Developing Sprint Power

Sprint Training

Being able to accelerate your bike, sprinting down the trail is an important skill especially for racers.  Most riders don’t understand how to train their sprint power though and as a result just don’t get the gains they want.

There are two main approaches to develop your maximal power on the bike which will let you sprint harder and faster.  The first is gym based strength and power training and the second is on-bike sprint training sessions which I will concentrate on today.

In the gym:  Before you think about doing power work, you need to be strong.  In fact most people will get a more powerful sprint just by doing some proper strength training in the gym.  If you are strong, you are more likely to be powerful.  You should focus on the big compound lifts like squats and deadlifts (heavy with low reps) and compliment that work with single leg exercises like lunges, step ups, and Bulgarian split squats.  As mountain bikers your quads (front of thighs) are probably quite well developed and your hamstrings (back of thigh) and glutes (ass) are probably fairly weak so you need to make these weaknesses a priority.  When doing single leg work, always train the weaker leg first and over time the difference will become smaller and you will become a stronger, more rounded athlete.

There is no point having really strong legs if your back and core are weak as piss as you will just leak power and probably end up with back problems.  Make sure that you train your core using your bodyweigth in lots of different directions and using various methods.  As a starter, front and side planks are a good bet.  Aim for 2 min front and 1 min each side as a basic standard.  Whilst squatting and deadlifting in particular will strengthen your back, you should also do some back extensions either on the floor, over a swiss ball or on a back extension bench (don’t use the crappy machine!).

That was a brief overview of what you can do in the gym to build real strength to help you sprint your bike hard and fast.  Whilst the gym is important for developing crank-bending torque you really need to get out and actually sprint to make the biggest gains.

Bike Sessions:  This is where I see people make a lot of mistakes with sprint training.  The most common thing you see is people sprinting up and down a set distance again and again and without any rest.  They are totally blowing out of their arses and their legs are burning after the first sprint and by the  4th or 5th they are barely sprinting at all.  Only the first sprint of the set is actually training max sprint power.  Whilst this may be a productive anaerobic interval training session that may aid you in other areas of your training, it is not going to actually improve the amount of power that you can put down out of the start gate at a race.  To improve max power for sprinting you need to sprint at your maximum., not below it.  Most people can only sprint at maximal pace for maybe 3-8 seconds and then take about 5 minutes or more to recover enough to do it again with similar intensity.

Although they are not riders it is interesting to know that the Jamaican 100m sprint team do sessions with 100m sprints with a whopping 30 minutes rest in between sprints!  That way they can recover enough to do each sprint at maximal intensity (speed) and by doing so, train their bodies to sprint as quickly as possible which is why they win so many medals!  I know that you don’t have 3 hours to train 6 sprints, but carry on reading and I will show you the way…..

Let’s look at a typical sprint session that you could do out on a fire-road or on a quiet lane, free from traffic:  From a standing start, complete 6 x 30 metre max effort sprints with 5 minutes rest in between.  In between reps, keep warm and moving but basically rest and recover in time for the next effort.  Make sure that every rep is aggressive and you are mentally focussed.  You can’t hold back anything!  Obviously you need to complete a thorough warm up first, including a 60-70% effort and will need to spin your legs out at the end as well.

A session like this won’t leave you sore and feeling really tired but don’t underestimate the toll on your body from training like this.  You should only do these sessions once or twice per week and they should be followed by an easy training day to make the best gains from the session.

Another important consideration is when to sprint uphill, downhill or on the flat.  They all have their own demands and training effects and should be programmed differently:

Uphill sprints are the most demanding as you have to overcome gravity in order to accelerate forwards.  The resistance to each pedal stroke will be high, requiring a lot of leg strength and the final speed and cadence will be lower than downhill sprints.  These are important for developing power for DH and 4X racers in pre-season but are generally not performed too close to racing due to the stress it places on the body.

Flat sprints are the middle ground between high speed downhill efforts and high force up hill efforts.  They are still important for developing your sprint power and can be done closer to competition if adequate recovery is programmed.

Downhill sprints are as much about technique and commitment as any physical ability and that is why they are so important.  They teach you to spin at a high cadence and get you used to the high speeds of maximal sprinting in a race, particularly down the start ramp at 4X.  They are less demanding on the body, but are more race specific and are best used closer to competition to ensure you are sharp on race day.  You need to be totally committed and think about gear selection and changes over the first 10 metres or more.  Due to the higher speeds, make sure that you wear your helmet and other gear; if you break a chain at top speed you will be flying out the front door and it won’t be pretty!

Another consideration is pedals; do you practice clipped in or on flats?  Even if you race in clips, I would recommend that you train on flat pedals to develop a smooth and powerful pedalling technique.  The real power is on the downstroke and not pulling the pedal up at the back, so don’t worry about losing power.  As well as pedal technique you should have a look at your body position and overall sprint technique.  Get a friend to video you sprint training and compare it to the top racers online.  I bet their body positions are a lot more extreme out of the gate as they put the power down!

The bottom line is that to develop your max sprint power, and therefore acceleration, you will need to sprint maximally in your training.  Repeated efforts with increasing fatigue will not allow this to happen.  Sprint – Rest – Repeat – Recover – Race Faster.

Stay Strong

Ben