The Great Cadence Debate

The Great Cadence Debate

Team Budget Forklifts in action at the Shimano Super Criterium. Photo: Korupt Vision

In late 2003, my then triathlon coach (Brett Sutton) told me to meet him down at the local track on the Gold Coast where we would do many of our bike sessions. He was wielding a pair of cable cutters this day which I thought was weird.

Today is the beginning of turning you into a decent rider, I can’t stand to see you ride like a pussy any longer.”

He declared in a way only Brett can. Then he bent down and cut my rear derailleur cable in half, and with that turned my 20 geared bike into a 2 speed. 53×12 or 42×12.

I want you to keep it in the big ring, other than the most severe inclines.’

I didn’t question it. Why would I? I was weak and had just spent a season in Europe with Brett taking me to races every weekend showing me first-hand how weak I actually was. With my perfect pedal stroke, spinning away at 95 cadence with all the gear imitating the cycling superstars I watched on TV… Only to see French and Swiss bike-animals blow my doors off turning these massive gears and me helpless as I watched them ride off into the distance.

Brett had decided my way forward – forced strength training on the bike with an extreme method. This is not to be copied blindly, but it fit my situation perfectly as we were looking for extreme improvement. Six months of exclusively riding 53×12 gearing and the improvements were massive. Not long after that, I didn’t have any problem riding with or away from the best in the sport. 2009 being a case in point: In 3 Ironman and 4 Ironman 70.3 events around the world I was first off the bike in all but one.

Was I the best? No way. But I have a pretty decent grasp of the demands of a long course triathlon bike leg.

Cam_Watt_racing1First off the bike: Racing big gear with TeamTBB.

Since that time, I have worked in the world of professional cycling, managing and directing a UCI team (Team Budget Forklifts) which contained numerous World Champions, Olympic Medallists and a current World Record holder. It was very early on in my time in this job after intensely studying and observing this different sport I realised that there were only very few aspects of riding bikes in Road events that we could take and use in Long Course Triathlon. The ones that do, I’ll save for future blogs.

But having spent 5 years within the elite cycling world my old Coach contacted me to say,

‘I’m waiting for you to come back… Are you done with cycling yet?’

I thought well, I’ve achieved all I set out to in cycling. I’ve seen it all and I’m happy to move to next phase. So I’m on my way home to back to triathlon – my sport for over 23 years and with that I have come on board as coach with!

I’m back, yet I see the debate is still raging. What is the most ideal cadence for long course triathlon?

Let’s look a little deeper.

Think of it as a see-saw, on one end is your heart and a lung, the other end is your legs. The higher the cadence the more effort is required by your heart and lungs. The lower the cadence the more effort is required by your legs. Choosing an ideal cadence is about tipping that see-saw so that it will give you the best balance for YOUR chosen event and YOUR specific needs.

The higher the power, the higher the cadence needs to be. Raising your cadence is all about spreading out the load (pedal force – newtons) into more revolutions for a given power output (watts). In long distance triathlon, the force levels are so low that there is no need to break it down into so many revolutions as it comes at a cardiovascular cost and with that an elevated heart rate that will cost you by the end of the bike leg, or most definitely the run leg.

Some examples of varying cadences specific to different events:

The shorter the distance and the more power required for the event, the higher the cadence must be to deal with the enormous peak forces that come with such high watts.

For example, a 1km TT on the velodrome takes roughly 1min for the elite:

60sec @ ~1000w requires ~130rpm.

If we go up in distance to 4km Pursuit on the Velodrome that takes roughly 4:20min for the elite:

4:20min @ ~500w requires ~115rpm.

Let’s go right up to a World Class male Time Trialist over 40km:

50minutes @ 400w sweet spot is around ~95rpm.

Now to Triathlon…

Elite Male Ironman bike leg: 4:20hrs @ 300w the sweet spot is around 80rpm

Age Group Ironman bike leg: 5:20hrs @ 210w the sweet spot is around 72rpm

The reasons to choose a given cadence is very rarely discussed in depth and within triathlon is often like all other techniques taught by so-called triathlon coaches… Through imitation.

