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Real Sprinting: here’s how to do it!

By Jennifer Sage On April 12, 2012 Under Form and Technique, Outdoor Cycling

Sprinting in Spinning

This is good timing – Bicycling magazine had a post yesterday on How to Sprint Like You Mean It. A few days ago I posted a link to Clair Cafaro’s post asking why many indoor cycling instructors turn DOWN the resistance to sprint, which is the opposite of what should be done if you want to, you know….sprint!

Here are a few quotes from this Bicycling magazine article with advice from World Cup mountain bike racer (and Olympic hopeful) Willow Rockwell. These quotes emphasize the importance of having a fair amount of resistance (gear) and going all out.

When inserting sprinting into her training, Rockwell says:

If there’s a small hill, I just stand up and hammer to the top.

In cycling lingo, “hammer” means to give it everything you got. As in, go all out until it hurts. And if she’s going uphill, she’s got a lot of resistance (gravity). That means one thing: Ouch.

In this paragraph, she describes the need to shift UP to a bigger gear. Indoors, that translates to more resistance, not less.

That means finding the right gear—not so tough that your leg speed drops dramatically, but not so easy that you end up flailing before the finish. Generally speaking, that means quickly shifting up two or three cogs, hitting the lockout on your fork, then standing up and going for it. “Then it’s time to dig in,” Rockwell says. “Commit to go as fast as you can go.”

I think sometimes indoors, instructors and/or students interpret “going as fast as you can go” to legs churning like a roadrunner. But remember, just having fast legs doesn’t mean the bike is moving fast. A cyclist with too low a gear with super high cadence trying to sprint will be dropped in a nanosecond by other cyclists with a bigger gear and lower cadence. Real speed is a combination of gear and cadence. It means power. You can’t have power without resistance.

A real sprint is painful!

Rockwell says it like it is (emphasis mine):

There’s no good way to say it: A good finish sprint hurts. “When you do sprint, you need to commit 110-percent,” Rockwell says. “Don’t think, ‘Oh, I went too soon,’ just go. Yes, you’ll feel like you’re going to die but that’s part of the experience. Who cares, the end is right there. It will be over before you know it.”

Yes, who cares – it’s only 10-15 seconds! You won’t die, but in that moment, you will feel like it.

So when you sprint in your classes, sprint like you mean it and keep it real!

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Shayne
    April 13, 2012
    2:12 am #comment-1

    Great post Jennifer. Sorry that you’re still having to make this point in 2012.

    Did I tell you about the time I saw Johnny G at a fitness expo, bare feet and 140++rpm on the ye olde spinner from schwinn? The man understood performance (as in Barnhamesque showman) but appeared to mix up the message around performance (as in make-bike-go-fast). Still, gotta love him…

    P.S. How do you commit 110%. Athletes and coaches are forver talking about about this number.

  2. Michael
    April 16, 2012
    2:30 pm #comment-2

    Great Post…

    I stopped using the term sprinting in my classes years ago, due to the connotation that you’re just pedaling fast. I tend to use “break away” and “hammer”. I coach that in a break away cyclists are after maximum power, which is a combination of RESISTANCE and petal speed.

    And yes, even to this day I still see “bouncing booties” indicating very little resistance on the bike…

  3. Jennifer Sage
    April 16, 2012
    4:59 pm #comment-3

    Michael, I’m like you, I hardly ever use the word “sprint”, but when I do, I teach them a REAL sprint! That’s maybe 3-4 times a year. The rest of the time, we “hammer” or “attack” as you do. But many times, those can be longer than 15 seconds – so it’s more like a true anaerobic capacity effort than an explosive power sprint. And they hurt like hell, too! 😉

  4. Barry
    May 2, 2014
    7:43 am #comment-4

    Yes as far as I am concerned a sprint is pedal fast against resistance for a short period. You certainly do not see Mark Cavendish change to the small chain ring on the front and large sprocket on the back for a final sprint otherwise he would go nowhere fast. Get some resistance and then pedal fast that way your legs truly workout rather than the bike fixed wheel turning your legs and hips wobbling all over the place

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