04 January, 2012

Cadence Training - Secrets Kept

This year avalanches have very much made steep skiing lines a question mark of whether they will be really all that possible, with the exception of one random day later in the season, turning my attention back to some enchainments and speed traverses.  Last year, while skimo racing, my coach Jen Segger at Challenge By Choice and I came up with a very specific way of training to go faster.  Yes, this is, and has been a 'secret weapon'.  I didn't even want to reveal this, but for training and supporting the sport, here it is.

Cadence training, which has been mentioned on this blog numerous times, and getting your legs to turn over faster is vital and just as important as lung power in skimo racing.  If a racer takes more steps per minute than another (even if the other has a longer stride) the racer with the higher cadence wins.   Specific training, lightening each external limb's weight with lighter gear, all combine to make a racer faster.  (Photo Below:  Malene Haurc√ły (NOR) firing up the Relay Boot Pack in Claut, Italy)

Gear wise, we speculated while racing in the World Cup that 100g could take a minute or so off time on an individual course, with the time increasing at a significant weight loss for racers who were just learning and getting into the sport on a recreational level.  Mind you, this is speculation, but times are minor at a higher level as most racers are within a couple hundred grams between each other.

So if the latest and greatest isn't an option as an upgrade, and more importantly, training sits up front as the most important and best way of getting faster (gear doesn't make you faster, training does).  As I had mentioned before training cadence can be done in a number of ways.  One, doing intervals on FLAT terrain on a groomed cat track, or pre-set skin track (not powder as this slows cadence down) allows the legs to turn over at a maximal pace for a specific amount of time.  This helps build a much faster cadence as it builds faster muscle fibers that allow the legs to increase their natural cadence while at race pace.  Training on the flats last year really helped.

But here's what really, really helped.  Cadence training uphill, with a specific cadence to maintain.  It started when I raced along with the likes of Florent Perrier (120 Steps Per Minute in video above) and Kilian Journet's pace in the Individual Race in the Andorra World Championships.  They maintained a high cadence, even on the steeper uphills, requiring fast leg turn over, muscle power, and lung power to match.  So, I averaged out how many strides per minute and if they shortened their stride (which stayed fairly consistent).  Taking the average of a few different top racers, over a few different courses, I had a number of paces to try out.  But to just count out specific pacing over an entire morning was near impossible, and to hard to work out when to stride.  The solution?  A metrenome.

I headed out to the music store in town and purchased a small adjustable metronome.  After that, I dialed in the pace of the top 3 and gave it a try on the regular route I would train.  Immediately destroyed, due to the higher angle of certain areas, I toned it down.  Jen and I set it up, so that I would train with the metrenome at a specific pace on certain days when I was out for awhile training, and be forced to maintain a pace even over fluctuating skin track grades/angles.  The pace was just slightly faster than my regular race pace, and we turned up the metronomes pace as the training schedule evolved throughout the season.  (Photo Below:  Javier Martin pumping up the cadence at the Vertical World Championships Race in Claut, Italy)

Overall, how did this work for a year's worth of training?  Great, I've continued using it, although funny to watch me skin by with a beat pounding out of the metronome, but the pace really improved and when the time came to push the pace, I was much more comfortable pushing to a faster cadence and maintaining it than I had before in final sprint sections.  Combining cadence with stride dynamics and quality training really goes a long way.  Cadence can be trained year round, and is part of your base work, race pace, and interval pacing and may be just as important as rest.

Any Thoughts?


  1. The higher cadence was definitely something I was working on back when training was forefront. However, a suggestion that might be a bit more fun that listening to a metronome is to put tunes on that are in that 120bpm zone (even some of your faves that come in at 60bpm will work).

    Snipe the free download from beatunes.com that'll automatically determine the bpm of your intunes library, and voila! Build playlists with the bpm you're looking for. Free and way more fun than a metronome.
    Might I suggest DJ Champion's "Keep on Riding" to get the cadence up!

  2. Hi Alex, I agree with you almost on all of it and thanks for sharing your experience but I believe you made a mistake since such a statement/assumption is simply not true.

    I mean it is true as many times as it is not: "If a racer takes more steps per minute than another (even if the other has a longer stride) the racer with the higher cadence wins."

    I think it is safe to say that Reiner goes lower cadence than most of us yet he still wins. It's not because we slow down sooner but simply he covers certain distance in less time and not due to higher cadence.

    I support the opinion that improving one's cadence will improve his performance but it merely means he will beat the "sluggish" guy.

    Cadence is a skill and a tool thus can be improved upon and used. The wider the range of cadence one has the easier it is for him to adapt to various situations.

  3. Alex, as a new follower of the blog I just wanted to say thanks for providing such a repository of detailed info and training beta.
    Cheers from Norway

  4. Way after the fact, but I wanted to say thanks for all the great info on cadence. It's something I've been wondering about all winter as I've started to get into skimo, coming from a running background, and yours is the only site I've found that has any discussion of it!