They have no understanding of the reasoning behind the techniques they are pushing onto their athletes, other than they saw Chris Froome or Lance Armstrong doing it on TV. Athletes without an extensive background in cycling, a lower cadence helps smooth out the athletes pedal stroke, allowing them to apply force earlier in the stroke (1am to 3am) which is another positive benefit.

For long distance triathlon, the average power output is so low that it is unnecessary to break up the peak forces with a cadence similar to a 50min Professional Time Trialist.

You can make massive gains by bringing your cadence down to 75 and benefit by the reduced heart rate especially for the upcoming run. It is much more trainable at an amateur level with time restraints to get “bike strong” than build the massive aerobic capacity to deal with spinning 100 cadence for literally hours and hours on end, then run off the bike.

‘But won’t the bigger gears destroy my legs for the run?’ I hear many ask. Without the proper adaptation and specific on bike strength training – of course they will! But that’s the point. It is a far more time effective method than trying to spin your way to improvements, which take years and thousands of dedicated high rpm training sessions.

If you are looking for the fastest and most effective way to improve your bike / run performance lowering your cadence is the best bet.

Big gear cadence by 2x Ironman World Champion Daniela Ryf


Trisutto Coach Cam Watt lecturing at age group camp in St Moritz with head coach Brett Sutton.

Coach Cam Watt is the former Manager and Director Sportif of UCI Cycling Team Budget Forklifts. triathlon coaches are available to help improve your performance here.

List of achievements as Director Sportif with Budget Forklifts Team:

Australian National Road Series

  • 14 Overall Tour GC victories
  • 34 Stage victories

UCI International Tours

  • 4 Overall Tour GC victories
  • 9 Stage victories

National Championships

  • 2 National Elite Titles
  • 7 National Elite Podiums
Turbo Charged: Indoor Cycling for Strength, Speed, and Mental Toughness

Turbo Charged: Indoor Cycling for Strength, Speed, and Mental Toughness

Coach Mateo in the turbo room with UCSB Squad.

I’m at my best in warm weather – the hotter the better. I come to life when I arrive in a place like Kona. Just a few breaths of that tropical, humid, salty air, and I’m a new man.

I did my time with winter as a kid on the Jersey Shore. Winter swim season, running on ice, and trainer rides. I moved to California to make winter a thing of the past.

Having lived in Santa Barbara for nearly 15 years, I’ve had the luxury of swimming and cycling outdoors throughout the year without much concern for rain or cold. I put my bike trainer away. Unfortunately, in doing so I put away an incredibly powerful tool for the development of strength, speed, and mental toughness on the bike.

One serious conversation with Brett Sutton this fall changed that. To that point I had simply seen trainer rides as a way to manage during the dead of winter. I’d known the value of the trainer, but because I was in sunny California, I’d always had my athletes riding out on the roads. I had seen the trainer as something that occasionally had to be endured during cold or rain rather than as an indispensable asset to be woven into the year-round program. Humility and a willingness to learn and grow are essential for the coach as well as the athlete.


Applying new found turbo power to the road: Training conditions in Santa Barbara.

Brett and I had a discussion about the fundamental principles that he employs when writing trainer sessions. Since that talk, I’ve done virtually all of my sessions on the trainer, structuring sessions to put those principles into action, experimenting on myself, and getting a good feel for the power and value of this tool. After two months of masochistic research I can tell you that there is a particular quality of pain that can only be administered on the trainer.

The trainer provides constant resistance – momentum doesn’t carry you on the trainer. If you soft-pedal on the trainer your wheel slows down and it takes considerably more watts to get it going again. Cycling uphill is the most comparable parallel on the road.

Trainer sessions are time efficient since there’s no stopping for traffic or lights, no slowing for corners, and no coasting. This means that you can crack out a very high quality session in less than two hours. Riding a trainer is also a heck of a lot safer and less stressful than doing battle with cars.

My sessions emphasize muscular intensity by focusing on cadence and effort. These sessions are strength training on the bike. Legs, core, and body are trained for strength with specificity on the bike. Strength training on the bike helps to maximize time management and efficiency for the time-crunched athlete.

These sessions can also help to build and reinforce mental toughness. Trainer sessions eliminate many external stimuli from cycling – no cars, potholes, or scenery. The sessions come down to you and the efforts. Where your head goes, the quality of your focus, self-talk, and attention are up to you and your coach. These are dimensions of your mental game that you can always bring into your training, however, on the trainer you have a unique opportunity to work on mental focus, self-talk, attention, and self-regulation without the typical distractions encountered on the road.

