Chris Case //

125 // Put it in the big gear—we explore low-cadence, high-torque training with Neal Henderson

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!  

[qodef_separator class_name=”” type=”full-width” position=”left” color=”” border_style=”dotted” width=”” thickness=”2px” top_margin=”” bottom_margin=””]

SUBSCRIBE

REFERENCES
  • A., M., L., W., E., C. A., A., F., J., A., H., M., J., C., T., & A., B., G. (n.d.). Lactate kinetics at the lactate threshold in trained and untrained men. Journal of Applied Physiology, 114(11), 1593–1602. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1152/japplphysiol.00043.2013
  • 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
  • MacIntosh, B. R., NEPTUNE, R. R., & HORTON, J. F. (2000). Cadence, power, and muscle activation in cycle ergometry. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 32(7), 1281–1287. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1097/00005768-200007000-00015
  • Nimmerichter, A., Eston, R., Bachl, N., & Williams, C. (2012). Effects of low and high cadence interval training on power output in flat and uphill cycling time-trials. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 112(1), 69–78. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1007/s00421-011-1957-5
  • 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

TRANSCRIPTION

(Please excuse any typos as this transcript is generated automatically through A.I.)

Chris Case  00:12

Hey everyone, welcome to Fast Talk your source for the science cycling performance I’m your host, Chris Case. You’ve heard us talk many times before on this program about big gear training. Many of you probably incorporate it into your riding for a variety of reasons. What’s surprising is how little research has been done on this low cadence, high torque form of training, even the definition of what constitutes, low cadence remains a bit hazy. And there are as many ways of incorporating this into your workouts as there are coaches, some do it threshold, some do it sub threshold, five minutes, 20 minutes. There are many possibilities and just as many philosophies out there, so today we take a closer look at big gear work. What does the research literature actually say about performance gains and adaptations? What have elite coaches discovered through practice? Are coaches employing something their gut tells them works, and the researchers simply have to catch up? We will explore. Our guest today is Neal Henderson, head of sports science at Wahoo. And someone who in his spare time coaches, many elite athletes at the World Tour level. Neal is one of those coaches who routinely uses big gear work with most of his athletes from track riders to time trials, 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 with great success. Finally, we hear how pro Petr Vakoc incorporates big gear work into this training. All right, put it in the 53×11 Let’s make you fast. 

 

Chris Case  02:00

This episode of Fast Talk is brought to you by Whoop. Whoop is a fitness wearable that provides personalized insights on the performance of your sleep, how recovered your body is and how much stress you put on your body throughout the day from your workouts to normal stressors. Trevor, I know you’ve been wearing bootstrap for years and it sounds like a 3.0 is much improved product.

 

Trevor Connor  02:23

I am really impressed with the 3.0. I used the 2.0 for a bit which was actually yours that I lost in airport. So I got the 3.0 and any niggling issues I have with the 2.0 have been worked out, like battery last longer. But what I’m really impressed by after I got it, I started downloading some workouts to compare it to a chest strap and I have now used multiple risk based heart rate monitors and this is the first one I personally seen where it is getting heart rate as good as a chest strap. So it is accurate the heart rate variability ever was about the 2.0. I got some wonky numbers. This just seems to give a more realistic, more accurate reading of my heart rate variability. They have worked out anything that I would think was a kink in the 2.0.

 

Chris Case  03:22

What’s great with Whoop is that every day when you get up, you get a recovery score based on your HRV, resting heart rate, and sleep performance that can be used as an indicator to how to approach your day. The Whoop app has built in features like the strain coach which actually gives you target exertion goals worked out optimally for the level of intensity your body is signaling it can handle – perfor working out. And based on how strenuous your day is the app has a built in sleep coach which actually lets you know how much sleep you should be getting so you can wake up and be recovered based on your performance goals, you should be set.

 

Sebastian Weber  03:56

Whoop is offering 50% off with the code Fast Talk; That’s f a s t, ta l k at checkout. Go to Whoop, w h o p.com. And enter “fasttalk” at checkout to save 15%. Sleep better, recover faster, and train smarter. Optimize your performance with Whoop.

 

Defining “big gear” training

Chris Case  04:22

Well, Neal Henderson, it’s great to have you back on Fast Talk.

 

Neal Henderson  04:26

Thank you very much. Thanks for the invite. 

 

Chris Case  04:29

Absolutely.

 

Trevor Connor  04:30

Always enjoy having you. Thank you.

 

Chris Case  04:31

And this is a topic I think you’re pretty familiar with working with athletes across the spectrum from some of the best in the world tour to masters athletes, amateurs of all kinds throughout your career, so we’re really excited to dig into this topic of big gear training or low cadence training or low cadence, high torque training, whichever terminology you want to use. This is one of the areas where maybe there isn’t a ton of research, but a lot of coaches are using it. It has potential value. And that’s what we want to discuss today. 

 

Trevor Connor  05:10

Let’s just start out by saying, I think you and I are both big fans of low cadence training or big gear training. I know I give it to my athletes. I’ve heard you many times describing workouts where you have your athletes, particularly your time trial athletes, do low cadence work. So my my jumping the gun here or making an assumption, saying that you’re a fan?

 

Neal Henderson  05:34

Absolutely. It’s part of the tools that we have to help improve performance. One of the areas you know, when I worked a lot with our track riders, you know, with Taylor, and with our women’s team pursuit program and other folks on the track is, well there’s an absolute component of big gear training that’s necessary for performance in our time trial efforts other than the sprint, the flying 200 we have that standing start and your gear limited So, even in the our record, you know, there’s a little bit of a component of big gear work to get up to speed, you know, in those first 10-15 seconds or so,

 

Chris Case  06:07

When we refer to this low cadence work, how low are we talking about? Just to define things in it? Maybe this comes from the literature?

 

Neal Henderson  06:16

Yeah, I would say most of literature when we think about like big gear work, you know, they typically are going somewhere 40 to 60 RPM with often 50-60 RPM being a pretty typical range. I do consider a bigger range, though, in that, in that aspect of a standing start, you are actually at zero RPM for a minute, brief, instantaneous portion at the beginning. And so even 10, 20, 30, 40 RPM are components of that kind of big gear work that even many power meters, unfortunately, the cadence isn’t even picking up at those low cadence levels. And so we actually have less data to look at when we look at power cadence data over time, we kind of have to extrapolate back on the on the straight line of kind of the torque velocity to assume what that peak torque was because the monitors and meters are not picking up the values that low of a cadence, but it is still an important part of things.

 

Trevor Connor  07:21

And there is actually something close to an official definition. So we’ll go a little more into this review in a minute. But Dr. Ronstadt, very respected researcher did a review in 2017 of all the studies on low cadence work and he said, Well, we need to define it. And he even said, you know, part of the issue is all these studies I looked at had different definitions. So his definition was interesting, which is low cadence work can be considered anything below 80 RPM, which is a little higher, but he did say what’s interesting is, it depends on the effort. Because as cyclists put out higher and higher power, their natural cadence gets higher and higher. So if you’re doing a maximal effort 80 RPM is actually low. If you’re doing a pretty easy ride, no 80 RPM isn’t that low, that’s actually going to be closer to your maximal cadence. So he said, the definition is actually going to change. It can increase with increasing wattage, which I found really interesting, but it is a good point. It’s really hard to put out 1600 watts at 60 rpm. 

 

Chris Case  08:32

Right, right.

