Improve your sprinting

Improve your sprinting

In cycle sport your fitness is the most important aspect, but the specific ability to sprint can decide whether you win a race, get in the winning break or beat your mates for the last town sign.

In road racing you will be required to perform a number of hard sprint efforts: to bridge small gaps to other riders, attack other riders and at the finish of the race you are likely to be involved in a sprint to decide your place.

Your ability to sprint can also be important in mountain bike racing, at the start, attacking other riders and sometimes you will need to sprint for the finish. But even training to sprint will mprove your overall speed, which is beneficial for time triallists too.


Sprinting on a bike is not just about pure strength. You need to use the correct technique to make the most of your strength and your power must be in your pedalling specific muscles

Aim
  • Improve your sprinting ability in three weeks
  • Improve your sprinting technique
  • Make you more confident in a sprint.
Basics

Genetics. The best sprinters are born, because they have natural strength and a higher percentage of strong fast twitch muscle fibres. Training can significantly alter an individual's ability to sprint, but there is a limit.

Training

Sprinting on a bike is not just about pure strength. You need to use the correct technique to make the most of your strength and your power must be in your pedalling specific muscles. In non track cycle racing you will have ridden for some time before you get to the finish and performed a number of efforts, therefore you need to be fit enough to get to the finish and also fit enough to use all your power at the finish. 

Technique

Good technique is very important and is the deciding factor in most sprints. This includes:
  • Gearing - Your choice of gearing is vital, you need to find which cadence is best for you, in general the faster the better as you will have more acceleration and are less likely to tire.
  • Position - You need to use the most powerful position, on a road bike this is on the hooks of the handlebars. You are likely to be more powerful sprinting out of the saddle. On a mountain bike you may find bar ends useful.
  • Tactics - Sprinting is very tactical. When you are in another rider's slipstream you can save energy. By coming from behind the other rider's back wheel you will get an aerodynamic advantage. Always try and start your sprint from behind other riders, in disturbed air. Also, being behind them, they will not know when you make your effort, nor on which side you will attack.
Knowledge  

If you know the finish area you will have an advantage. Check the course before hand if you can, or at the very least, study the race route and race description.
  • Where is the finish?
  • Is the finish flat?
  • Is it downhill?
  • Are there any bends or obstacles?
  • Which direction is the wind blowing? With a headwind you will struggle to succeed with a long sprint, with a tailwind you might manage a longer sprint and catch your rivals by surprise.
It is also an advantage if you now your competitors' abilities. Aim to get behind the best sprinter to take advantage of their slipstream.

Equipment

Advances in technology have made sprinting easier and more efficient. Brake lever mounted gearing allows the rider to change gear quickly and reliably, even when out of the saddle. Frames and wheels have become stiffer yet lighter, and so easier to acclerate. Clipless shoes and pedals have improved efficiency and safety.

Specific training

Your sprinting ability will improve by you simply riding your bike with your friends and having a few play sprints; but if you want to improve your sprinting significantly, say for racing, you need to do specific training.

Fartlek

Ignore the stupid name (it's Swedish for 'speed play') this is a great way to improve your sprinting ability. It can be incorporated into any ride, with other riders, is close to a racing situation and is fun.
  • During your normal ride decide on a random signal for you to sprint. For example, every town sign, every 30 speed limit sign or every red car that overtakes you.
  • When you see this signal, sprint for 20 seconds, if it is a sign sprint, as if it is the finish. This will also improve your technique in sprint.
  • You can perform this with other riders or alone.
  • Aim to have completed more than 6 and less than 15 sprints in the ride, so do not pick red cars on a busy route.
Intervals  

This is a very specific session and involves a sprint effort and minimal recovery. The session can be done on its own or as part of a ride. Intervals involve an effort (in this case a 20 second sprint) and then a period of easier riding. This is repeated a number of times.

For a quick session:
  • Warm up for 20 minutes
  • Sprint as hard as possible for 20 seconds
  • Ride steadily for 4 mins and 40 secs minutes (making a round 5 mins)
  • Repeat this for up to 12 times. Finish with a 20 min easy warm down.
In a longer ride you can still perform intervals. For example, in a three hour ride, cycle for an hour and then do a 20 sec sprint every 20mins, do 6 of these.

Strength

Sprinting requires power and you need strength to produce this. You could gain strength using weights in a gym but a more efficient technique is to strength train on your bike. To build strength you need to pedal in a gear that produces a large amount of resistance. Perform a set of sprint intervals using the above guidelines, but use a bigger gear, so that you are pedalling at about 60 revolutions a minute.

If you are finding you do not have a gear big enough then perform the sprint on an incline, as this will make life harder. The strength sprints are harder on your muscles, so you may need to reduce the number of sprints by two or three. Make sure that before you attempt this session that you have been cycling seriously for a number of months so your body has adapted to cycling. If you have any injuries or joint problems, especially knees then do not attempt this session.

Safety

When you sprint you are trying very hard, as a result you will have less control of the bike, you may not ride in a perfectly straight line, you will be rocking the bike and you may not be looking ahead. Therefore when you perform sprint training choose roads that are quiet and wide. If you are in a group ride sensibly and ensure that other riders know what you are doing.

Weekly examples

The specific sprint training can be incorporated into your normal riding time and routes. If you are riding in a group then this is even better, as you will be improving your technique and a bit of competition is good fun.

If you are a novice cyclist then in the first week simply include some fartlek sprints in half of your normal rides. In the second week do two rides with fartlek sprints and make one ride a short interval sprint session. In the third week do one ride with fartlek sprints (preferably in a group) and do two interval sprint sessions. If you are injury free and feel that you are lacking strength you could make one of these a strength interval session.

If you are an experienced rider, your body will be able to handle more sprints and more specific sessions. In the first week, perform two fartlek rides and do two interval sessions. In the second and third week repeat this programme, if you want to make one or both of the interval sessions a strength session then do so. Try and perform, as many of the sprints with other riders, as well as trying harder you will improve your technique.

Self test

Before you start your training, go out for a ride with someone who can sprint better you. This rider should also not be training to improve their sprint as well. Sprint for 2 or 3 road signs you both know.
  • How far behind were you?
  • How many did you lose?
When you have done your quick fix, do the same ride and sprint with the same rider.
  • Are you closer to them?
  • Are you winning the sprints?  
You will have a good idea as to whether you have improved.

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