Trainer sessions also build confidence, and mental toughness. The grit that it takes to crush a session, and the inner strength that’s built as a result of nailing workout after workout, contribute to the self-confidence that will take your training and racing to their highest levels.

Bottom line, trainer sessions are tough. By taking them on with passion and purpose you’ll be tougher too. Now go get your headphones, crank up the music, put your head down, and make it hurt! triathlon coaches are available to help improve your performance here.


UCSB squad in action.

Clarification on Easy Rides

Clarification on Easy Rides

Coach Mathias leading out the squad in Gran Canaria.

To clarify some statements and philosophy behind the recent team letter on spinning:

There are two types of easy rides.

1) An easy low heart rate ride. This is done in the biggest gear.

2) A ‘spin off’ ride. To be done easy.

This second type of easy ride may be asked for after a run session or after two good quality sessions. This is not a bike session. This is a recovery session. It’s a leg loosener or lactate dispersement from other training.

Make sure you are clear on what is wanted by coach.

When we want the second type we will try to use the words ‘spin off’. If we do this universally no one gets mixed up. On this ride using the small chain ring is fine and high cadence is also fine.

Now to finish off. A little ‘gem’ sent to me by the Angry Bird, who has just started back real training a couple of weeks ago as she gets ready for Dubai.

I asked could I use it to help some in the group who were struggling with what real bike riding is.

Here is an unedited copy of her training on this particular session.

Please take note of her last statement:


Turbo was good.

Had some little brekky before, as 3h on empty stomach is a bit too long.

1h easy 137HR

1h mod 141HR

1h med 170HR

Then 5′ easy

Switched one gear harder every hour.

Beginning with the easiest gear possible, but don’t worry, that gave me a cadence of 60 and not 100 ;), as this is not possible on this turbo.

All of 3h was between 55-60

It was quite easy to bring HR up; as still not so fit.

Looking forward to do some work, to get some of the fitness back.

I would think this session for most is absolute kick-ass. Not for her and that’s the point.

When I asked her to print it, she said: ‘you can. But I’m out of shape most of them be training harder than this right now! Give me 2 weeks and ill be back at the real training.’

This should speak volumes to those genuinely wanting to know what it takes to be champions. online triathlon coaches are available to help improve your performance here.

Team Letter – Spinning

Team Letter – Spinning

Bike training in Gran Canaria. Photo: Rob Holden Photography

Hi to all,

Wishing you the best in safety and health in 2016.

I want to emphasise this and for all to realise that this can be a very, very dangerous sport. Bike riding on roads means you have to give full attention at every moment while riding. Please don’t take it for granted as at the first camp of the year I see people taking risks that just shouldn’t be taken.

I don’t care what the road rules say, being in the right while you are laying in a hospital bed is of no use to anyone. Stay vigilant and stay safe.

Now to something that drives me absolutely mad:

Again, first camp of the season after I have been drilling people all off-season on the philosophy on the bike. Stressing how important cranking the big gears are if you are going to a time-trial or longer event. Yet I see this being ignored.

Here I am sitting behind the pack on an easy ride and the person that is spinning the least is the one who actually can spin. Everyone else who is being told to push the big gears are spinning so much I think I’m in an old lady’s gym class.

‘But Coach, on the efforts I push the big gears.’

Well riding around at 100-110 cadence on the easy stuff might be fine for the others, but not for us here. If you have been advised that pushing the big gear will help you then take that as law. For the easy stuff put it in the biggest gear you have and then ride as easy as you like.

I’ll say this just once. With all the swimming we do, we do not need to be like cyclists who can say ‘I need my long slow spinning miles for my cardio.’

This is triathlon. We get our cardio in the pool. We get it on the run. And of course we get it on bike too – but at much lower cadence.

One gains enormous strength from our slow, easy rides when they are done right. When it’s done with no resistance at all, you may as well be sitting on the couch at home and resting your immune system. The ride is doing nothing for you.

