The relationship between the preferred rate of movement and the most optimal cadence in the skill of cycling

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Research examining the relationship between the preferred rate of movement and the most optimal in locomotive sports has demonstrated that both novice and well-trained participants select a preferred rate of movement that minimises the metabolic demands of the task. Referred to as the metabolic demand hypothesis, it has been suggested that novices will initially produce a movement pattern that is unstable, inaccurate and high in metabolic demand when compared to a well-trained participant. However, after a period of practice, novice participants will adopt a refined movement pattern with increased metabolic efficiency and reduced internal mechanical work required to coordinate and control the limbs. In cycling, the preferred rate of movement is commonly referred to as the freely chosen cadence (FCC). Previous cycling research has demonstrated that elite and novice cyclists select a FCC that is significantly higher than the most optimal metabolic cadence. Instead, the FCC may be attributed to mechanisms other than the need to minimise the metabolic demands of the task, such as mechanical, psychological or physiological factors. However, other cycling studies have shown that the optimal metabolic cadence in well-trained cyclists increased as power output was elevated at higher exercise intensities and more closely resembled the FCC than previously shown. Therefore, to date, there remains conflicting findings as to whether the skill of cycling adheres to the metabolic demand hypothesis and exactly what variables directly influence cadence selection. The aims of this thesis were to firstly determine whether the skill of cycling adhered to the metabolic demand hypothesis. Secondly, if this was not the case, the research sought to investigate variables or mechanisms responsible for influencing cadence selection. Finally, the research aimed to determine the impact of a specific cadence-based interval training protocol on the FCC and performance. These aims were investigated using separate studies. In study 1, a group of non-cyclists completed a series of tests at varying workloads, measured in relative terms of each participant’s fitness level, to determine their FCC and optimal pedalling frequency. The findings revealed that non-cyclists preferred to cycle well above the most optimal metabolic cadence, possibly in order to decrease muscle strain and mechanical load rather than the need to minimise aerobic demand. In studies 2 and 3, non-cyclists and well-trained cyclists completed a 6-week cadence-based interval training program to determine whether the FCC could be altered with specific training. These studies were also conducted to determine if the selection of the FCC in both cohorts was related to minimising the metabolic demands of the task, and to assess the impact of the interval training program on performance. Collectively, the findings from these studies demonstrated that both well-trained and non-cyclists selected a FCC that was significantly higher than the most metabolically optimal cadence suggesting that the skill of cycling did not adhere to the metabolic demand hypothesis. Unlike other cycling research, the findings from these studies did not support the notion that cadence selection was solely based on minimising muscular effort or reducing the perceived exertion of the task. However, the findings were able to provide evidence to suggest that cycling cadence selection is different to other locomotor activities and may be under the control of central pattern generators (CPG). This was evidenced by the fact the FCC was highly individualised, recorded strong between-day reliability in all participants, and was shown to be impacted by internal and external factors such as increases in power output and mechanical loading. The findings from studies 2 and 3 also revealed that regardless of the training stimulus, both well-trained and non-cyclists preferred to pedal at higher cadences and that low cadence interval training has the potential to have a greater impact on performance outcomes than high cadence training.
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