 

Neal Henderson  08:33

Absolutely. Yeah, there’s some interesting aspects there. And there’s actually another study that I looked I’ve seen before where they were looking at it as a percentage of the kind of preferred cadence for a given effort. And so you know, we do know in sprinting, you know, typically 110 to 130 RPM, is where humans generate the peak power possible. So we’re talking about we’ll say an average around 120 RPM, but if You’re thinking about vo2 max or max aerobic power, then that’s probably closer to generally 90 to 100 rpm. And then that FTP, or threshold power is often going to occur at a little bit lower, sustained cadence. There’s again, situational things, whether it’s uphill or on a flat, that may have some impacts there. But for me, one thing that I’ve started to look at a little bit more is looking at it relative to the preferred cadence for the kind of effort. And so looking and describing that cadence relative to a percentage of the preferred cadence or the target cadence for an effort is another way to think about that.

 

Chris Case  09:36

Another question I have on the physics here, we talked about this as low cadence. Sometimes we add the term high torque, is that always the case?

 

Trevor Connor  09:50

If your power is consistent, the lower the cadence, necessarily, the higher torque.

 

Neal Henderson  09:57

Yep, Because power is Torque times velocity effectively, a Newton meter per second price a watt.

 

Chris Case  10:08

Just wanted to lay that out there, honestly, you know, get those two components here together. And so we have the right terminology, I guess and understand our terms.

 

Trevor Connor  10:21

And if you really want to dive into the biomechanics, all I can say is give me an hour because I need to go and review all my class notes. 

 

Trevor Connor  10:30

Jim Miller, head of elite athletics at USA cycling knows how to get the best out of cyclists. Let’s hear what he has to say about low cadence training and if he uses it with his athletes

 

Jim Miller  10:42

I’ve gone back and forth on this for a long time. Early in my career, I used it a lot. And then I totally went away from it. And then I’ve come back to it in probably the last five or six years. So I incorporate quite a bit of it. It’s primarily in releases for mountain bike racers, right? Because it’s torque based, I do a pretty good chunk of it while I’m doing that zone to training as well. So in November, December, January, February, we’ll do a lot of strength endurance, typically I do seven by 10, 10 by 10. Nothing, fancy. As they progress into it and we get closer to moving into threshold type intervals then I’ll add a 30 seconds spin up to the end of each interval. So when you get to the last 30 seconds of each rep, you just spin a gear up as high as you can, which is just drives more torque. I do a lot of seated efforts for mountain bike riders on non bike racers, a lot of seated sprints, a lot of seated devadas. But that’s all it’s all the same torque generation.

 

Trevor Connor  12:03

And actually, you mentioned something I should have brought this up earlier, but I’ll quickly bring this up. Now it is important that everybody understands – Big gear training or low cadence training is not strength work on a bike. A lot of people think of it that way. But think about if you went into the gym, you’re going to do bicep curls. How much weight would you be picking up if you said, I’m going to do a 20 minute set of bicep curls doing it 60 times per minute. You’re picking up what a five pound weight a three pound weight?

 

Chris Case  12:38

Yeah, it’s interesting because sometimes people would refer to these rides as weights-on-bike rides, or some variation thereof, but you’re saying not to think of it that way. There really isn’t an equivalent adaptation from this type of work compared to gym work.

 

Trevor Connor  12:56

Right. Now one of these seven studies explored that and actually compared low cadence training to strength training and showed no, not the same benefits you don’t see the same effects that you see from strength training. But there is an asterix to this. The one place where you do see similarities not quite the same but pretty close is going out and doing like sprint work at an insanely high gear. So it’s like a 22nd f so, I actually do this workout, I do a 22nd sprint on an 8% climb and a 53×11 and if I hit 30 RPM…

 

Chris Case  13:35

From a dead start, do you do that?

 

Trevor Connor  13:37

I’m moving slightly otherwise the bike would just fall over.

 

Chris Case  13:40

Yeah, sure.

 

Trevor Connor  13:41

But they showed that actually because you’re producing maximal torque that is a little more like strenght training.

 

13:51

Poor man’s leg press or something, right.

 

Neal Henderson  13:53

Yeah. So I would say the standing start type of thing is a concept there. So if you think about you know, the torque being applied somebody riding along it, you know, again, solid effort here, let’s just say 300 watts and 90 RPM, that’s about a 32 Newton meter torque being applied. That’s, you know, not crazy. But when you think about what that force is, you know, it’s, you know, 32 Newton’s move over one meter in a second. If you take away then the gravity that’s, you know, not a lot of pounds or Newton’s of force being applied kilograms of force, you know, probably like six pounds or so into the pedal at that level. But when we get into a standing start, you know, we can see peak torque in excess of 1000 Newton meters. And so that’s where there’s potentially that strength requirement. And I can tell you from from riding on the track and looking at what attracts sprinter like a team sprint, start The starter there has to produce a phenomenal amount of force. And so it’s it’s a very specialized case study, but that’s about the only time you’re really going to see any strength otherwise, it’s truly a muscular endurance type of thing that we’re talking about with with our big gear training.

 

Trevor Connor  15:15

Yeah. And sorry, the story, I have to quickly share the hill where I love to do this work. It’s actually very close to where you live now. I was doing this a couple weeks ago, and there was a garage band practicing on the driveway of this one house. And I noticed after a couple reps every time I’d go up this hill they’d just kind of stop playing and watch me because I’m sure I’m just moving this bike around in ridiculous ways grunting and groaning and just looking absolutely ridiculous on my bike. And they’re probably just going what is wrong with that guy.

 

Chris Case  15:50

Too bad they didn’t play something that really like got  you excited. 

 

Trevor Connor  15:55

Yeah, come on AC DC. Yes.

 

Chris Case  15:58

Death metal or something

 

Trevor Connor  15:59

Yeah.

 

Neal Henderson  16:00

Or to slow it down and try to get that perseveration and have like that little bit of an increase from, you know, a very low tempo to slightly high tempe…that’d be pretty rad. 

 

Chris Case  16:12

Yeah, I can see that. 

 

Neal Henderson  16:13

Actually, I had a question for you. So when you do those efforts, are they always out of the saddle for you? Or do you play around with both standing start type for those sprint type efforts out of the saddle, as well as in the saddle, or exclusively one or the other? 

 

Trevor Connor  16:28

I have played with both. So obviously 8% grade and a 53×11 is impossible seated, you’re just not going to get the pedals over so I have to use a slightly easier gear. So I will do it both with an easier gear, where it’s again, you know, the biggest gear I can possibly ride. Sometimes it’s just yeah, I want to get out of the saddle and just try to break my bike.

 

Neal Henderson  16:53

Yeah. Yep. That’s what we say on the track. You know, when you’re doing a standing start, imagine you’re trying to break your bike. Which is why we use a thicker chain often on the track – other than endurance riders, they usually will stick with a little bit lighter chain. For me when I look at that kind of stuff we do like seated starts first so seated starts big gear seated, thinking about like maintaining core strength and stability and that form as you accelerate and then we get into that more coordinated with the upper body movement and then move into then other more endurance related. So I kind of do almost a reverse the maximum recruitment first, but I do it seated just to just to get the body ready for a little bit heavier strength training. So I think of like a seated start effort in that big gear as like, kind of pre weight training and then the full standing start is that kind of maximal like heavyweight training, and then I move into the more endurance type of work.

