Put It in the Big Gear—We Explore Low-Cadence, High-Torque Training with Neal Henderson

We take a close look at big gear work. What does the literature say about performance gains? What have elite coaches discovered through practice?

Interval workout
Photo: Mattia Cioni

You’ve heard us talk about so-called “big gear” training on the program before. Many of you probably incorporate it into your riding, and for a variety of reasons.

What’s surprising is how little research has been done on this low-cadence, high-torque riding. Even the definition of what constitutes “low-cadence” remains hazy. And there are as many ways of incorporating this into your workouts as there are coaches. Threshold, sub-threshold, five minutes, or 20 minutes. There are many possibilities, and as many philosophies.

Today we take a closer look at big gear work. What does the research literature say about performance gains and adaptations? What have elite coaches discovered through practice? Are coaches employing something their gut tells them works, and the research has simply yet to catch up?

Our guest today is Neal Henderson, head of sport science at Wahoo, and, in his spare time, an elite coach to several WorldTour riders. Neal is one of those coaches who routinely uses big gear work with most of his athletes—from track riders to time trialists, including world champion Rohan Dennis.

We also hear from Sebastian Weber of INSCYD and Jim Miller at USA Cycling, two other highly experienced coaches who utilize big gear workouts with their athletes to great success. Finally, we hear how pro Petr Vakoc incorporates big gear work into his training.

Alright, put it in the 53×11. Let’s make you fast!

References

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  • Aasvold, L. O., Ettema, G., & Skovereng, K. (2019). Joint specific power production in cycling: The effect of cadence and intensity. PloS One, 14(2), e0212781. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0212781
  • Bertucci, W., Grappe, F., Girard, A., Betik, A., & Rouillon, J. D. (2005). Effects on the crank torque profile when changing pedalling cadence in level ground and uphill road cycling. Journal of Biomechanics, 38(5), 1003–1010. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jbiomech.2004.05.037
  • Hansen, E. A., & Rønnestad, B. R. (2017). Effects of Cycling Training at Imposed Low Cadences: A Systematic Review. International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, 12(9), 1127–1136. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1123/ijspp.2016-0574
    Kristoffersen, M., Gundersen, H., Leirdal, S., & Iversen, V. V. (2014). Low cadence interval training at moderate intensity does not improve cycling performance in highly trained veteran cyclists. Frontiers in Physiology, 5, 34. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.3389/fphys.2014.00034
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  • Nimmerichter, A., Eston, R. G., Bachl, N., & Williams, C. (2011). Longitudinal monitoring of power output and heart rate profiles in elite cyclists. Journal of Sports Sciences, 29(8), 831–839. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1080/02640414.2011.561869
  • P., M. A., & E., M. P. (1997). Effect of cycling experience, aerobic power, and power output on preferred and most economical cycling cadences. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 29(9), 1225–1232. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1097/00005768-199709000-00016
  • Paton, C. D., Hopkins, W. G., & Cook, C. (2009). Effects of Low- vs. High-Cadence Interval Training on Cycling Performance. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 23(6), 1758–1763. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1519/jsc.0b013e3181b3f1d3
  • Sacchetti, M., Lenti, M., Palumbo, A. S. D., & Vito, G. D. (2010). Different effect of cadence on cycling efficiency between young and older cyclists. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 42(11), 2128–33. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1249/mss.0b013e3181e05526
  • Whitty, A. G., Murphy, A. J., Coutts, A. J., & Watsford, M. L. (2016). The effect of low- vs high-cadence interval training on the freely chosen cadence and performance in endurance-trained cyclists. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism = Physiologie Appliquée, Nutrition et Métabolisme, 41(6), 666–73. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1139/apnm-2015-0562
  • Woolford, S. M., Withers, R. T., Craig, N. P., Bourdon, P. C., Stanef, T., & McKenzie, I. (1999). Effect of pedal cadence on the accumulated oxygen deficit, maximal aerobic power and blood lactate transition thresholds of high-performance junior endurance cyclists. European Journal of Applied Physiology and Occupational Physiology, 80(4), 285–291. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1007/s004210050594

Episode Transcript

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