour des Flandres and Roubaix in a row… Be like Bo Jackson, be good at everything because you get good skills!…

6. Any tips for how to increase cadence? Drills your coach taught you or things you learned along the way that help?

A screen with a number, I believe you have to practice for years with a Garmin or a Polar to start to feel what is your more efficience cadence. Each person is different, you can’t really do it if you are not ” a big engine”, have natural huge lung and a heart with great potential. High cadence will make work your body faster, it’s like an engine on a car which will rev high, some will get burn if you go too high…!… It’s something you can improve just for fun, for some reason, the fiber on your muscle you use on high cadence will regenerate as it go, while using just power [spinning a lower cadence] will make you tired faster and will need days to make new fibers. Or you can be dutch :-). Don’t go from 90 to 110 in a day. Do it step by step and be aware of what you are before start this kind of new stuff in your training. If you don’t like TT or win race in a break, well, you maybe don’t need to change anything!

I took this photo of Julie Krasniak while laying on the concrete in a parking lot in Metz, France. Krasniak had come to meet us at the end of one of the stages of the Tour de France and had been waiting hours for our arrival. I cannot tell you how much her visit lifted our spirits!

16 Responses to “Pro Tips: Talking Cadence with Julie Krasniak”

  1. chr15 says:

    Keep coming with the PRO tips Heidi, I need all the help I can get. I’ve been riding 39t all winter and bearing in mind Julie’s comment about the right gearing I’m thinking of trying a compact for a while.

    • Heidi Swift says:

      Chris! One of the things Russell talks about is the amazing availability of gearing these days and how more people should be moving to compact set-ups. In France, the SRAM wi-fli (34-32 GEAR!!) we had saved our knees. The Dutch made fun of us at first, but they weren’t laughing anymore when we hit the long, steep climbs :)

      • chr15 says:

        If it’s good enough for Heidi Swift it’s good enough for me. :) There aren’t to many Dutch around here so I should be OK.

  2. Meagan says:

    This is a fun and helpful article! I’ve never ridden with a cadence sensor, but after reading this I think I’ll dig it out of my bike box and try it out.

  3. Jon Gove says:

    Great read! I learned early in my road biking life (30 years ago), from Ruthie Matthes’ first coach in Sun Valley, Idaho, that high cadence was the way to go. On my road bike, my cadence sweet spot is 106 rpms. I road with a cadence sensor for years, but now, even without a computer on my bike, I know when I’m in the zone. I managed a bike shop in Sun Valley for about 6 years, and when helping others understand gearing and cadence I liked to explain it in terms they could relate to, driving a car with standard transmission. If you are in too high of a gear in your car, the engine will lug and chug and not run smoothly. Down shift and raise the rpms though, and it purrs like a kitten. For most people though, the thought of faster moving legs means working harder and using more energy. It’s difficult for them to understand the increased efficiency of a higher cadence. No where does this benefit riders more than in Mt. Biking. Learning to spin on a road bike will make your off road riding much easier, and more enjoyable. Spin to win baby!!

  4. jayne duvall says:

    great piece! yeah i totally have to refocus in the spinning. a few years back i had a coach that had me spinning once or twice a week at a high cadence but also at a specific heart rate zone, since i don’t have a power meter….next toy….but anyway just moved cadence to my main screen on the garmin. we’ll see how it crosses over in climbing cuz i pretty much climb everything with 50×27..i can only imagine how motivating julie must have been when you guys did the TDF. I am still amazed by that feat!

  5. jayne duvall says:

    …oh and you should put this in peloton magazine!

  6. erikv says:

    Ride the velodrome this summer. You’ll get a feel for what it means to get “on top of” a gear, and you can not do it at 85rpm.

    Phil always taught us to spin. Partly because we had lots of juniors in the group, but he also thinks that’s how everyone should pedal.

    Try the velodrome or ride a fixie for a month on some rolling hills and you’ll get a taste, then decide if it’s for you.

  7. James F. Duncan says:

    Really is an arresting article. Hope you expand on it. Thanks for sharing.

  8. [...] by Heidi Swift on Apr 22, 2013 in Life | 0 comments Last week, I spoke with Julie Krasniak about the benefits of working to increase cadence. She gave some interesting insights about how it [...]

  9. I remember, back in the day, calling this routine fartlec in running. Same rudiments as cadence training in it’s simplicity. On a 4-6 mile run we would sprint 100-200 yards, recover for another 200 yards and sprint again. Not for the entire run, of course.

    We have been doing the cadence work in our spin class a couple days a week. Love it and see/feel progress.

    Thanks for sharing!

  10. New School Cadence Gal says:

    While not debating the success of Ms. Krasniak, it seems the message is high cadence for high cadence sake. In the next installment Russell thankfully clarifies use of cadence and gearing, albeit at 50k perspective.

    If you take the advice of “spin 110 rpm” everywhere thinking “that the Euros do it and so should I” remember that many of the Euros are still anti compact gearing.

    Cadence and gearing should be applied appropriately per the requirements of your race, training, etc.

  11. djconnel says:

    High cadence is less energy efficient: you waste energy just spinning your legs around, even without moving the bike forward. Try riding a bike on a trainer without the roller connected. You’re doing no useful work, but it’s still metabolic work to just rotate the pedals. On the other hand, it’s less force required. Force is important. Try doing a leg press in the gym without moving your legs, just supporting the weight. That’s zero power, but the force itself is fatiguing. So optimal cadence is about striking the balance between energy and force. Of course you can train yourself to a more efficient pedal stroke and improve your ability at high cadence, or improve your leg strength and improve your endurance at low cadence, and these are good things, but the best cadence for an individual depends on a balance between smoothness, aerobic capacity, and muscular strength and endurance.

    • jayne duvall says:

      well said djconnel. i think this is where i am coming from when climbing. if i am just spinning i simply don’t have enough force on the pedals to make meaningfull movement forward and my heart rate becomes elevated. it is a balance for sure.

  12. heather says:

    Thanks for your 2 postings about cadence. Lovely bicycle wrote a post with a link to this, but she seemed to be almost bragging about high her cadence was and all the praise she got without really getting into why it is better. Am I supposed to feel bad for not spinning so high? For some reason I got it into my head that I had to prove how strong I was by pedalling in the ‘hard gears’ much of the time which makes for slower cadence. I ride for transportation mainly, fairly long distances, not aiming for anything technical right now. I’ve been also riding bikes with really really limited gear range for my hilly terrain for awhile. I have recently tried experimenting with higher cadence although I do not have any computery things. All I can say is that it depends on many variables.