 

Trevor Connor  17:56

Yeah, I tend to personally and with my athletes in the winter, when I wanted to do some neuromuscular work, that’s when I have to do it seated. When I’m trying to get that last little bit of form before a race, that’s where I’m like, Yeah, get out of the saddle, break the bike, exit out. And I also apologize, I will buy you a new chain. Sorry.

 

Neal Henderson  18:16

Yeah, you’re gonna have to replace chains if you’re doing lots of starts in this big gear up the hill.

 

Chris Case  18:22

Well, I you know, it’s interesting, because one time I did see break your bike.

 

Sebastian Weber  18:27

There, Chris actually saw this

 

Chris Case  18:30

It wasn’t exactly the bike. It was the handlebar. It wasn’t exactly during one of these types of efforts, but it was from a standing start. And you were trying to go fast.

 

Trevor Connor  18:41

Chris and I were racing up Flagstaff.

 

Chris Case  18:45

In fact, we were doing what some people will call Neal Henderson’s protocol for the 

 

Trevor Connor  18:50

We were that’s right. We were on your 20 minute effort. 

 

Chris Case  18:53

Yep. And of course, 

 

Trevor Connor  18:55

No it was the five minute effort

 

Chris Case  18:56

It was the five minute effort

 

Neal Henderson  18:57

On the five, okay

 

Chris Case  19:00

And guess what Trevor did after he broke his handlebars, Neal.

 

Neal Henderson  19:05

Let’s see. I hope he switched bikes and just went and did it.

 

Chris Case  19:10

You don’t know Trevor very well, do you? He kept riding.

 

Trevor Connor  19:14

I discovered the handlebar tape actually held my handlebars together fairly well.

 

Neal Henderson  19:19

Geez. Did you ride down flag stuff like that? 

 

Trevor Connor  19:22

Yes..

 

Neal Henderson  19:22

I don’t want to know.Scary man

 

Chris Case  19:26

Yeah, he’s still alive. He’s still on this podcast. So he made it.

 

Neal Henderson  19:31

All right. All right. I wouldn’t recommend it but

 

Chris Case  19:34

D do what Trevor does do what he says nobody does.

 

Trevor Connor  19:37

I actually learned last week I have to start being careful about this stuff because on Facebook, I posted this video.. I have a I’m playing with this new camera – one of those cameras on your bikes – I’m kind of loving, so I’ve been recording some of my rides. And I posted a short video of a truck almost killing me. Which a whole bunch of people commented on and then unfortunately my mom was like, ‘Trevor, what was this?’ I just went, oh, that wasn’t smart.

 

Chris Case  20:06

A: Unfriend your mom from Facebook. B:

 

Neal Henderson  20:10

Try to break your bike just don’t.

 

Chris Case  20:11

Yeah, exactly. And if you do, don’t keep riding it. 

 

Neal Henderson  20:16

Yeah.

 

What does the research literature say?

Trevor Connor  20:18

Something that really surprised me getting ready for this episode is again, I’m a huge fan of big gear training or low cadence training. So I just kind of assume there’s gonna be a ton of research on this, and I didn’t have a ton of time to prepare. So when I’m in that situation, what I do is I initially do my PubMed search, find what studies I can find, hopefully a review pops up. And then the cheat method is you go into the review, you look at its references and download the studies that it has. So I did this I found five or six studies myself and went well that’s not enough. And one of them was this review by Dr. Ronstadt. So I went great, you know, this is a 2017 review fairly recent so I’m sure he’s gonna have a bunch of references. And first page of the review, he says we did a big PubMed search, found 220 studies, and of those seven were usable or met our criteria. And I looked at his list of seven, and I looked at the studies I found and it was the exact same list.

 

Chris Case  21:26

There you go, confirmation, you had done your homework

 

Trevor Connor  21:29

More surprising, because that’s never happened to me before. And that could only happen really if there is just a lack of research. Which is the case here and part of what motivated this is one of our listeners emailed us asking about this. And when you go to the conclusions of this Ronstadt study, he says we cannot conclude there is a benefit to low cadence training, but when dive into the details. He basically says that’s because there are seven studies. Two of them were like sprint work at low cadence. Others were longer interval type work. Some were with pros, some are with amateurs. The range of cadences were hugely different. Some of them didn’t have a control group. And he basically said, there’s too much variance here. Not enough research to draw a conclusion. So he wasn’t saying no, it doesn’t benefit. He just said there isn’t enough actual science. 

 

Chris Case  22:33

Right.

 

Neal Henderson  22:34

Confirmed. Yep. 

 

Trevor Connor  22:36

One study that I read several years ago, which I love is its 2011 longitudinal study by I’m gonna butcher this Nimmerichter who so he had a 2011 study and then he followed that up with actually a specific study in 2012, just on low cadence training, but the 2011 study was a longitudinal study where he got all the Strava data for an entire year of every athlete on Strava. That’s a whole lot of data. And he compared the data of elite athletes, so top pros, to amateurs to see what were the differences. And there was some really interesting differences. It’s a great study. I’ve talked about it before, but one of the biggest ones he discovered was that your top cyclists spent a lot of time doing low cadence work. So what this is shaping up to, in my opinion, when you read the Ronstadt review, and you look at that longitudinal study, is this is a case where coaches and athletes have discovered something that’s beneficial and the research hasn’t caught up. But Neal, what’s your opinion?

 

Neal Henderson  23:54

Absolutely. I mean, there’s not a ton of research that is out that can show a benefit or actually show any detriment or no change because there are so few studies. We often find in sports science that, honestly, it’s the practice that kind of leads the way, you know, because we’re looking for performance. When I’m coaching an athlete, whether a study says something is beneficial or not, or whether there aren’t 10 studies that support doing something if we find a benefit in performance, and how an athlete performs after doing certain types of training, I’m going to continue to do that with that athlete. So, in some cases, we see the sports science kind of follows behind what has been in practice, in terms of a practical realm of where we’ve seen, you know, what kind of workouts have been done in training that then might be associated with that performance. It’s hard to say, you know, guaranteed cause effect, you know, this workout means, you know, that kind of improvement, that’s really difficult to truly get to that level of specificity and confirmation. But when we see those associations with doing certain types of training and performances, then, you know, as a practical side of things, I’m going to keep doing things that work, you know, don’t fix it if it isn’t broken.

 

Chris Case  25:11

That makes complete sense. We’ve seen that a lot. And I like the way you put that, you know, that sort of the Sport Science trails behind some times and it doesn’t, you know, to coaches to athletes when performance is the ultimate test of what works and what doesn’t, doesn’t really matter what the science says. In every case, it’s nice when it does confirm it nice when it eventually you have that confirmation of a gut feeling. But going back to the Ronstadt review, he wasn’t conclusive that it had benefits but what were the some of the trends that came out of that, some patterns that he was seeing?

 

Trevor Connor  25:51

So the biggest trend that he saw that he followed this up with and Neal I think this is one you’re gonna jump on because I know you work with time travelers. And use a lot of big gear work with them. So he did say there was evidence in several studies that it seemed to help Time Trial performance. And one of the most interesting one was there was a study that looked at both hill and flat time trial performance. So they had a group that was doing interval work at high cadence, and a group that was doing the same protocol, but it located so same percent of thresholds, same length intervals, etc, etc. But the difference was the cadence. And what they found was when they put them on a ramp test, you saw a similar improvement. You also saw improvement in time trial performance. But in the low cadence group, you saw improvement in both flat and climbing time trial performance, and you didn’t see that in the high kids group.

