The Four Phases of Sprint Training

Thursday, May 12, 2016 | By O'Brien Forbes
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The Four Phases of Sprint Training

You have done all the training necessary to get you to the final 200 meters of your race. Now it’s time to get your sprint on. Are you ready to deliver a 30 second all-out explosive effort that will get you to the line in first place?  

Even an experienced sprinter should devote time to working on the sprint. Whether it is a city limit sign at the end of the club ride or a competitive end to a road race or a criterium, a finely tuned sprint is a valuable weapon in the arsenal! Training for sharp acceleration can also be of benefit in a race situation when there is a need to jump across a gap or accelerate out of a corner. Believe it or not, there is a method to sharpening sprinting skills.

Sprint training is broken down into four different phases; strength training, acceleration, fine tuning your form and group practice sprints. Working on each one of these building blocks individually provides the tools necessary to deliver a good sprint.

Strength Training

Simply put, being able to put out an extended threshold effort requires a great deal of strength, especially to launch the effort. The slow twitch muscles that are used in the initial part of your sprint need to be purposefully developed. One of the best ways to train for sprinting on the bike is to practice accelerating while in a big gear. On the bike, strength is built through the use of two key exercises; Hills Stomps and Stand Still Sprints.

The Hill Stomp is a drill done by climbing a 2 to 5 minute consistent grade of 4 to 8 percent at a very low cadence.  This exercise not only works on your pedaling strength but also your acceleration after an intense effort, serving a dual purpose in helping your sprint.

A Stand Still Sprint is a favorite workout of mine. Here, you need a straight section of road that is about a quarter mile in length and is either flat or has a slight 2 to 3 percent rise to it. Mark off a 200-meter stretch. It is best to be able to go back and forth so an unobstructed road is best.

Stand Stills are done by rolling up to your start line seated at 2 to 3 mph. With your hands in the drops, come out of the saddle and continuously accelerate for the next 200 meters. Higher cadence efforts might require you to sit in order to complete the sprint.  tand Stills provide preparation for the fact that most sprints begin with sudden, intense muscle effort.

Stand Still Workout:

  • Set 1: 3 X 3 Use a gear that will allow you to quickly get to 110+ rpm. Recovery is return to start line
  • 10 minute recovery between sets
  • Set 2: 3 X 3 Use a gear with moderate resistance and reaching 110+ rom at finish line
  • 10 minute recovery
  • Set 3: 3 X 3 Use a gear with heavy resistance targeting 80+ rpm by finish line
  • 10 minute recovery

Acceleration Work

The Rolling Sprint is a workout designed to improve acceleration, or your snap. This workout is time-based rather than distance-based. Unlike the road used for Stand Stills, you do not need to be able to turn around and repeat the same distance over and over.  

Find a long, quiet, flat and fairly straight road. A loop in a park will also work. Each effort is 20 seconds with 1:40 recovery in between. Like Stand Stills, start the sprint in the drops and out of the saddle and stay in the same gear during the effort. Since these 20 second efforts are really focused on leg speed, you want a gear where you can get up to speed quickly and are nearly spun out at the end of the 20 seconds. Remember, the goal here is to build your snap.

Rolling Sprint Workout:

1 Set = 2 minutes, 20 second effort with 1:40 recovery
Do 4 sets of 4 with 8 to 10 minute recovery between sets.

Sprinting Form

Sprinting is not just about brute strength and acceleration, it is about using the correct form.  This is clearly demonstrated by Mark Cavendish. By no means does Cavendish produce the most watts for the final kick to the line. However, he pays very close attention to his form and understands how every part of his body is committed to producing that explosive effort.  

  • Good form takes time to perfect. Some basic techniques to work on are as follows:  
  • Your hands are ALWAYS in the drops while elbows are bent.
  • Keep your head up and always looking forward.
  • Start the sprint with your strongest leg coming up and over the top of the pedaling circle.  
  • Use a gear where you can quickly get up to 110+ rpm.  
  • Keep the front wheel pointed forward, but let your bike rock back and forth.  
  • As you push down with your left foot, your bike goes to the right and, in turn, you pull up on the bars with your left hand.  
  • Keep your weight centered over the cranks, do not lean too far forward over your stem.

A perfect time to work on your form is while doing the Rolling Sprints. Technique is often overlooked yet needs as much attention as strength and acceleration.

Group Practice

The final step in sprint training is to practice while riding with others. Before trying your new sprint in a race, try practicing on a group ride. Having pre-designated mock finish lines during long training rides where multiple people are sprinting will help prepare you for producing the effort in a real race. Practicing alone is good, but having others around you going for the same goal adds a new dynamic and certainly adds to your race preparation.

Planning the Training

Dedicate one day per week to sprint training. If you are just getting started, reduce the efforts or sets until acclimated. Just like training itself, these efforts take time and practice to master. Since the efforts are short and intense, target doing them at the beginning of the week. Here is a progression to get you started:

  • Session 1: 3 or 4 Hill Stomps with 3-5 minute recovery between. 10 recovery, then finish with 4 X 4 Rolling Sprints
  • Session 2: Repeat Day 1
  • Session 3: 3 X 3 Stand Stills. 10 minute recovery then finish with 4 X 4 Rolling Sprints using slightly bigger gears.
  • Session 4: Repeat Day 3
  • Session 5: Double up on strength work. 3 or 4  Hill Stomps with 3-5 minute recovery between. 10 minute or more recovery then finish with 3 X 3 Stand Stills

A benefit to sprint work is that the work can be done before or after a group ride or endurance day. After six to eight sessions, you should start to see progress. Then, as the season continues, you can sprinkle the different exercises as needed.

During your group rides, get organized and have designated sprint signs, etc. that allow you to hone your sprinting skills. The key to having a good sprint is to practice, train and perfect the above mentioned drills. Then, bring them all together in the final of a race.  

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