This morning in Spinning class, I did a lot of harping about sprints. We didn’t do that many, only two, but I had some new folks and wanted to get the point across. Basically, we were doing the Pace Line Ride, and the concept of “pulling the line” seemed to be lost to a few who thought they were supposed to pedal fast and furiously instead of going HARD. My first sprint description came as I needed them to focus on a heavy resistance as they pulled their team members. The second came as we were actually doing a sprint to the finish. However, the mechanics and the reasoning are the same, and I’m going to share the basics with you now.
Somewhere along the line, sprints in indoor cycling became a speed and not an effort. But to do a “sprint” by merely riding at a very high cadence is to miss the entire point of sprinting and to fail to make the gains in your fitness that sprinting can give you. Before we talk about what a sprint is, let’s address some of the things that sprints are not:
- If you have minimal resistance on your bike, you are not doing a true sprint.
- If you are bouncing in the saddle, you are not sprinting.
- If you have changed the posture of your upper body in any way, including bobbing your head or wiggling your shoulders or bouncing around… You probably aren’t sprinting.
- If it lasts more than 30 seconds (on average) it is definitely not a sprint.
Do any of these describe you when “sprinting”? If this is you, don’t sweat it. You are in the same boat as a large number of people. Some of them don’t know and some of them don’t care, but whichever you are, you can and you should do something to get the benefits of performing a true sprint, namely higher power output, more burned calories, better performance, and more. Please be aware, before you attempt sprints, that they are an advanced move and should only be undertaken by riders who have ridden consistently (at least twice per week) for six weeks. We are talking about pushing the upper limits of your heart rate with sprints — 92% or so — which is not to be undertaken without a strong aerobic base.
Now then, what is a sprint? Let’s think of what a sprint is supposed to accomplish — covering a large amount of ground in as short a time as possible. It is tempting to assume that the faster you are pedalling, the faster you will cover that ground, but to do so ignores the importance of gear. On an outdoor bike, a large gear will propel the bike further in one turn of the pedal than a small gear. The small gear is the equivalent of having low resistance on the bike; for each pedal stroke you travel less than you would at a bigger gear or heavier resistance. The combination of choosing the highest gear you can and turning that heavy gear at the highest pace you can maintain is what makes a true sprint.
When you are performing a sprint with higher resistance, you’ll notice that the last three bullet points become moot. You will naturally “get glued” to the saddle, eliminating the tell-tale bounce that indicates the rider is not getting much from their pedal stroke. You will also notice that letting your upper body stay soft, pliable and controlled, you have more energy to direct to your legs to better execute the sprint. Lots of bobbing and exaggerated “waving” only tells me that you are being dramatic instead of focused. Because you are putting everything you have got into this high gear at your highest possible cadence, you will not be able to do it for very long — 30 seconds at best and it will wipe you out. Oh, and you should need at least a minute or two of recovery before even thinking about doing it again.
This is in line with the definition of a Sprint from Spinning.com: What is a SPRINT? A Sprint is an all-out, short-term effort at maximum output (wattage) performed in a high gear. A Sprint typically lasts no more than 30 seconds.When riders complete a true Sprint, they should be ‘spent.'” If you are interested in the exact specifications of a true Sprint in the Spinning program, they have a great rider handout: Sprinting.
Another great resource is on Robert’s blog. It’s almost as if he read my mind because I found this on his blog this morning! Great explanation from an outdoor rider on the importance of doing a sprint correctly. It’s called The Art of Sprinting.
So that’s my preaching on the subject. It’s because I care that I harp on issues like Sprints and Jumping. Hopefully, you’ve found something useful that you can translate into higher power and better riding!