 

Neal Henderson  26:59

Yeah, there’s Some potentially interesting things of actually on road, pedaling at a low cadence, even at the same power on a climb versus on the flat. If you think about a climb, you have that constant gravity working against you. And the velocity of the rider and bike is pretty low. And so if you think of the momentum there’s a relatively low momentum. And so the peak torque even for that same power and lower cadence, let’s just say on a cape on a climb, might be a little bit different than the peak torque that can be applied. When you think of a flat road with the same cyclist at the same power in the same big gear, low cadence, there might be a little bit higher instantaneous torque applied because of the momentum and what’s going on there. So if you think of the area under the curve of basically the torque versus the amount of time that that is being applied into the pedal could elicit some differences in what happens in training with a big gear and in those different situations. 

 

Trevor Connor  28:10

Here’s a good example of a very good coach, intuiting what actually has been shown in the science. So I love that you bring that up, because Ronstadt didn’t reference this study. But there was a study led by Bertucci in 2005, that compared climbing to flats, and said exactly what you’re saying that on climbing, there’s higher peak torque, and the torque profile is different. You see the torque being put out through a broader range of the pedal stroke. So on the flats, you tend to not really put out torque through the bottom of the pedal stroke on a climb. You see, torque continuing through the bottom of the pedal stroke and starting sooner over the top. But what was really interesting about this study is they said is that because of gravity or something else. So they did a control where they had these athletes then climb but climb at a high cadence. So the same sort of cadence they would do on the flats, and all the differences that you saw in climbing disappeared. So they basically said, yes, there’s difference in the torque profile climbing, but it’s more due to the fact that you tend to climb at low cadence.

 

Neal Henderson  29:26

And that’s going to then affect your fiber recruitment. Right? 

 

Trevor Connor  29:31

Yep. 

 

Neal Henderson  29:31

So all these things kind of working in concert, you know, it’s so hard to isolate one single component, even if we think of, you know, the simplest aspect of power equals that torque times cadence effectively, the situation of how that torque is being applied even can be pulled out and potentially had differential effects.

 

Physiological benefits of low cadence work

Trevor Connor  29:53

So that actually leads to the next big question where I know we’re going to be doing a little bit of guesswork here. And certainly, you read even the recent studies are kind of saying, well, we think this, we think that nobody said, Here’s definitely the benefits. What do you think physiologically are the benefits of low cadence work? And you mentioned one, the fast twitch recruitment.

 

Neal Henderson  30:17

You’re going to have definitely an increase. So the way I think about training in some ways, we kind of initiate the movement. In cycling, it’s a little bit easier of a sport because we’re constrained you know, that the crank goes in a circle. And so like the form and technique is a bit different than something like swimming or, or running or a golf swing. So it’s a little bit more constrained movement, but there’s still some bit of coordination of movement in that initiation. That’s important. And so the second component to that is a recruitment and recruiting that muscle fiber. What you’re trying to target is going to vary based on the speed and the force and effectively if you’re looking for maximum recruitment of any gift muscles, your highest velocity can induce maximal recruitment, your highest torque or force, or the product of those two in some middle ground is going to be then kind of like say peak power is some middle ground, not at the highest torque nor at the highest velocity but kind of in between of those. For me, that’s a big part of the big gear work that we are recruiting then a greater amount of muscle fiber, and especially a lot of times more that fast twitch and trying to go from a, basically a type two, B or glycolytic fast fiber to a type two, a fast oxidative fiber is part of that. And then our next element for the way I look at things is sustainability. And being able to hold a given effort longer. And so a force and kind of a fatigue profile a lot of times what we see is a reduction in the force that can be sustained over time, and so being able to sustain that force for longer is going to allow for performance. And then finally, there’s a component that I look at being able to repeat a given effort or repeating effort. So if we look at like, last year’s time trial course in Yorkshire, we had these, you know, series of very steep climb efforts towards the end of the race, and so is for success, you had to be able to continue to repeat, pushing that that high force and high power, even though there’s pre loaded fatigue from all the earlier segments. So the recruitment aspect is a big part of it. And the sustainability aspect of being able to sustain that force production is why I tend to look at the value of incorporating big gear work, and there’s a few ways we can achieve that. 

 

Trevor Connor  32:51

Again, interesting. In the Ronstadt review, he hypothesized a few potential ways that you’re seeing the gains and very similar to what you just said. It’s neuromuscular side, it’s recruiting fast twitch muscle fibers and getting them to work more aerobically. If fast twitch muscle fibers can work aerobically. They’re not going to fatigue as quickly. So exactly what you said, you’re going to have that greater sustainability.

 

Neal Henderson  33:15

So it’s pretty fun when you kind of put together the pieces of a puzzle and have it make sense in some way. Yeah. And when you see some of that, you know, what’s been done in practice, and then when you start to see some bit of, you know, potential mechanisms, why, when we have great researchers, like Rhonda said, and others that are starting to look and peel back the layers and why does this work? Or you know, it’s being done right. And so why and how does it work? What are the mechanisms that’s, to me is a pretty exciting side of things. 

 

Trevor Connor  33:50

I promise or sort of promises to be the last study, I bring up. One other interesting study that came out in 2019. So this is after the Ronstadt review, and actually This study starts very early on by referencing the Ronstadt review. 

 

Chris Case  34:04

Hopefully it has a good author name that is hard to pronounce. 

 

Trevor Connor  34:07

You just like doing that to me, don’t you? 

 

Chris Case  34:09

I want to know the spelling of that. nimmer nimmer, Nimmerichter.

 

Trevor Connor  34:13

Okay, here we go. Do I want to attempt the first author though? They’re just both awful. 

 

Trevor Connor  34:19

Try both. Let’s hear both of them.

 

Trevor Connor  34:21

Lawrence Aasvold is the first author and my sincerest apologies for I know I just butchered that. And for the last author, Krute Skovereng 

 

Chris Case  34:36

Hmm, nice. Well, how do you spell Skovereng

 

Trevor Connor  34:43

 S k o v e r e n g. Chris likes torturing me with names because I cannot pronounce any of them.

 

Chris Case  34:50

I mean we gotta add a little humor to a episode every once in a while, right? 

 

Trevor Connor  34:57

Yes, I truly appreciated that. They had actually a really unique theory behind this, which is, there is evidence. So sorry, let’s take a quick step back, they are able to determine your joint contribution to power output. So if you’re putting out, say 300 watts, what percentage of that’s coming from the ankle? What percentage is coming from the knee? What percentage is coming from the hip? And it has been demonstrated that you see a greater contribution from the hip in pros versus amateurs. So there’s just as neuromuscular training, and they’re better able to use their hip and your hip is a stronger joint. So that is a benefit. It means you’re going to be able to put out better power if you’re using the hip more than the knee. What that shows ankle is just consistent. You’re always putting out about I think it was like 9 – 10% percent from your ankle, so just ignore that. It’s that knee to hip ratio. And it’s more towards the hip in pros. What they showed in this study is as cadence increases from 60 RPM on, you see greater and greater contribution of the knee, and less and less contribution of the hip. So what they concluded in this study is at lower cadences, you can simulate greater hip contribution, which is a wanted adaptation they’re saying without necessarily having to work as hard. So with at lower wattage is you can get a training adaptation that you could only otherwise get at high intensity. I’m trying to simplify this it actually took me to read it twice to kind of fully get what they were saying, but I hope that makes sense.