I have talked myself hoarse on this subject. Meanwhile you’ve all seen our best ever riders use this while here in the squad. It’s no coincidence that when they leave so does their bike ride. They shrink from bike tigers to kittens as without nasty coach they fall in love with the little chain ring. ‘Ooh. That feels so much better.’ Meanwhile they ride 10 minutes slower with a draft.

So people. If you’re serious about becoming a champion then stop pissing me off.

If you are trying to improve your bike, doing your intervals in the ‘right’ gear and everything else in lounge chair mode guess what?

You will continue to have a bike problem. It won’t get better. You won’t get better. Simple as that.

It’s like the turbo. Those who don’t like it just don’t want to be better strongly enough.

We here have proved year after year, decade after decade, the cyclist’s doctrine doesn’t work for most triathletes. However, all seem to like sitting on a bike looking at the view and having a good chat. Well, that’s fine for others. That’s even encouraged for our age-groupers who train to enjoy themselves and sport.

But if you are here to beat the best, don’t spin like a top and then come race day be confounded as to why I don’t ride well.

I can tell you now. If you sit your backside on a bike, after you warm up that thing doesn’t need a tourist on it. It needs someone bent on serious hurt. Hurting of one’s self so that in the long run you can put some serious hurt on your competitors.

Get real please. online triathlon coaches are available to help improve your performance here.

Bike Shoes & Cleat Positions

Bike Shoes & Cleat Positions

Daniela Ryf with the mid-foot cleat position.

Since working with Age Group athletes it is clear that they usually want to know about the specific, technical parts to our training. Unless we’re talking the bike. On the bike questions usually come down to the mechanical side and why we use specific equipment.

The three most commonly asked questions in order ‎of popularity:

1) Shoes & Cleat positions

2) Size of Cranks

3) Seat position on the bike

It doesn’t matter in which country, these are the hot topics.

Let’s address the first today.

With Daniela Ryf’s explosive performances this year and the wearing of the Biomac ‘ballet shoes’ early in the season, it has created the buzz around the fact that the shoes are in fact are custom made for mid-foot cleats. Thus giving a completely different position on the bike.

While this position was new for Daniela, several squad members have been using a compilation of different cleat positions since 1993.

Our Head German Coach, Jo Spindler, used them for 10 years while racing extremely successfully and running off the bike with times equal to the sport’s superstars. I will ask Jo to follow up on this blog with his take on the topic in more technical detail.

Diana Riesler_BikeJo Spindler coached athlete & multiple Ironman Champion, Diana Riesler.

However, for now I will point out why we incorporate them into some of our athletes’ programs:

The number one point is we do not use them primarily to help bike speed.

I am in the business of training triathletes. Not cyclists. We use this set up primarily to enhance the run component of our ‎triathlon.

While remembering our bike set up is a total package. Pedal placement does not take place without crank length and seat angle position being accounted for. We don’t just change the shoe position, we break it down in finite parts just as we do with the swim.

There must be a reason for any change and it must not fit just what is best for the bike, but what will work in harmony with the run.

Mid-foot in my opinion is superior in time-trialling and running off the bike if one pushes bigger gears and does not rely on the spinning motion. There is a view that it can be beneficial to higher cadences ‎also, but I personally use it for the less spin inclined.

We do not advocate it for the drafting races.

While it may be easy to assume it works for Daniela Ryf because of her superior size plus talent – as an example I would prefer to look to Diana Riesler, who had a breakthrough year in 2015 with Ironman 70.3 and Ironman wins. Diana has ridden at least 10 Ironman performance with a sub 5-hour ride. What makes that so impressive? She weighs 52kg. A pocket rocket on the bike who has improved her run greatly with each season.

Diana also rides more forward and deep, just as the Angry Bird. She wears the custom Biomac shoes as explained here. Size and power of the athlete is not the main ingredient to the sub 5-hour club.

Diana_Jo_ShoeDiana’s customised cleat position.


We use the shoes on very few athletes because they must be able to cope with the psychological aspects of using a technique that is not espoused through the triathlon community.

However, if athletes can and are willing to change their position on the bike it is our opinion that it takes away some of the workload off specific calf muscles, that in turn allows the athlete to run faster and further off the bike. online professional coaches are available to help improve your performance here.

