Holy smokes guys. Can we talk about how crazy the snow has been this week? I live in the middle of a snow belt here in southern Ontario but it seems that even the southern US is getting winter way too early this year. It made me consider changing the name of my Autumn Chicken Salad with Curried Yogurt Dressing on Wednesday morning to winter chicken salad because it’s not feeling very autumn-like any more at all. Luckily, I’m fortunate to have a warm weather escape coming up at the beginning of December, but I’ll tell you all about that soon.
Work It Out
Moving into today’s fitness chat, I’ve posted a lot of circuits lately so today feels like a good day for a cardio routine. I recently go a fantastic question from a reader who was asking about whether or not cycling at a super high resistance with slow legs is safe and effective. She mentioned that she’s been attending spin classes and a new instructor has the group in the saddle climbing with huge loads on the bikes and that she was concerned about her knees. I responded to her message, but thought it would be a good discussion to have here too.
I’ll start by admitting that I totally used to be one of those instructors who looooooooooved cycling with crazy heavy loads. However, over the many years that I’ve been teaching spin classes and in my experience with riding a real bike on a real road, I’ve become a lot more wise. The whole high-resistance, low-cadence thing is known as mashing the pedals, and the general gist of what I’m about to say is that I don’t recommend it. Here’s why.
Imagine you’re riding up a great big hill. Would you keep the gear steady or turn it up as the hill got steeper? Unless you’re doing extreme penance for some sort of terrible sin, probably not. In fact, if you shifted to a higher gear mid-hill, there’s a good chance you’d snap your chain. Instead, you’d want to lighten up so that your legs can continue to spin at a reasonable cadence.
What’s reasonable? This seems to vary a little depending on the source, but based on the 3 cycling certifications I’ve done and a lot of the material I’ve read, the general goal is between 80-100rpm on a flat (maybe 110) and between 70-90 on a hill. By keeping in these ranges, you’ll be cycling more efficiently (as in, not wasting energy by forcing the pedals around very slowly, which won’t get you anywhere fast). It’s also better for the bike too.
You might be thinking, “how do I get stronger if I’m not using a high resistance?” My answer is that you do use resistance, but add it in amounts that make it difficult to maintain that optimal cadence range. If you’re riding a spin bike or upright stationary bike, pay attention to the RPM and MPH measurements. You’ll notice that when you spin at, say, 90RPM with a moderate resistance (a harder effort), you might see something like 22mph as your speed. By contrast, try cranking the resistance up to something that feels hard from a load perspective. You’ll see your RPMs drop considerably, as well as your speed. While you might think you’re getting stronger by pushing that heavy load, you’re actually exerting more power in the first scenario.
And another reason to ride within reasonable cadence ranges: It’s safer. Those of you with knee issues will have probably felt the effects of too much pedal mashing, and my message to you is that it’s not necessary in order to build strength.
With all of that geeking out finished, let’s put it into practice, shall we?
The Sweet Spot Cycling Workout
This is a routine that I do variations of really frequently, and to say it’s been effective is an understatement. I’ve noticed big gains in my overall lower body strength, as well as my ability to cycle faster at resistances that I once struggled to use while staying within the target cadence range. It’s also made me a better cyclist out on the road (although there’s not a whole lot of road cycling going on over here these days!)
You’ll start with an easy couple of minutes riding on a flat, then start playing with the resistance as the “road” gets a bit rolly. In the toughest part you should feel challenged and your heart rate should be at its peak, but remember to stay within that ideal RPM range. For this case, in your hard efforts (the 4-minute holds between minutes 6-10 and 26-30), shoot for somewhere between 80 and 90RPM. You should notice that your speed (MPH) and power output are higher for these intense spurts than they are when you’re riding at a lower resistance and higher cadence. That my friends, is what I like to call ‘the sweet spot’.
I’ve included some sample resistance numbers from the last time I did this workout so you can get the idea of what to look for. Of course, modify to suit your own fitness levels and be sure to stay hydrated throughout.
Turn It Up
After last week’s giant playlist, I’m feeling a little tapped out as far as new tunes go! However, I just stumbled across the Tiesto Remix of Ellie Goulding’s song Burn, and within minutes it was straight onto my iPod. Enjoy!
Have A Read
- The best free workout videos on Youtube – via Greatist
- Are you OD’ing on HIIT workouts? – via Shape.com
- 5 barre moves you can do at home – via Huffington Post
Alright, before you head off, tell me:
- What are your plans for this weekend? Anything you’re especially looking forward to?
- Have you ever been a ‘pedal masher’? Did you notice any negative impact on your knees or otherwise afterwards?