by Hillary Rinehardt

Peloton riders are undoubtedly familiar with cadence and resistance. Cadence is how fast the athlete pedals. Resistance is the amount of weight or pressure the cyclist pushes. On a road bicycle, resistance is created by shifting to a more challenging gear or going up hills. In a nutshell, cadence builds cardiovascular endurance, whereas resistance builds strength. But which is a better focus to achieve fitness goals?


Kinesiologists measure cadence in revolutions per minute (RPMs.) If the cyclist’s cadence is 80, the pedals will complete 80 revolutions every minute. Higher speeds increase the blood flow to the muscles, which stimulates mitochondrial growth. It may sound counter-intuitive, but long-distance endurance rides rely on slow-twitch muscle fibers. Pedaling faster will increase the cyclist’s ability to exercise longer and harder. Maintaining a high cadence will burn more fat and carbohydrates.


Higher resistance workouts promote muscle breakdown and growth. People gain muscle when the tears in the muscle rebuild themselves. Riding at a higher resistance works fast-twitch muscle fibers, which are used for sprinting. They fatigue more quickly than slow-twitch muscle fibers. Generally, resistance slows cadence down because the pedals are harder to turn over. Pushing heavier resistance builds more muscle strength, but it may be difficult to sustain a high-power output throughout the workout.

The Bottom Line

Whether the goal is to manage weight, build muscle or increase endurance, average watts (cadence plus resistance) is key. The best way to achieve these goals is to condition the cardiovascular system first by riding at a fast cadence. Then, as stamina increases, add resistance. When the cyclist prioritizes cadence first, their cardiovascular system will have the boost it needs to prime their muscles for more resistance. Also, because cranking up resistance is similar to weight training, it puts more pressure on the cyclist’s joints, which increases the risk of injury. It is best to begin with riding for extended periods at a lower resistance to prevent injury. Then, increase resistance incrementally, as is feasible.