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  1. #1
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    Pedal Hard vs. Pedal Fast for weight loss

    I have a 27 speed bicycle and tend to maintain it in the hardest gear unless I am ascending an incline that has a >5% grade. My cadence is lower than it would be if I kept the chain on the middle ring. Are there advantages or disadvantages to my approach to cycling? Should I change my pattern to enhance my training and achieve my goal of weight loss?

  2. #2
    just another gosling Carbonfiberboy's Avatar
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    Disadvantages. Gears aren't there so you can wimp out. They're there so you can choose a gear to either give you the best endurance or the highest power output, or some combination thereof. You'll notice that if you spin faster in a lower gear but go the same speed, you'll breath harder. This seems stupid, until you understand that you are substituting burning oxygen, of which the atmosphere has an unlimited supply, for burning the glycogen in your legs, of which you have a very limited supply. And of course breathing harder means a higher level of aerobic activity, which is what you want to lose weight.

    Of course there are limiters to everything and everyone is a little different. Still, for most folks a cadence on the flat of 90-95 seems best, and a climbing cadence of 75-85 until one runs out of gears. Thus weaker folks will need lower gears than stronger folks to maintain the same cadence. One generally chooses chainrings and cassettes to allow one to maintain these optimum cadences on the common climbs in one's area, allowing the cadence to bog down on extraordinarily steep climbs.

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    The advantage of a lower cadence is higher efficiency. If you aren't putting out a lot of power or going fast a low cadence is fine.

    As you put out more power you'll start to notice the disadvantages:
    1. Harder on you knees. This is particularly important if you are trying to lose weight and are able to go on longer 3-4+ hr rides.
    2. Harder to accelerate quickly. Not a problem if you ride alone but if you're in a group sometimes you need to react faster and, just like in a car, a lower gear will give you quicker acceleration.
    3. Less power. Generally a riders naturally chosen cadence goes up with increasing power and fitness.

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    This is valuable information and I will change my cycling patterns immediately. Thank you.

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    Senior Member mr_pedro's Avatar
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    In order to loose weight you should go fast and for long rides. And in order to keep that up you need the high cadence around the 90 rpm like suggested before. A low cadence may feel like your legs are working harder, and in fact they are, but for less time so power output is the same if the speed is the same no matter what the cadence is. Result of low cadence/"hard press" is that your legs burn up, making you go slower, which is bad for weight loss.

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    I went on a brief 5 mile ride while maintaining about rpm and noticed a higher heart rate, less quad burn, and more hamstring and and leg activity. I see the benefit and plan to ride 15 -20 miles tomorrow with a rapid cadence. I may need to upgrade my cycle computer to one that helps me keep track of cadence, but for now, I will just work to increase the cadence to 90 rpm. Thanks.

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    Quote Originally Posted by mr_pedro View Post
    In order to loose weight you should go fast and for long rides. And in order to keep that up you need the high cadence around the 90 rpm like suggested before. A low cadence may feel like your legs are working harder, and in fact they are, but for less time so power output is the same if the speed is the same no matter what the cadence is. Result of low cadence/"hard press" is that your legs burn up, making you go slower, which is bad for weight loss.
    Not to mention your knees.
    Cyclists of the world, unite! You have nothing to lube but your chains!

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    Senior Member Looigi's Avatar
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    It's not how fast or slow you go, or your cadence, but the rate of work you're doing (power). A decent measure of that is how hard you're breathing or how fast your heart is beating. Better yet of course is a power meter. The harder you're breathing and the higher your heart rate (the more power you're putting out) the more calories you're burning per minute. The longer you keep at it the more total calories you burn.

    Sometimes your cadence may be relatively slow, like 60 rpm standing while climbing a long steep hill. Sometimes your cadence may be quite high like 100+ in the drops leading a paceline in the flat. Either way, as long as you're lungs are burning and heart is beating out of your chest, you're burning a lot of calories.

