Using Cadence to Run Better Off The Bike

Want To Run More Comfortably Off The Bike?

This article takes three concepts (two of them common myths) and puts them together to help you run better of the bike.

Big Gears = Big Power


As I explain in detail in this post the common belief that the only way to generate power on a bike is to grind a big gear isn’t quite correct.

Whilst force is one factor, velocity is an equal factor when calculating wattage. We don’t mean the velocity of the bike – we mean the velocity of the cranks which is another term for cadence. An easier gear pedalled at a higher cadence generates the same power as a harder gear at a lower cadence – with much less muscle breakdown.

Higher Run Cadence Is More Efficient


Many studies and articles have discussed the affect of an increased running cadence in eliciting improved running economy, primarily due to optimising the muscle shortening reflex – using the energy stored within the muscles and tendons (kinetic energy) and releasing this effectively as a reflex action.

Lower stride rates reduce this reflex action reducing economy and requiring more muscular engagement/energy.

Increase Cadence Coming Into Transition Make Running Easier


Everyone knows when coming into transition you should increase cadence to ‘free up’ the legs.  This is well documented in books and articles.

Like a lot of theories that make sense, they are just that – theories.  In a 2010 study at the Australian Institute of Sport (that I took part in) this was actually tested. We had electrodes attached to muscles and a 3D motion camera was used to look at the impact of cycling cadence on running economy.

The result was that coming in ‘hard’ – at the same intensity/cadence as the majority of the ride had little to no impact on running economy

Putting It All Together

Higher Cadence Cycling is more energy efficient with little/no loss in power, higher cadence running is more efficient, an athlete doesn’t need to change their cadence between the bike and the run.  In summary this means:

Find your natural common cadence for the bike AND the run.

There are a number of muscles that are common when cycling and running such as the hamstrings and Vastus Medialis (VM).  If a muscles has been firing at a certain tempo for 1,2 or even 6 hours it makes logical sense to continue firing at the same tempo on the run rather than try and find a new pattern.

For most triathletes this ‘common point’ is a cadence of around 94 RPM and a step rate of 188 (which is a leg RPM of 94) although this obviously varies for individuals.  Creating a disconnect between these two firing rhythms is a common cause of cramping or lack of co-ordination/propioception (feel) when running off the bike.  Notice that the two muscles I mentioned – hamstrings and VM are also the two that are the most common areas for cramping when running off the bike?

Every physical object has a natural frequency and there are physical formulas to calculate this based on mass, length etc.  Given there are some many parts to the human body it is almost impossible to calculate but is often easy to identify by feel.

Try running at a comfortable-uncomfortable pace, a pace that feel hard but that you can sustain (often this equates to Threshold or ‘Tempo’ Pace) and you will often find this feels ‘natural’.  Try this and note your stride rate.  From my experience however I often find triathletes need to lift their run cadence so actually do this test on the bike and then adjust the run cadence.

On your next brick session try matching your run cadence (either use a foot pod or count steps for 15 seconds) and your bike cadence and note how much more comfortable it feels.

About The Author 

Graeme Turner is a Nationally Accredited Triathlon Coach and also a qualified Sports Nutritionist, Strength and Conditioning Coach and Masseuse. Graeme has competed in Triathlons and Marathons around the world including the Hawaiian Ironman and Ironman 70.3 World Championships as well as qualifying for the Boston and New York Marathons. Graeme is available for coaching. Follow Graeme on Twitter.