 

Neal Henderson  36:52

Yeah, definitely understand and can see that. Here’s an interesting thing that I’ve seen a little bit looking at, done some like slow motion video And some other technologies kind of looking at the pedal stroke in a in a big gear versus a small gear at the same power we do it you know more often on the train just because we can isolate things a little bit easier and look at things. But occasionally so if you think about you know, as you push down on the on the pedal, you want to have what we often call is triple extension of hip extension, knee extension, and then at the ankle, the extension there. And so when all three of those things are occurring at once, that’s triple extension, right? So that’s going to allow more force to be put into the pedal. On occasion, I’ve seen some folks where when they’re doing the big gear work, they’re only having extension at the hip and the knee and what we see is that kind of ankle collapse because they don’t actually have the potential to produce the force to hold the ankle stable. And so in those cases,  that often means that you know, individual needs to work on a little bit of ankle extension strengthening so that they don’t have that basically heel dropping too far below the toe 

 

Chris Case  38:13

because in effect, in effect, you’re losing some of the power through the…

 

38:17

Yes. And you know, in running you know, you can get a spring action from like your save the Achilles tendon, right, you know, and running that’s totally different than dynamic and cycling, there’s no way we’re producing the kind of force that we’re going to get kind of a recoil at the you know, at any point from from the tendons. So, we want to be able to have that stability and maintain that ankle joint if not then extended, rather than kind of fall into a flexion and lose power. 

 

Chris Case  38:47

What about any other benefits here to this big gear work? Any I see on our list of things to discuss lactate clearance, any evidence to suggest that this could help with that.

 

Neal Henderson  39:03

Yeah, I would say kind of lactate flux is the term that I like to use. Because we kind of know it’s not a, it’s not a bad thing. We want to enhance that rate of of both production and utilization, uptake, etc. And so again, when you start to get into that higher force, you are going to recruit more than fast glycolytic fibers. And so you are going to have much greater lactate flux for that effort. So that’s definitely a plus. In that. One other thing that I actually use this for is controlling both heart rate and respiration, as well. So we live in altitude, right. And so when I have somebody who comes up here from sea level, and they’re just starting in the first efforts, I’m gonna have them do often is a little bit bigger gear work for given power because that’s going to keep their heart rate and breathing rate down. When somebody’s doing, you know, harder work that respiration rate is much higher with elevation or if somebody just getting back into training, even if they’re at sea level and their cardiovascular fitness is kind of not quite as good. We’ll start off with a little bit more of that big gear to kind of get that same recruitment because you can get the same force being produced or even a little bit higher than threshold or FTP. In those type of efforts, even if we’re working a bit below threshold, even if we’re at say, 80-85, maybe even 90% of their threshold power, if we slow that cadence down, we’re still getting a very similar type of force recruitment, that we would at threshold, or even above in some cases, so there’s some benefits there. I’ve had clients too, that have, you know, crashed and broken ribs. And again, breathing always sucks when you break when you break your ribs. But if they’re riding the trainer, we can do a little bit of that big gear work, which keeps the respiration rate down. You have to teach them you know, make sure they’re not gripping the bars and pulling and yanking hard that they try to use that core stability stabilize and just do piano hands on the bars. But doing that big gear like that will help them continue to do Keep that kind of fitness and that kind of torque mean applied into the pedals that they wouldn’t be able to do or would be less comfortable doing at a higher cadence with a higher respiration rate and breathing rate. So another area that we you know, find to be a little bit beneficial there.

 

Trevor Connor  41:16

And that’s actually a really important thing to be aware of. If you’ve never done big gear work before and you decide to go out and do intervals is you will see your heart rate be 10 beats per minute lower for a given wattage, and I had a time where I forgot to tell an athlete that when I gave him the workout for the first time. I felt so bad because he sent me this note: ‘I was absolutely killing myself, but I just couldn’t get my heart rate up.’ I looked at the power and I was like, I am so sorry.

 

Neal Henderson  41:42

Yep, your heart rate will not get up just can’t be done.

 

Trevor Connor  41:49

Sebastian Weber, the head physiologist INSCYD also sees benefits to low cadence work. He discussed with us both those benefits and the fact that there’s a variety of ways of doing this type of work. 

 

Trevor Connor  42:00

The first one, I’m really excited to ask you this one, we want to do an episode on big gear training. I love big gear training. What is your feeling on big gear training? What is the benefits? And I know the first thing you’re going to ask me is, what’s the intensity?

 

Sebastian Weber  42:24

Yeah, exactly. What’s the training? I mean, most commonly, it’s used for either kind of exploration standing starts kind of stuff, where you talk more about max power, maybe that’s what is the one common thing to, from a practical point of view work on your acceleration for race, for example. So that’s one application how you want to use big gears normally. And then the other application is more from Europe, they often call it like strength endurance kind of work. I’m not even sure if this is a term actually, you look at more like lower RPMs 50, 55, 60 RPMs or sometimes even below 50 in extreme cases, for a longer period of time most cases below or below threshold, which is you know, a highly successful training for increasing your endurance, increasing if you want to use as global term strengths without going too much into the weeds here under the details. It is one of the main trainings you can do or you you know you can expect to see your vl MX voc Cycladic system drop especially as intensity is a little bit higher. And then it says one on one training which can really mess up your quality and can really mess up your position or your knees and things like that. So we always use it in the professional world, ‘splitting it up’, like doing big years, but not for several minutes on blog, but that’s splitting it up and adding adding a technique focus was on it as well.

 

Chris Case  44:05

This episode of fast Talk is brought to you by whoop. Whoop is a fitness wearable that provides personalized insights on the performance of your sleep, how recovered your body is and how much stress you put on your body throughout the day from your workouts to the stressors of life. What’s great with whoop is that every day when you get up, you get a recovery score based on your HRV resting heart rate, and sleep performance that can be used as an indicator to how to approach your day. The whoop app has built in features like the strain coach which actually gives you target exertion goals worked out optimally for the level of intensity your body is signaling it can handle. Perfect for working out at home. And based on how strenuous your day is the app has a built in sleep coach, which actually lets you know how much sleep you should be getting. So you can wake up and be recovered based on your performance goals.

 

Sebastian Weber  44:55

Whoop is offering 50% off with the code fast talk. That’s FA s Ti, ta lk at checkout, go to whoop. That’s w h o o p.com. And enter fast talk at checkout to save 15%. Sleep better, recover faster and train smarter. Optimize your performance.

 

Proper technique for big gear work

Chris Case  45:19

You raised something in there, Neal, when you’re describing about technique. I wonder if it’s worth. I mean, we’re going to get to the practical side here in just a second. But I wonder if it’s worth describing proper technique here for big gear work, in terms of knees collapsing? Should you be really yanking with your upper body? Or should you try to let your you know I think you alluded to the fact that you want to be light on the handlebars and try to use your core and your legs and hips to do the work. So maybe help us understand proper technique here. 