A Weekend of ‘Brain Washing’ Ilawa, Poland

A Weekend of ‘Brain Washing’ Ilawa, Poland

The original article appeared in Triathlon Academy. Translated by Rafal Medak.

Many say that Brett Sutton is a controversial coach. However, if someone produces such stars like Chrissie Wellington, Nicola Spirig or Daniela Ryf consistently over 25 years his training methods and triathlon philosophy must be working pretty well. Last weekend we had a privilege to host Brett in Ilawa. 25 participants took part in our 3-day workshop, including 11 coaches from Polish Triathlon Federation. I believe that even those who may not fully agree with all Brett’s methods benefitted from his advice and experience. Brett repeated a number of times that one of keys to success is the intuition of the coach, understanding of his/her athlete’s mentality and abilities, as well as facilitating the training, encouraging the athlete rather than hindering or getting in the way. However, this is only one component of the success, the second is simple hard work and dedication. When the athlete is given a swim session with a main set of 40x100m in the pool or 50x200m fast intervals on the track, he/she should not be surprised.

Before I summarise our weekend with Brett, I’d like to thank Rafal and Alicja Medak.  They both train with Brett and both participated in Ironman World Championship in Kona 5 times. In one of her Ironmans in this season Alicja had the fastest run from all female Age Groupers. Rafal’s help with translation of Brett’s lectures as well as interesting comments from his own training and racing were invaluable. Big Thanks.

medak_trisuttoRafal and Alicja Medak at Kona 2015.

However, if it wasn’t for the help of two participants who knows how the workshop would have finished!?  Brett came to Poland with a bad tooth infection which became much worse during the flight. When we were about to launch a ‘Project Dentist’ and started searching for a doctor in Ilawa it occurred that among the participants we had not one but two dentists! (Grzegorz Witkowski and Karol Sujka).  They quickly organised for Brett a sightseeing trip to Olsztyn (around one hour drive each way) and a long visit in a dental clinic. Big Thanks for help and organising everything so quickly and efficiently!

Our 3-day workshop was very fruitful.  It was a very busy time for all and we were working hard from early morning to late evening. Except two swimming training sessions our work could not be called hard training.  I would call them more ‘cat walk’ sessions aiming for assessment of our running technique, bike set-up and cycling technique as well as effectiveness of our swim technique.

medak_sutton_swimDemonstrating Total Body Force swim technique.


When it comes to the swim technique I’d summarise the approach in one sentence: ‘It does’t matter what your arms do above the water, as long as it has no negative impact on what is happening below the water’.  Brett was proving in different ways that you can do different things above the water, even silly ones during the recovery phase as long as you do 3 things below the surface correctly and efficiently with the most important phase being the push which is the key component of propulsion moving you forward. A significant part of the swim training consist of swimming with paddles and pull buoy.  When Brett noticed my massive paddles he could not believe it that I was swimming with such a huge size. Over next 30 minutes Brett explained what equipment should be used by whom.  We were explained how different size and shape of paddles impact the traction of the hand in the water, which are too large or too small or have a wrong shape for individual athletes or are just not designed for front crawl.

lapki_suttonSwim equipment on display.

In my case (here’s a piece of advice for strong, muscular swimmers with a poor technique and no feel for the water) paddles of a large size are really not ideal. They not only ‘swim for you’ but also further engrain your mistakes and bad technique. Only after explanation by Brett I understood that such a big paddle (on the picture the black one with blue straps in the middle) was swimming for me.  For 100m I was able to swim 15sec faster with my paddles than without them!  Even worse it was propelling me forward during first two phases of the swim, placing and pressing (or as others call it catching) but not when it was supposed to during the push phase when I should be working the hardest. Moreover, during previous training with paddles I subconsciously felt something was wrong, but since I had read that we should be swimming with paddles I started swimming with them without thinking which ones are correct for me.  My choice was the bigger the better.  All participants of the camp were explained which paddles are correct for their individual stroke and how they will be correcting their mistakes. You should also think about choosing the training equipment that is correct for you.

IMG_2033Real time feedback with the age group participants.

I think for a number of participants the swim lecture was revolutionary. I will not repeat all the pieces of advice because it would probably take more than ten pages but also due to the reason that each piece of advice was very individual.  Every person was individually assessed and received personal feedback. As Brett repeated few times, everything is individual and different things work differently for different swimmers.


