Whether you hope to win races or just beat your buddy on the next group ride, you might be wondering how to improve your sprint. Nothing can compare to the feeling of sprinting on a bicycle; the wind rushing past your face, the miles per hour ticking up on your cycling computer, and all of your muscles working in perfect harmony. That’s how you imagine it, at least. Figuring out how to coordinate a perfect sprint isn’t always about fitness alone, it’s an art too. Here are my best tips for improving your sprint on the bike:
1. Practice sprinting
It might seem overly simple but practicing your sprint will create exponential improvements. Practicing your sprinting will not only improve the fitness components involved in a sprint, but it will improve the mechanical elements of sprinting as well. The ability to put down your maximum power on a sprint, involves improving your coordination on the bike. Learning how to lean the bike side to side as you put the power down into the pedals comes with time and experience. I’ve heard Justin Williams on multiple podcasts talk about how much of his sprinting prowess comes from years upon years of attempting to outsprint his brother, friends, teammates, group ride participants, and competitors at local races. I can’t even imagine how many hours he has accumulated practicing the art of sprinting.
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2. Sprint in the right position
Since sprinting is largely a coordination effort, practicing sprinting in the correct position will make a huge difference. Sprinting in the drops will be faster than sprinting in the hoods. Likewise, if you are a mountain biker consider doing your sprint practice on the mountain bike verses a drop bar bike. You may be surprised how different it feels to sprint with flat bars.
3. Lift weights
One way to improve your explosive power on the bike is to work on explosive strength in the gym. Lift heavy weights with a focus on explosive movements such as exploding up from the bottom portion of a squat. Another great way to work on explosive strength is through plyometric exercises which are also thought to help with neuromuscular connections which will also be beneficial to your sprinting on the bike.
4. Find the right gear
Even the best sprinter can lose a sprint due to being in the wrong gear. Too hard of a gear and you risk not being able to get up to speed fast enough, and too easy of a gear and you may max out your cadence before you max out your power. You definitely don’t want to be grabbing a whole bunch of gears in the middle of a sprint. That’s a recipe for a mechanical or crash. As you practice your sprinting, take note of what gearing produces the highest powers, and when you find the perfect gear think about turning it over as fast as possible. Some of the best sprinters in the world sprint at a cadence of 115-125 rpms.
5. Fuel well
Have you ever tried to sprint for any extended period of time (>15 seconds) when you are low on energy, exhausted, or even bonked? It can feel nearly impossible. Your body needs energy in order to fuel such hard, all-out type of efforts. I’m not talking about consuming a gel in the final moments of the race before your sprint, but rather ensuring that you are fueling well throughout your entire event so that when it comes time for that final big effort you still have energy in your body.
6. Improve other areas of fitness
The sprint can be won or lost before it even starts. For most types of cycling, there is a whole race before you even get to the point in which it’s time to sprint for the finish. That means that improving other areas of your cycling can help you improve your sprint performance. In fact, you may actually be the best sprinter in the race, but if you’ve worked twice as hard as everyone else just to summit a climb you may be significantly more tired than the other riders you are competing against and result in the loss of a sprint. If you’ve dubbed yourself a ‘poor sprinter’ first consider if you feel like the other areas of your race are up to snuff or if you are entering the sprint already at a disadvantage.
7. Create real world scenarios
When you train your sprints in practice, train them in all types of scenarios. Practice sprinting on uphills, slight downhills, and flat roads. Additionally, consider doing sprint workouts with a ‘finish line’ target rather than trying to continually look down at your bike computer during your sprint. Pick a landmark up the road and sprint for it imagining the finish of a race.
Enjoy the process of refining your sprinting technique on the bike. Once you find yourself a confident sprinter and worthy competitor it may be time to start practicing your post-up to celebrate your victory at the next finish line.