 

Neal Henderson  45:55

Yes, so one of the things I think about is posture. Again, that the cranks moving around circle, you know, you push down and go in a circle, but your legs don’t, you know, necessarily go up and down like a piston unless you have good, say glute stability. And this is something you can focus on a little bit as you pedal out a little bit lower RPM than you would at, you know, 100 or 110 or 120 rpm. So thinking about both with like, say transverse abdominus engagement, so you’re not kind of getting that roll back and posterior pelvic tilt that sometimes happens on a bike, that we get proper neutral spinal alignment there, and engaging those stabilizer muscles through core. And when I think of core, I’m thinking you know, from above the knees to just, you know, below the chest, kind of that whole corset area. And then as we start to pedal you can think about what is happening with your knees and kind of go in more straight up and down is generally better, better transfer power and a little bit less wear and tear on your knees. And then upper body, same thing, kind of dropping those shoulders down and keeping a lighter grip on the bar So you’re not just wrestling it. So you’re trying to keep that motion, predominantly coming from the hips down, keeping that upper body more relaxed and stable as you produce that power. Otherwise you’re just, you know, tensing and holding on and then basically, you know, decreasing your efficiency by, by kind of contracting muscles that aren’t really contributing to the work. 

 

Chris Case  47:26

Mm hmm. Great. 

 

Neal Henderson  47:29

And one thing I always like to mention, you know, when people talk about cadence and things, there’s always that the old ideas that the gross mechanical efficiency and that you know, everyone is more efficient at a lower cadence. If we look at the vo two response for a given power and that’s correct. And a big part of that is just the cost of respiration. If you’re riding that, like say, a vo two max associated power, effort level, you’re the act of getting the air in and out of your system the respiratory cost is almost around 10% of the total vo to just for billowing air in and out of your system. So if your vo two Max is 60 milliliters per kilogram per minute, about six of those are just all the respiratory muscles moving air in and out. Which is pretty wild. So when we go to a lower cadence that respiration rate drops. And so the efficiency there would be a lower cost for breathing. So if the respiration rate is lower for a given for a slower cadence, so that’s why the gross efficiency versus mechanical efficiency goes up at a lower cadence doesn’t mean you can sustain it longer or anything like that. Right.

 

Trevor Connor  48:41

And it is a U shaped relationship. So it’s a very high cadence as you’re going to see that that vo – so if you held a power and just change cadences, you would see at higher cadences that costs go up. But interestingly at Very low cadence as you also see the costs go up. And one of the theories behind that is because you’re recruiting a whole ton of fast twitch muscle fibers, which are less efficient.

 

Neal Henderson  49:09

Yeah, yeah, there’s been some work done on like zero power at Various cadences. And just, you know, you can see that oxygen cost change with zero watts.

 

Trevor Connor  49:21

And so interestingly, they said the, the bottom of that you, so the lowest oxygen cost and the highest efficiency is between 40 and 80 rpm.

 

Neal Henderson  49:33

Yep. And that’s a big range, actually.

 

Trevor Connor  49:35

Yeah, that’s because there is big individual variants, and you tend to see it higher with pros. 

 

Chris Case  49:39

Well, now that we have discussed the potential benefits here, and and, you know, the evidence in the literature suggests there’s some benefits, Neal, sounds like you’ve concluded there are definitely benefits. Trevor, you see them too. Let’s talk about How to execute big gear work so that you get the most out of it and the different ways you can do that. Shall we dive into that topic? 

 

Neal Henderson  50:09

Sure.

 

Trevor Connor  50:10

Absolutely. 

 

Chris Case  50:11

Where to start? There’s different ways to do it. There’s ways you can, long short threshold, sub threshold above threshold. What’s your favorite, I guess, Neal? And when why is it your favorite? 

 

Neal Henderson  50:25

Man, I have so many favorites. It’s like ice cream flavors. So many. Here’s one that I do that’s maybe a typical, it would be either a standing starter, a seated start effort for generally about 20 seconds, and then going into a steady state effort around threshold or a steady effort near threshold. So the power is going to be much higher in those first 10, 15, 20 seconds during the acceleration phase. And then we go into holding some effort but just saved Between tempo and threshold is a for typically about two or three minutes. And so what this does, it has you know a few things we have that recruitment that force generation and then going into a sustained effort and holding consistent cadence there. And we may vary that, you know, I may do a little bit of continued in the big gear over time, I’ll have somebody do the start effort in the big gear, and then shift into what would be a more normal cadence 90 or 100 RPM, and then hold around threshold. And these you know, we don’t do a ton of those who might be 4,6, 8 reps at absolute maximum of that kind of work with pretty long recoveries between them because we want to have appropriate force production in that start effort and we want it to be a near maximal 15 or 20 seconds start into that steady state. They’re not easy, but they are effective.

 

Trevor Connor  51:58

My only addition is make sure you Have a garage band playing Yon it’s motivating.

 

Neal Henderson  52:03

Yes, with with progressive tempo during the start? Yes, absolutely would be the most wonderful way of doing those for sure. You know, if I think of a progression when I have, you know, if I had an athlete just kind of coming and starting training, the first thing I would do a little bit of tempo, three to five minute efforts that are more like 75 to 85% of threshold power at say 50 to 60 RPM with you know, several minutes, three, four minutes recover between those efforts, total of say, you know, 20 or so minutes of work is a kind of a starting point. And then I would move more into the seated start into the standing start efforts and those would be done just as typically 22nd efforts with full recovery for six even eight minutes recovery between those. Think of like a heavy like power lifting set type of recovery. And then I would move into sustain threshold or approximately FTP type efforts at that, you know, 50, 60 RPM 3, 4,5, 6 minute long efforts with typically about half time recovery and then move into those start efforts into a sustained threshold at more normal cadence. And then I also have a progression that I use that kind of vo to max or max aerobic power, and those we go a bit shorter efforts starting at you know, even 30 seconds, 60 seconds, 90 seconds. At kind of that power associated with their their vo two max are kind of, a lot of times the analogous about five minute power and doing equal to double time recovery for those and often doing them in sets like six times 30 seconds at the five minute power at 15 The RPM with 90 seconds recovery between each effort and doing two or three sets like that

 

Trevor Connor  54:05

Now interesting because we just had and Chris is really gonna make fun of me for butchering this name I apologize again but Petr Vakoc

 

Chris Case  54:15

Vakoc

 

Trevor Connor  54:16

Vakoc Yeah, we had him on the show and he described that exact workout. He said he was a He’s like, a hard but not too hard water to have around 550 watts. Yeah, so we were like, listeners. No, that’s that’s actually really hard for the rest of us.

 

Neal Henderson  54:36

Our minds just blew up.

 

Trevor Connor  54:40

Let’s actually hear Petr describe his workout

 

Petr Vakoc  54:44

During the session I will do 12 times 30 seconds on low gear on the 60 RPM with like what for me would be Maybe, I don’t know 500, 550 watts. So it’s like really hard not allowed but but really hard. And it’s like certain types of fast twitch twitch fibers I would say you you should be able to regulate with that high tension low gear and this is something that, it really makes makes the training fun and go really fast to do this 12 times 30 seconds and nine seconds off. And yeah, like if I do this, then then the session is, is gone really fast and it’s something that it hurts a bit but not too much. And you have a good feeling afterwards. And I think it’s it’s pretty beneficial for the strength and for for training those type of fibers. So, so that’s my favorite and it makes really the Time flies when you when you do this on the ergometers. So that’s good. 

 

Trevor Connor  55:59

Now do you do it all Seated or do you stand up at all? 

 

Petr Vakoc  56:02

I would try to do it mainly seated, not necessarily purely seated but I am to do it seated if I’m getting too tired. I do little bit of like variety but I would do the majority seated. 

 

Trevor Connor  56:21

Okay, and how many sets would you do in a workout?

