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Ask Pav: Distance, cadence and heart rate

Pav Bryan
4 Oct 2016

Whether your wheels squeak, your brakes need a tweak, or your knees creak, our own cycling guru Pav Bryan will steer you right.

Pav Bryan is a professional British Cycling level 3 road and time-trial coach with over a decade’s experience in mentoring everyone from beginners to pros. Discover more about his services at, and follow him on Twitter @pavbryan for more cycling-related wisdom. 

Hi Pav,  I’ve entered a 100-mile sportive but the most I’ve ever ridden is 40 miles. How do I make sure I cope with the extra distance? Ben Vincent, via email

Depending on how much time you’ve got you’ll need to improve your efforts through training. Suddenly jumping from 40 miles to 100 may prove too much. If 40 miles is your ceiling right now, target doing 50 miles next week and then go out there and do 60. Then take an easier week where you go back to 40 before hitting the bigger distances again – 60-70 miles, say. It’s not just a case of increasing the miles, you need to build in recovery time or you’ll struggle. Aim to get a 100-mile ride in two weeks before the sportive itself, and then as you build up to the event, taper your rides with shorter distances for 10 days to allow your body to recover. All that hard work should come together nicely on the big day. Let me know how you get on, and good luck!

How can I best improve my cadence to 90-100 rpm? I’m trying but it hurts! Jamie Berry, via Facebook

I always recommend that at some point in an annual training plan you should look to increase leg speed to help improve flexibility and neuromuscular fitness. Spin-ups are a great exercise to measure this. Start at 60rpm (to work out the rpm, count off the number of times one foot rotates in the pedal during 60 seconds) and increase your rpm by 10 every minute for as long as you can. When it feels uncomfortable, dial the pace down a little and hold that cadence for 1-2 minutes. Over a four-week period, focus your training on improving your leg speed, then at the end of it repeat this exercise to see what results the training has produced. The more resistance you introduce, the more stress you introduce, which contributes to fatigue, so work in lower gears when aiming for higher cadence.

I’m thinking of investing in a heart-rate monitor. Should I and how would I get the best out of it? Martin Keys, via email

Heart-rate monitors are great for measuring your maximum heart rate (MHR) which you can work out by doing a  flat-out, three-minute hill climb –if you’re fit enough! – wearing your monitor. The heart rate achieved at the top of that three-minute effort is a fair measure of your MHR. From there you can work out your training zones. There are six of these ranging from zone 1, where your heart rate is 40-35% of your MHR, to zone 6 where it’s less than 6%. These zones can be used to structure your training effectively. It’s also worth getting one to work out your functional threshold heart rate (the maximum you can train at for an hour), as it’ll allow you to pace yourself better over bigger distances rather than just short bursts. So yes Martin, make that investment, mate –it’ll help you transform your riding!

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