Running technique proposed by Brett is also known as quite controversial, although not as much as his approach to other two disciplines. He was trying to explain to us that the running technique in triathlon, especially in longer distance races should more resemble 50km walkers who cover the distance at an average pace faster than the Ironman runners using the marathon runners technique. Summarising such a technique is far from running on the front or even mid foot. According to Brett this is not the most effective technique for Ironman runners. Long distance athletes should run more on the entire foot or even strike with the heel. Among others we analysed the running technique of Daniela Ryf and Jan Frodeno, who run in an Ironman differently than in short distance races. During second day we did a simple running test showing us how wrong most of us were approaching running in Ironman.  We were told tu run 8 short loops including a 100m uphill section. Most of us trying to impress the Coach were trying to run on our toes, and probably the runner trying the most was ME. My technique looked like Usain Bolt’s during his 100m sprints. After running the incline section we would run a 200m short section back to the bottom of the hill and during this run back most of us run completely differently, with a technique that was more natural for us. When in the evening we were shown a video of us running we were explained the ‘other way’ and why the front foot running is not the best way when one tries to cover a marathon in an Ironman.

runsuttonCampers preparing for the run set.


The lecture about riding a bike was also very comprehensive. We covered not only the peddling technique but also the set up and the position on the bike as well as the choice of the equipment. I will concentrate here on the principle of riding with slow cadence. Brett argued that in his view that fast cadence may be a wrong one for a number of riders, in particular those who do not come from a cycling background and started riding late. Their bodies and in particular the euro-muscular system are not conditioned the such a riding style. Lower cadence translates into lower heart rate and this helps to start the run in a much better shape. During the run the heart rate will naturally go up so it is better to save the heart for the demands of the marathon rather than tire it unnecessarily during the bike leg.  In addition during and after finishing the swim our heart rate will be the highest in the whole Ironman, not only because the impact of the adrenaline at the start but also the faster pace wiring first few minutes, exit and run between first and second lap as well as changing the body position to horizontal after finishing the swim leg. Even before I start the swim my HR is usually well above 130bpm. All this forces the cardio system to work really hard. It is a much better and sensible approach to allow your heart to work less during the bike allowing it to rest a bit during the bike and preparing for the run. Of course each of us must find the optimal cadence suitable for an individual athlete during which our pace is the highest at a given heart rate. It should all be caveated that such a racing approach and bike technique must be trained and it may take months to master it and get used to the muscular pain associated with it. Different TriSutto athletes ride with different cadences generally ranging from 75 to 85 rpm.  Few of us were shocked the Rafal confirmed that during his Ironman and Half Ironman races this season his average cadence was approximately 67-68 rpm!

We have also spend few minutes talking about the cleat position and the benefits for some athletes which they have achieved moving the cleats backwards. Such an approach allows for reducing the impact on the calf muscles.  Here we also heard some criticism relating to the ‘cyclists’ approach to the peddling technique riding ‘in circles’.  Such technique does not allow for any relaxation during the bike leg, again something that is a norm in cycling that may not be the best approach in triathlon.


Finally, one of the key messages that Brett was trying to instil in the participants was that triathlon is one sport and not three separate disciplines and it should be trained as such.  The key is to get as fast as possible to the finish line covering each of the three disciplines in a different way. Sutton’s training and racing philosophy is based on such a ‘common sense’ approach: use arms during the swim, during the bike use the big leg muscles but save the heart and during the run apply a running technique that will allow you to cover all the distance in a steady pace.

I hope that each of the participants learned something that will allow them to become a better athlete. We were given a brilliant lecture about the sport, I have to admit some of messages were very different and sometimes controversial, however the feedback from the participants was great and that we will try to organise another workshop with Brett and his TriSutto team again next year.  Very interesting were not only our main lectures but equally interesting were our discussions between the athletes and coaches.  Once again I’d like to thank all participants and Rafal and Alicja and I hope we will meet soon again during another training camp or a workshop.

loza-tricampMichał Siejakowski, Piotr Netter, Czarek Figurski, Artur Bilewski, Paweł Barszowski – Radek Burza and Tomek Kowalski.

Learn more about our Camps here.