How aging affects race cadence

About a week or so ago I had an interesting discussion about training with a friend of mine, also a master category rider. We went through his training plan and I want really caught my attention was first of all the huge volume, at least in my view, and second the +160rpm rolling 500m efforts in his training plan. As I have not been able to find logic behind high cadence (and small gear) efforts I decided maybe it is time to revisit the subject of my old post about Leg Speed.

Can’t remember if it was Charlie Francis or someone else who presented the general continuum in sprint training as

Strength – Power – Acceleration – Top speed – Speed Endurance

This has been the foundation for my own programming. Being a master athlete I have tried to understand the impact of my own age and ageing on my physique, ability train and performance. The study written by Marko T. Korhonen I talked about before (link to full text article provided in the end of this post) seemed to fit well in the overall picture I have of this all. So I wanted to see what the outcome would be if I applied those ideas to track cycling. The below chart tries to illustrate what happens to the race cadence over time. I have assumed the 5% performance decline per decade Korhonen found on sprint runners is valid also in track cycling. The race cadence in this case is the one of F200m. Please note that the purpose of the below chart is not to give you precise values or even cadence range to apply in your training. Rather to challenge you to think about the leg speed, and its meaning.

In this chart I have used the 25 year old rider as my base line. The base line figures are approximations for F200m performance of today’s elite riders. The purpose of having 3 different rider types is simply to establish a range of RPMs rather than one single point and that way take into account the different types of sprinters (spinners vs. grinders).  With that I have calculated various cadence points for aging athlete and also backwards for the 20 year old junior. A quick sanity check with my own self and Jose would seem to support the logic. The blue shade in the graph tries to illustrate the development of maximal absolute strength, e.g. the 1RM squat. This is just an approximation but generalizing a little, max strength peaks after 25, plateaus through 35+ and then starts to decline.

Development of race cadence with age 2

So getting back to that troublesome observation about my master friend doing lots of +160rpm efforts: Are those any good? For a guy in his 40s, no. Young bloke in his 20s, different story. This has nothing to do with whether you can do them or not, of course you can. Should you, that’s the question. For a guy in his 20s this 160rpm is probably just regular overspeed work.

I firmly believe cadence is one of the least trainable aspects of track cycling sprint. I have accepted the fact that my cadence will not improve over time. This realisation has liberated me to search performance improvements elsewhere.

Marko T. Korhonen’s study “Effects of Aging and Training on Sprint Performance, Muscle Structure and Contractile Function in Athletes” can be found here.

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