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

Changing Things Up In The Gym

 

Joe's Programme

Things can get stale in the gym pretty quickly unless you change things up from time to time.

That’s why last night I ran my rider Joe Finney’s session a bit differently to normal.  We were a little short on time, and Joe was a bit tired and sore from riding Moto on the weekend, so rather than going through a really structured session I decided to put the session into Joe’s hands to see how he got on.

I prescribed what I wanted to achieve in the session and wrote it on the chalk board and the rest was down to Joe, selecting what he wanted to do and when and also selecting what weights to lift for the deadlift in order to reach his 2000kg target for the session.  If the session only took 20 minutes then that would be it – all finished for the night and job done!  It was simply about getting a prescribed amount of work done on his terms.  Here was the plan in case you can’t read my writing on the picture!

Deadlift 2000kg

Goblet Squat @20kg x 50

Press Up x 60

Get Up x 30

Mountain Climber x 100

Fat Bar Chins x 20

KB Swing @32kg x 40

This workload is within Joe’s capabilities and is neither easy or super hard for him.  It will have a beneficial conditioning effect as well as the strength and power gains from the big lifts, due to the non-stop nature of the session.  It took about 25 minutes of steady graft in the end.

The key message I think is that there are so many ways to get stronger, fitter and in shape for any goal.  The key is to vary the training stimulus so that the body and mind do not adapt and are always kept guessing.  Whichever path you take, you should be committed and you should believe in the programme and your ability to succeed.  By doing this I gave Joe ownership and responsibility for his own training and self-development and this is a powerful tool for a coach to wield with his athletes.  Tomorrow night we will be doing something completely different in terms of stimulus, format and outcomes.  That is how you grow physically and mentally as an athlete and rider.

Stay Strong

Ben

 

My Training: 4 Weeks of Strength

 

Squat Rack

Squat Rack

I think that for many people, especially those involved in endurance sports, strength training is misunderstood and rarely applied properly.  When I hear riders talk about doing winter strength training in the gym and how they did 30 reps of squats or whatever, I always want to say, ‘That is not strength training!!!!!’

Strength is the ability to exert maximal forces and to train your strength in the gym you need to move maximal loads through a full range of motion.  This usually means working with weights that are about 80% of your 1 rep max or higher for low reps, like 1-5.  Obviously there is a time and a place for higher rep ranges with lower weights; for instance you may want to put on a bit of muscle, or when first learning an exercise or movement.  Also, there will be supporting exercises that compliment the main lifts of squats and deads, and these can be carried out at higher rep ranges.

Below is my actual training I did over the last 4 weeks, starting on Monday the 3rd of November which was my first day working out of my new gym in Bristol.  To help put it all into context, I will first tell you a bit about my training history…….

The first thing that may surprise you is that prior to November I actually had a quite a long period out of the gym.  This summer I had a big crash at Afan and was unable to train properly for about 2 months, and when I was able to train I only had access to a crappy council gym which was ok, but not ideal for my needs.  I had trained regularly from April when I moved to Bristol up until late June when I fell off.  Before that my wife and I had taken a year out to go travelling and snowboarding so I had done loads of exercise and bodyweight training but very little gym work.  In early 2013, before going away for the year I was the strongest I have ever been, deadlifting 195kg, back squatting 155kg and being able to press 75kg overhead all whilst at 80kg bodyweight.

I was therefore coming into November knowing that I needed to get the basics nailed and that I needed to keep things simple and build my strength back up over the core lifts and movements whilst continuing to rehab my shoulder post-crash which was still hindering press ups, pull ups and overhead exercises.

Training Diary.

3rd Nov

3 minute Aerobic Test on Wattbike – DISGUSTING!

Deadlift:  8@60kg,  8@80kg,  5@100kg,  5@110kg and then 5×3@120kg

TRX Rows 5×8

Kettlebell (KB) Goblet Squat 4×12@20kg

Lying Leg Raises

Press Ups on Fists 4×8.  This is due to an ongoing wrist injury, meaning press ups on palms can be painful.