  9. #9
    just another gosling Carbonfiberboy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Stomper View Post
    I went on a brief 5 mile ride while maintaining about rpm and noticed a higher heart rate, less quad burn, and more hamstring and and leg activity. I see the benefit and plan to ride 15 -20 miles tomorrow with a rapid cadence. I may need to upgrade my cycle computer to one that helps me keep track of cadence, but for now, I will just work to increase the cadence to 90 rpm. Thanks.
    Except for navigation, all I ever watch is cadence and HR. Speed doesn't really matter.

  10. #10
    Senior Member mr_pedro's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Looigi View Post
    It's not how fast or slow you go, or your cadence, but the rate of work you're doing (power). A decent measure of that is how hard you're breathing or how fast your heart is beating. Better yet of course is a power meter. The harder you're breathing and the higher your heart rate (the more power you're putting out) the more calories you're burning per minute. The longer you keep at it the more total calories you burn.

    Sometimes your cadence may be relatively slow, like 60 rpm standing while climbing a long steep hill. Sometimes your cadence may be quite high like 100+ in the drops leading a paceline in the flat. Either way, as long as you're lungs are burning and heart is beating out of your chest, you're burning a lot of calories.
    I don't think you get it. We all know that you can achieve the same power output at any cadence. The point is that at the same power, low cadence means more stress on joints and muscles burn out faster as they have to put out more torque. Which is something you want to avoid to prevent pain in the knees and to be able to go for long fast rides.

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    Wow! what a difference. I have dropped 2 pounds since I began to cycle at a faster cadence.

  12. #12
    Zoom zoom zoom zoom bonk znomit's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Stomper View Post
    Wow! what a difference. I have dropped 2 pounds since I began to cycle at a faster cadence.
    In 4 days?
    Thats just sweat.

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    Higher cadence generally brings your HR higher. Therefore, I would think faster pedaling would burn more calories but not necessarily. For example if you pedal at 90rpm in an extremely easy gear ratio and 80rpm in a very hard gear ratio, you would probably burn more in the latter despite the lower cadence. I can elevate HR for high and low cadence, but it's easier to maintain with high cadence, because my legs can't sustain a really large gear for too long. They just burn forcing me slow down bringing my HR down in the process. If you want to lose weight, you could do short interval sprints maybe twice a week. Then, do long easy riding the other days to recover.

    Quote Originally Posted by Stomper View Post
    Wow! what a difference. I have dropped 2 pounds since I began to cycle at a faster cadence.
    Water weight, I can lose 3 pounds of water in one hour at high intensity in the summer.
    Last edited by Rimmer; 09-22-12 at 06:54 PM.

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    This is just my thinking with nothing to back up my thinking.

    The heart muscle does not act like a leg muscle when exercised. The heart can take much more exercise than a leg muscle with not bad side affects. So if the heart rate goes up it is not as physically stressful on you as having to pedal in a large gear (mashing) up a hill. Also a higher heart rate is moving more blood through your system. The increased flow rate helps to get rid of the waste and toxins in the system while supplying more food and oxygen for the muscles.

    So it seems to me that low leg load (spinning) with a high heart rate and slightly labored breathing is the best way to ride for endurance. I also think that endurance is the key to losing weight.

    Like I said I don't have any data to back up my feelings so feel free to not take my comments as being correct.

  15. #15
    Senior Member rumrunn6's Avatar
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    too many other things are vastly more important to weight loss that this simple question.
    cycling is like baseball ~ it doesn't take much to make it interesting

  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by rumrunn6 View Post
    too many other things are vastly more important to weight loss that this simple question.
    Yes.
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  17. #17
    Senior Member travelerman's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by rumrunn6 View Post
    too many other things are vastly more important to weight loss that this simple question.
    Yes, there are definitely other factors involved with weight loss, in particular your diet and how you feed your machine. However, a higher cadence is one factor which aids in more efficiently burning calories on the bike.

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    Can someone provide some calorie burn comparisons between mashing and spinning for the same person over the same distance in the same weather conditions, on the same bike with the same tyre pressures, and with the same elevation? And at the same average speed...
    Dream. Dare. Do.

