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Different Effect of Cadence on Cycling Efficiency between Young and Older Cyclists


Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: November 2010 - Volume 42 - Issue 11 - p 2128-2133
doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e3181e05526
Applied Sciences

Purpose: We investigated the difference in the cadence-efficiency relationship between young and older competitive cyclists.

Methods: Eight young (24.3 ± 5.3 yr) and eight older (65.6 ± 2.8 yr) competitive cyclists participated in two laboratory sessions. The first consisted of an incremental maximal cycling test to determine the freely chosen pedal cadence and the maximal power output at V˙O2max and the second for the determination of gross efficiency (GE), calculated as the ratio of external work and energy expenditure (V˙O2). The latter test consisted of 6-min cycling exercise bouts at 40% and 60% of maximal power output and at a cadence of 40, 60, 80, 100, and 120 rpm.

Results: GE was lower in older cyclists than that in young cyclists at all cadences considered and at both levels of power output (P < 0.01). Peak efficiency was reached at 60 rpm in young cyclists (21.2% ± 1.9%), whereas in older cyclists this was observed already at 40 rpm and was not different from that at 60 rpm (18.3% ± 0.6%). The decline in GE with the increase in cadence was more pronounced in older than in young cyclists (P < 0.01) and was mitigated by the increase in power output more in the latter than in the former. These observations were in line with a lower freely chosen cadence recorded during the maximal test in older than that in young (P < 0.01).

Conclusions: The present data indicate that the effect of cadence on cycling efficiency is different between young and older cyclists and that it seems more disadvantageous for the latter to use high cadences. This may help explain why our older cyclists chose to pedal at lower cadences than the younger.

1Department of Human Movement and Sport Sciences, University of Rome, Rome, ITALY; and 2UCD School of Public Health, Physiotherapy and Population Science, University College Dublin, Dublin, IRELAND

Address for correspondence: Massimo Sacchetti, Ph.D., Department of Human Movement and Sports Sciences, University of Rome "Foro Italico," Piazza Lauro De Bosis 15, 00135 Rome, Italy; E-mail:

Submitted for publication January 2010.

Accepted for publication March 2010.

©2010The American College of Sports Medicine