6th Nov

Back Squat 8@40kg,  8@ 60kg,  5@80kg,  3@90kg,  5×2@100kg

Attempted Overhead Squats but failed due to shoulder.  Pissed off.

Press 4×8@20kg

Pull Ups 4×5

Hanging Knee Raises 5×5

10th Nov

Deadlift 8@60kg,  8@80kg,  6@100kg,  5@100kg,  5×5@115kg

Superset of 5 sets of 12 Press Ups on DBs and 6 Chin Ups

Stiff Leg Deadlift with 4 second lower. 3×5@60kg

Hanging Knee to Elbow Raises 5×5

12th Nov

Front Squat 8@40kg,  8@50kg,  6@60kg,  4×5@70kg

Press 4×12@20kg

Had to cut short due to late client!

14th Nov

Back Squat 8@40kg,  6@60kg,  5@80kg,  2@90kg,  1@100kg,  1@110kg, 2×1@112.5kg

Kettlebell (KB) Swings 20@16kg,  2×20@20kg,  5×10@32kg

Press Ups (On hands but bad wrist taped for support) 4×10

Hanging Knee to Elbow Raises 4×8

17th Nov

Deadlift 8@60kg,  8@80kg,  8@100kg,  5@120kg,  2@130kg,  5×2@140kg

Superset of 5 sets of 14 Press Ups on DBs and 7 Chin Ups

Plank 3 x 1 min

Standing DB Side Bends 3×10 on each side @25kg  This was easy and I made a note in my diary to go 10kg heavier next time.

19th Nov

Back Squat  12@40kg,  8@60kg,  5@80kg,  5×5@100kg

Press  2×8@20kg,  8@25kg,  3×8@30kg – Shoulder feeling good today to increased weight to 30kg.

TRX Rows  4×12

Lying Leg Raises

21st Nov

Front Squat (4 second lower) 8@30kg,  8@40kg,  6@50kg,  5×5@60kg

Superset of 4 sets of 15 Press Ups and 6 Pull Ups

KB Cleans 2×10 each arm @20kg

KB Snatch 2×10 each arm @16kg – This KB work was more revision and practice as I have not snatched a KB in a couple of months due to shoulder injury.  As well as the main reps recorded here, I spent about 20 minutes practicing and working on good form with a variety or weights.

Hanging Knee to Elbow Raises 4×8

25th Nov – Week 4 of Programme and a Recovery Week.

20 minutes of mobility work and movement.

Super deep KB goblet squats with 5 sec hold at the bottom position.  5×5@24kg (2x12kg KBs)

Shoulder stability work on TRX.

20 minutes of stretching and foam rolling.

27th Nov 

This was also supposed to be a recovery day of quality movement and stretching, however I got offered a day labouring on a new MTB and BMX track in Bristol for Architrail who I occasionally work for.  This was actually a total beasting, pushing really heavy wheel barrows across a grassy field and up a hill as well as carrying heavy stuff all day.  Not what I had planned, but I gotta pay the bills!  I did 20 minutes of stretching in the evening though.

Present……..

That brings us nicely to the first week in December where a new 4 week training block begins in the run up to Christmas.  On Monday the 1st (today) I will repeat my 3 minute Aerobic test on the Wattbike and hopefully get a better result as I should be stronger and more powerful than 4 weeks ago.  Over the next 4 weeks I will incorporate more variety into my training and more intensity as I am well aware that I took things pretty steady to get started.  Importantly it all fits in with my long term strategy to prepare myself for next season so I don’t feel like I am behind or anything!  As I go forward I will have to review and evaluate the last 4 weeks and that is where my training diary is essential to my long term progress and goals.

I hope that this is helpful to you in some way.  It is not about showing off (I have a long way to go anyway) or about saying that this person or trainer is wrong and that I am right, but it is about letting you know how I do things and a bit about why.

Stay Strong

Ben