Sprint training benefits nearly every type of rider. Even if your goal is a hundred mile sportive and you are very unlikely to ever find yourself sprinting for a finish line there are still clear reasons why it would benefit your fitness.
For a start, sprint training, 30 seconds of all-out effort followed by 4.5 minutes of recovery has been shown to have similar benefits to endurance training. So sprint training is a time efficient way of building your endurance for long events.
When you sprint you recruit more of your muscle fibres to provide the maximum power to the pedals. For less intense efforts not all of your muscle fibres need to be engaged, so it could be said that sprinting hits the spots that other training misses. One single maximal sprint will engage nearly all of your muscle fibres but research has shown during repeated sprints your central nervous system regulates muscle fibre recruitment to limit fatigue. This still means that a series of sprint efforts will hit more fibres than a steady ride.
Sprint training also has a positive effect on your bike handling skills, reaction times and alertness. If you ride at one moderate pace for most of your training you can start to feel sluggish and slow to respond, sprint training is a wake-up call your body might benefit from.
Image courtesy of Hotchillee
When should you start sprint training?
Sprint training is high intensity and as such it requires recovery time between sessions. For this reason, some coaches will not advocate sprint workouts during a base building phase. However as sprint training has been shown to have a positive benefit on your endurance there is an argument for including at least one session a week, particularly if you are short on training time, throughout the year.
If sprinting and speed is your target, then increase the number of sprint or interval sessions you do in the pre-competition phase of your training as you reduce the moderate intensity volume to allow more time for recovery.
If you are new to sprinting or high intensity efforts, then you are likely to get some muscle soreness and stiffness after your first few sessions which is totally normal. However, sprinting does increase the load on your ligaments and tendons so if a pain is sharp or located in one specific area, rather than a generalized ache, make sure you get it checked out.
How to integrate sprints into your training
There are three key types of sprint training, these can be added into longer endurance rides or sessions on their own.
Power Sprints - from a slow start
This helps you to develop explosive power from a slow speed. Good for attacking, standing starts or on a climb.
Get into a big gear and roll slowly till you are almost at a standstill. Either in or out the saddle accelerate and hold it for 20 seconds or until you start to spin out. Ease back into an easier gear and spin for 5 minutes. Repeat up to 8 times.
Super Speed - sprinting from an already fast pace.
If you are sprinting against other riders, then chances are you will already be moving fast. This helps you to accelerate to get the gap.
Use a safe downhill slope to increase your speed, when you get close to the bottom of the hill shift gears and increase your cadence to accelerate. Keep the speed up as you hit the flat, or bottom of the next hill if it is a rolling stretch of road.
Tabata style sprints - repeated high speed efforts with little recovery
One sprint is seldom enough in a race situation. This will help with repeated sprints out of corners or if you have to go again to make an attack stick.
Sprint hard for thirty seconds, then pedal easily for thirty seconds, repeat 5 times. Make sure you don’t stop pedaling between efforts, you need to maintain momentum to keep the speed high. Recovery spin for 5 minutes. Repeat up to 5 times in a session and follow with a good cool down. This session is best suited to indoor training on turbo or Wattbike.
Written by Hannah Reynolds
Hannah is proof that you don’t need to be good at racing to pin on a number, just enthusiastic. She has ridden some of the world’s toughest sportives including the Haute Route Alps, La Marmotte and Megavalanche – the famous downhill mountain bike race.
When she’s not on the bike, Hannah is a freelance writer and journalist and former Editor of Cycling Weekly and Cycling Active. She is co-authour of France en Velo and Bloomsbury publications Fitter, Faster, Further and Get on Your Bike.