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    Senior Member Spoonrobot's Avatar
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    Current studies are showing that interval-type training/exercise is more effective for a weight loss program than steady pace cardiovascular workouts.

    This, combined with an effective change in eating habits, seems like the way to lose fat and increase fitness.

    http://www.cptips.com/intervl.htm

  20. #20
    just another gosling Carbonfiberboy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rowan View Post
    Can someone provide some calorie burn comparisons between mashing and spinning for the same person over the same distance in the same weather conditions, on the same bike with the same tyre pressures, and with the same elevation? And at the same average speed...
    In-lab studies conclude that low cadence is more efficient, i.e. for the same power, HR and thus calorie burn is lower. More to the point, most folks can't keep up a low cadence nearly as long as a high cadence, meaning that over the period of a couple of weeks, most folks will do more miles if they ride a higher cadence and hence burn more calories. You can google up the studies yourself - they're published.

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    As CFB indicated lower cadence is more efficient. Older cyclists also prefer lower cadences than younger. From Different effect of cadence on cycling efficiency between young and older cyclists.

    Cycling Efficiency.jpg

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    I suppose the difference has to do with the differences between the number of developed slow and fat twitch fibres between the two groups.

    But....

    if you link to this from the same page cited above by gregf83:

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10994916

    (Effect of cadence, cycling experience, and aerobic power on delta efficiency during cycling.)

    The conclusion is:

    Pedaling cadence did not have a dramatic effect on DE (delta efficiency) in any group. Muscular efficiency, as measured indirectly by delta efficiency, appears to remain relatively constant at approximately 24%, regardless of cycling experience or fitness level.

    Hmmmm....
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  23. #23
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    Don't worry about cadence for weight loss. Worry about biking more overall, biking further and harder, and then most importantly - eating right.

    Calories in, calories out. That's weight loss in a nut shell.

    The cycling will keep you healthy and fit, and I've definitely used it to my benefit to lose a LOT of weight in the past year. (65+ pounds lost so far, still going. 22 BMI now, started at 32).

    That said, I'm a big proponent of high cadence. Easier on my knees and legs, and lets me put most of the strain on my heart, which has gotten stronger and longer lasting than my legs.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Rowan View Post
    I suppose the difference has to do with the differences between the number of developed slow and fat twitch fibres between the two groups.

    But....

    if you link to this from the same page cited above by gregf83:

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10994916

    (Effect of cadence, cycling experience, and aerobic power on delta efficiency during cycling.)

    The conclusion is:

    Pedaling cadence did not have a dramatic effect on DE (delta efficiency) in any group. Muscular efficiency, as measured indirectly by delta efficiency, appears to remain relatively constant at approximately 24%, regardless of cycling experience or fitness level.

    Hmmmm....
    It's hard to compare those two studies. The earlier study which you referenced used very fit (VO2Max of 71ml/kg/min) competitive cyclists but tested their efficiency at 100, 150 and 200W. 100 and 150 would be below their recovery pace so I'm not sure how useful those data points would be. A cyclist with a VO2Max of 71 would seldom do a ride as low as 200W. They determined efficiency by averaging the efficiency measured at each of the three power levels. The cadence range of the earlier study was also a little narrower 50-110 vs 40-120.

    Both studies are based on a small number of subjects with large error bars. If you are interested you'd have to look into a few more of the studies.

  25. #25
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    Here's my way of thinking about this. Say you want to put out 200W of power over a ride. The power output is a measure of the energy you'll use while riding (i.e. calories burned), so it's a good metric to think about. You can achieve the same power output by spinning a smaller gear, or mashing a bigger gear at a lower cadence. The reason that the power can be the same is that power depends upon both pedal force and pedal speed. If you increase pedal speed you decrease the force on the pedals for each stroke. Given that most folks tend to fatigue more quickly when trying to put out more force on the pedals rather than spinning with less force, I'd argue that higher cadence is the way to go, if only because you'll be able to sustain a similar power output with less muscle fatigue if you spin a lighter gear. It can be tougher on your cardiovascular system at first, and may take some time for your muscles to adjust, but ultimately I think this will yield better results for you.

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