Cycling Cadence: What Is It and How Do You Improve It?

Man working out on his indoors cycling turbo trainer

Justin Paget

Riding a bicycle is an excellent way to get exercise. Cycling is a unique low-impact exercise that engages many muscles at once and can be done inside with a stationary bike or outside on a more traditional bike.

While cycling helps you work on your muscular and cardiovascular endurance, you can use your cadence to continuously improve both benefits of cycling. Here is what you need to know about cadence including how to calculate it and how to improve it.

What Is Cycling Cadence?

Oftentimes, when cycling, people are focusing on improving their muscular and cardiovascular endurance. This usually entails pedaling for a certain amount of time.

However, there are other aspects of cycling that are important, too. Being aware of your cycling cadence can help you practice control and pacing, and most indoor bikes at the gym will have a display that shows your cadence. 

Cycling cadence is a way to measure how fast you are pedaling. This is used to help you keep a consistent and smooth motion when exercising. It can also be used to determine exercise intensity if you measure both your cadence and heart rate.

Cycling cadence is measured in revolutions per minute (RPM). In other words, it is measured by how many times your pedal moves in a full circle in 1 minute. Cycling cadence also is about control.

If your cycling cadence is too high, the exercise may be inefficient, and/or your energy output may be too high. By monitoring your cadence, you can control it and keep it consistent. This requires that you practice in order to train your brain and muscles to work together.

How Do You Calculate Your Cycling Cadence?

If you are using a bicycle outdoors or your indoor bike doesn’t show your cadence, there is still a way to calculate your cycling cadence. Doing this manual calculation a few times while exercising can help you to see if you are maintaining a consistent speed throughout your workout.

How to Calculate Cadence

To calculate your cycling cadence:

  1. Count how many times one knee rises in 30 seconds.
  2. Double that number to get cycling cadence or RPM.

If you intend to use your cadence to determine exercise intensity, you should measure both your cadence and heart rate. Then, if your heart rate is too high, you should lower your cadence.

If your heart rate is too low, you may want to increase your cadence. The heart rate you are aiming for is your target heart rate.

Why Is Cycling Cadence Important?

Monitoring your cycling cadence can help you determine the proper intensity for your workout as well as provide a benchmark to help you slowly work toward higher cadences. It also can be used to help you practice control, which can help you to create a more efficient workout. 

If you are cycling over long distances, it is very helpful to know how to control your cadence. Evidence suggests that higher cadences are less efficient, meaning that you expend more energy. Meanwhile, lower cadences allow long-distance and racing cyclists to use more energy later.

By practicing controlling your cadence, you can keep it low to save energy. Then, when you want to use more energy later, you will have a better opportunity to do so.

Another study found that high cadences are metabolically inefficient, affecting respiratory needs. The increase in work causes the body to need more ventilation and oxygen. In fact, a high cadence is unnecessary, according to the study, unless the cyclist is aiming for a high-intensity short duration workout. This is another reason why being able to control your cadence is so important.

Understanding cadence also can be helpful when putting together workouts. For instance, when you are aiming for long-distance or endurance workouts, you will likely want to take active breaks. One study suggests that it is better to pedal through your breaks rather than getting off of the bike altogether. When you choose to take a break, you should simply lower the cadence you are pedaling at.

In fact, pedaling slowly instead of getting off of the bike was found to increase performance later in the workout. Being able to control your cadence can help you to take breaks efficiently and to lower and raise your cadence as needed.

How Do You Improve Your Cycling Cadence?

Improving your cycling cadence can help you to practice speed and control. Here are three ways to improve your cadence, according to Stephanie Butterfield-Richardson, CNC, the founder and fitness coach at Activate House


The time method is similar to a staircase of power levels. In this method, you will slowly increase your RPM to your max, then decrease. Here is how to use the time method.

  1. Increase your RPM every minute until you hit your fastest cadence safely.
  2. Drop your cadence back down to a comfortable cadence.
  3. Build back up to your fastest cadence.
  4. Do this for 20 minutes.
  5. Repeat and increase time as you get more comfortable. 


The intensity method is done in bursts. In this method, you will quickly change cadences from a longer interval of a fast cadence to a lower interval of a slower one. Here is how to use intensity to impact cadence.

  1. Use a high burst of power (fast cadence) for 30 to 45 seconds.
  2. Pedal for a short 15-second window of a comfortable pace.
  3. Repeat this for 20 to 30 minutes.


The power method uses resistance to build your power and performance. In this method, you will cycle against a higher resistance for short bursts of time. Here is how to use power to impact cadence.

  1. Increase your power (or resistance) on the bike.
  2. Ride at this higher resistance for a short burst of time.
  3. Switch back to the lower resistance for a while.
  4. Repeat.

A Word From Verywell

Cycling cadence is measured in revolutions per minute (RPM), or the number of times one knee rises in 1 minute. Improving your cadence can help you to determine the proper intensity for your workout, slowly work toward higher cadences, and practice control.

Using the proper cadence can also help you to get the most out of your workout. Keep in mind that higher cadences are often inefficient, so you may want to structure your workout with this in mind. If you are new to cycling or just beginning an exercise program, talk to a healthcare provider to determine if cycling and cadence workouts are right for you.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is a good cadence for a beginner cycler?

    Studies suggest that a good cadence depends on your heart rate. Try measuring both your cadence and heart rate, and lower your cadence if your heart rate is too high. The heart rate you are aiming for is called your target heart rate.

  • Do you need a cadence sensor to calculate cycling cadence?

    While cadence sensors can be useful, you also can calculate your cadence manually. Count the number of times one knee rises in 30 seconds, then double that number. 

  • Is cadence or resistance more important in cycling?

    Cadence works out your cardiovascular system and helps you establish control, while resistance is used to build strength. You may want to work on your cadence before you begin adding resistance.

4 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Reed R, Scarf P, Jobson SA, Passfield L. Determining optimal cadence for an individual road cyclist from field data. Eur J Sport Sci. 2016;16(8):903-911. doi:10.1080/17461391.2016.1146336

  3. Mitchell RA, Boyle KG, Ramsook AH, et al. The impact of cycling cadence on respiratory and hemodynamic responses to exercise. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 2019;51(8):1727-1735. doi:10.1249/MSS.0000000000001960

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