 

Petr Vakoc  56:25

I will do just one set. 

 

Trevor Connor  56:30

And the second question is how many times a week are you doing that right now?

 

Petr Vakoc  56:33

Yeah. Now I do it once to twice a week. It equals like, I would say three times per two weeks.

 

Neal Henderson  56:44

Yeah, I mean, there’s there’s benefits that you derive from doing things that are sometimes you know, different than, you know, what, what we think of just standard training, you know, a lot of ways to elicit a response. You know, a lot of times it’s not always about you know, achieving, you know, the highest power For a given amount of time, it’s trying to elicit a response. So you can do more next time and continue to develop on that. And that’s kind of one of the ways that I look at a training is that you’re trying to elicit a response, not necessarily always the maximum output on any given session, but it’s the response, not the load

 

Trevor Connor  57:19

A workout that I want to do a deeper dive into simply because we have gotten a ton of emails about this. And I do remember you describing this as a workout that you give to a lot of your time trial specialist. Is that just sub threshold low cadence work, which are longer intervals anywhere from five to 20 minutes? Generally the question we get is, but that’s not a threshold and their time trial is why aren’t they doing it a threshold? So let me throw that question to you.

 

Neal Henderson  57:52

Yeah, definitely. So there’s, uh, you know, aspects of, you know, why, you know, why do you reach your threshold? Well, There’s a whole host of things, right, lots of different responses going at once. But if we think about lactate flux production and clearance, kind of the net result then is if we were looking at, say a venous blood lactate sample, what’s being produced what’s being cleared, when you go at threshold, you’re pretty much right on that balance point of you’re able to clear or utilize about as much as being as is being produced. If you go a little bit harder than that, then you start to see an accumulation say about that byproduct, that lactate level would accumulate a little bit. And so that point is also associated with a little bit of a higher level of stress hormone release when we start to push it over threshold. And so when we think about then the stress and strain of that session is we’re going to have more time required for recovery if we go over threshold as opposed if we stay below that threshold. So if we keep the power output associated below our threshold, but we go to a bigger gear, we’re going to be pushing actually an effective force on the pedal stroke a little bit higher than threshold, though, from a physiological standpoint, in terms of heart rate and stress hormone release, it’s going to be that below threshold type of response. And so we can get kind of a peripheral stress at the muscle that is equal to or maybe even slightly greater than threshold with a lowered physiological and endocrine stress. And so we can recover from that type of work more quickly. And we can also accumulate more of it given amount of training timer and be able to have those adaptations those improvements occurring without having to take as much time to recover between another quality session. And so the density of work that can be done over time is also going to be better. 

 

Trevor Connor  59:57

I love how this is all circling back as well. Because if you think back to that 2019 study where they said at lower cadence, you’re favoring hip recruitment. And you know more about the biomechanics of me, but my understanding is hip recruitment is critical for a time trial list.

 

Neal Henderson  1:00:15

Absolutely. It’s the big mover, baby. And that’s, you know, if you don’t have those at play, if they’re not engaged, and if they’re not doing a lion’s share of the work, it’s not going to be sustainable. Getting that recruitment and training those patterns. You know, as we fatigue, we don’t rise to the level of challenge, we fall to the level of our training. 

 

Trevor Connor  1:00:34

So this is a very interesting way, as you said, of really hitting a system in some ways, you’re actually hitting it harder, or the systems that you want to train for time trial, and you’re hitting them harder than you would at a normal cadence at threshold. But because your sub threshold you’re not getting the same stress and need for recovery that you would training at threshold or a little above threshold

 

Neal Henderson  1:00:59

Exactly. That’s almost like having your cake and eating it too.

 

Trevor Connor  1:01:04

Nice. 

 

Neal Henderson  1:01:05

Don’t tell anyone

 

Chris Case  1:01:07

Well, we’re gonna broadcast this to the world. So now everybody’s gonna do it 

 

Neal Henderson  1:01:11

Ah, dang it, the secret’s out.

 

Trevor Connor  1:01:13

If you have your cake and eat it too, you’re climbing time trial might suffer a little. 

 

Chris Case  1:01:17

It’s true. 

 

Trevor Connor  1:01:18

We’ve had several guests, particularly pros on the show who have talked about when they climb, they actually like to alternate a lot. So they don’t like to climb at their natural cadence when they’re training they like to vary between, I’m going to climb it and a lower than normal cadence, and I’m going to swap it up and climb at a higher than normal cadence – whats really what’s your thoughts on that? 

 

Neal Henderson  1:01:41

Yeah, so a lot of times on on a climb, you know, we’ll break things up and do that mix of big gear and small gear work during a continuous effort. So like one of my, for the folks that live here in Boulder that I have worked with over time every early July. We do 10 times and car climb. And each one of those 10 repeats is different types of efforts. So we do some steady state. And then we do some 40x20s 30x30s kind of standard stuff there. But two of the efforts we do are alternating big gear small gear either every minute or every two minutes. And still the effort is going to be somewhere just below threshold but by forcing a bigger gear than you want, for a minute and then switching to a smaller gear for a minute, it really changes the dynamic and the stress and how that feels and most people that gives them the most difficulty of any of the efforts you know, 40x20s or 30x30s or steadystate. They’re totally good with but when we play with that big gear and small gear during a consistent say about 10 minute eight to 10 minute effort, it really is a totally different, you know, wrench in the in how it feels and again, this the response and what that can elicit, I can’t tell you exactly but there’s clear benefits. And we and we do that in our training with with athletes, you know, even a long climb a 20 minute climb and breaking it into 30 seconds and a big gear and then 90 seconds. At they’re kind of like preferred cadence and then a minute in a smaller gear and kind of repeating through that cycle during the climb is a really good way of again, eliciting a response for a given type of power output or given climate and spicing it up breaking it up a little bit.

 

Chris Case  1:03:33

Yeah, so Neal, knowing that you work a lot with really good time trialists. What are some technique? What’s the advice on technique when it comes to a time trial is using or incorporating this type of work into their training?

 

Neal Henderson  1:03:51

Yeah, one thing that’s really important is to think about the position and so when you’re doing these efforts, I don’t want an athlete to be out on their base bars, pushing you know, a higher Power trying to do it that way I want them to be in the arrow bars holding that head position that they’re trying to hold in that most aerodynamic setup for them which again, everyone varies a little bit but if they’ve done any testing in the wind tunnel or out on the road and they kind of know where that head position is to maintain all of those things, whether it’s the shrug with the shoulders or the turtle with the head and then do that big gear work in that position and then recover in the bars as well relax in between those efforts, but still trying to hold a position but maybe just a little bit more relaxed in the recovery in between something important to think about.

 

Trevor Connor  1:04:38

I think you made Chris shudder when you mentioned n- car How many times did you climb that that one day?

 

Chris Case  1:04:43

Oh, God, I don’t know. Like 75 times. Not that’s not the full thing but we we were doing the arrow, the super tuck study.

 

Neal Henderson  1:04:55

Speed.

 

Chris Case  1:04:55

Yeah, we were trying to figure out, you know, in a roll down test Yeah, which was the best supertech position. So just the steepest part of encar. I was climbing Yeah, times. Yeah.

 

Neal Henderson  1:05:08

Oh, 75x a day – we and we start down at Lehigh. So it’s a 2.75 kilometer climb approximately. Yeah. So 10 times, so it’s pretty solid amount of climb for a day

 

Chris Case  1:05:20

So, Neal, what’s your opinion on when people are going out and doing this how much time are they spending seated? How much time shoult they spend standing up? What’s your what’s your preference here?

 

Neal Henderson  1:05:35

Yeah, generally, when we’re doing a lot of these type of the big gear workout efforts, we want to have them be seated rather than standing. There’s clearly some differences and what happens when you’re out of the saddle and standing than when you’re seated. And so we’re trying to get more of the recruitment of the glutes. And so in that seated position, we’re going to have much better recruitment there. When we stand up. We’re going to involve that upper body a little bit more and again, there’s a time and place for that so that the standing start type of things are the big gear Sprint’s clearly good for that. But more often than not, we’re going to do the majority of this seated.

 

Chris Case  1:06:15

one one other thing we haven’t really touched upon, I guess is what what part of the season would you be doing this? How often would you be doing this?

 

Neal Henderson  1:06:25

Yeah, I, again I come at things sometimes a little bit different than I would say is that maybe the standard I do a little bit more in that reverse period ization of trying to get some of that higher recruitment early on. And some of that is also background and working with track cycling. If you think of, you know, folks I’ve worked with over time, like Taylor and Rowan. There were individual procedures first and then switched into, you know, being able to develop that that longer, sustained Time Trial type of effort, but if we don’t have that high end capacity to develop First we have difficulty in being able to extend a lower percentage of that so for me, I do tend to start off more than with the start type efforts at that almost peak torque and peak force for shorter durations, and then progressively move into the longer durations. And then I’ll go back into the high power and that kind of Max aerobic power. So a progression might be seated start efforts 22nd efforts in the biggest gear possible with five or six minutes recovery between each and then move into a similar session the following week that are standing starts instead of seated. And then after that, the week again, might just let’s just say doing one big gear workout a week move into tempo efforts for three minutes at 85% of threshold at 50 to 60 RPM with two minutes recovery between and then move into threshold say five by five minutes. That’s at a 95% of FTP at that same 50 to 60 rpm and then go into a, say two sets of six times 30 seconds at a five minute max power at 50 to 60 RPM 90 seconds recovery with 10 minutes easy in between those sets. That would be a, say a six or so week progression there, if I can count correctly, which I probably can’t.

 

Trevor Connor  1:08:26

And what’s the frequency per week or does that really depend on the both the athlete and the particular workout?

 

Neal Henderson  1:08:36

Generally I do about one of these sessions a week at most two, again, depending on on the person and what kind of work they’re doing but one at most, two times a week because it is a bit more stressful from a musculoskeletal standpoint, giving adequate recovery and I’ve never done blocks of back to back. These kind of like two days in a row. I’ve never asked anyone to do maybe it could work but I would I think the risk versus reward on that might be a little bit too much.

 

Chris Case  1:09:05

Yeah, that brings up an interesting question about those that may have, I don’t know, quote unquote weak knees or weak ankles, things like that. What are some cautionary tales? Or what are some precautions people with those issues should take? Should they avoid it altogether?

 

Neal Henderson  1:09:24

Yeah, I am a firm believer in an appropriate strength and conditioning program. And so we we do see often too many endurance athletes that truly neglect strength training with loaded weights, like with a relatively heavy resistance, going in and picking up like five pound dumbbells and doing you know, some endurance work like that is not strength training. And when you get on your bike, if you’re just doing endurance riding, you’re actually still again, not really doing anything for your muscular strength. So I do believe that there’s a level of work that should be done in the gym, and in preparation for any given type of Training Program, if you don’t have that requisite, muscular skeletal strength build up from some sort of gym work strength training, you’re not going to be as well prepared to be able to tolerate the stresses that we can then generate on the bike with some of the big gear work. So caveat, if you haven’t done the gym work, well, this might be too much for you. You gotta got to make sure you’re properly prepared. And so in that case, if I’ve got somebody who has potentially some limitations, and they can’t do that kind of gym work for, for various reasons, then we’re going to have to kind of titrate things down a little bit and water it down and go more at 70 RPM rather than the 50 or 40 or 50 RPM, like a stronger person that doesn’t have any limitations could tolerate and handle. So if you do have some of those limitations, yes, more is not better, you might have to back things off and do things a little bit differently. And that’s, again, the seated component versus the standing those joint compressive forces are a little bit less when you’re seated versus when you’re standing So that that could be something to consider there.

 

Trevor Connor  1:11:04

I’m really glad you brought that up because that is an important disclaimer. I won’t give my athletes this sort of work until I’ve had them in the weight room and make sure they have that joint stability and I always tell them, if you do the big gear work and you start feeling pain in your knees, stop. 

 

Neal Henderson  1:11:20

Yep, exactly. Stop that session, go back to normal gains or if we’re doing you know, a sustained effort and again, you’re getting any kind of a joint pain, back that off and just go to a normal cadence and if it still is an issue then end that session early.

 

Concluding Remarks

Chris Case  1:11:35

Here’s where the competitive person inside of you comes out. You got 60 seconds to sort of give it the most important take home message from this episode. What take it away. 

 

Neal Henderson  1:11:47

Big gear work is an important part of stressing the body to elicit responses that will allow you to be the best and strongest and most capable cyclist you can be. You need to have appropriate gym work set up so that you can tolerate the kind of loads that can be generated then in the big gear work on the bike, I tend to look first at recruiting at a high level force short efforts, progressively moving into longer duration, add a little bit lower intensity, and then I’ll often come back up to kind of a vo2 max type of power output at a lower cadence. And all of those things, we’re going to do much more of it in a seated position for the most part other than those standing start type of efforts. And if it hurts, stop doing it. That’s about all I got.

 

Chris Case  1:12:39

Very good. That’s a great overview of everything we’ve talked about. Trevor, what would you add? 

 

Trevor Connor  1:12:44

I was gonna say that might be all your God, but that was pretty much summarizing all of that. So I’m not sure what to add to this. I guess. The thing I would add is so again, there wasn’t a ton of research back and it’s just because they I haven’t done a ton of research. But I think this is a case where athletes and coaches have found something that’s very beneficial. And I think that if you just go out and train normally and just do time on the bike, you can only get so far. You have to find these things that take you a little bit further. And I always like to think about training both ends. So spend time doing much lower cadence than your normal. Also, spend time doing higher cadence than your normal. And I think that those are places you’re going to see gains that you wouldn’t see from just going out and riding and not thinking about caves.

 

Chris Case  1:13:36

Yeah, I mean, I think to add to that, and this can be my one minute is the, the low cadence high torque stuff just extends the range at which you’re capable rider in a way and it helps you build that, that durability or just the ability to produce power over a larger range or so it, it feels and there’s some evidence to suggest it and there’s reasons why so that just a little bit of this can can go a long way I think to

 

Chris Case  1:14:12

 Thanks again, Neal Henderson for joining us on fast talk. It’s been a pleasure.

 

Neal Henderson  1:14:17

Thank you guys. Appreciate it.

 

Chris Case  1:14:22

That was another episode of fast talk. As always, we’d love your feedback. Email us at fast talk at fast lab comm or record a voice memo on phone, send it our way. Subscribe to fast talk wherever you prefer to find your favorite podcasts. Be sure to leave us a rating and a review. The thoughts and opinions expressed on fast talk are those of the individual for Neal Henderson, Jim Miller, Sebastian Weber, Petr Vakoc, Trevor Connor. I’m Chris case. Thanks for listening.