A powerful sprint is more than a burst of acceleration and power. Proper tension, body position and rhythm will improve your sprinting technique and allow you to execute an explosive sprint.
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Fine Tuning Your Sprint
Your main goal with any sprint is to go faster, but in this article we’ll specifically be talking about making your out of the saddle sprints faster. Proper body position and technique in a standing sprint will not only maximize your force output, but will make sure the force is making it into your pedals and translating to real speed increases.
Subtle changes in technique make big differences in a sprint. Fine tuning body position, tension, and rhythm can help you execute a powerful and explosive sprint.
Setting up for Your Sprint
Instead of jumping out of the saddle and into a full sprint, prepare for your sprint with intention and focus. As you get ready to sprint, position your hands at the top of the drops, tucked in behind your shifters, instead of down low. When rising out of the saddle, focus on hinging your body forward at the hips instead of bending in your waist and back. This puts you in a flat back position that reinforces efficient tension and power transfer when you pedal.
This will vary depending on bike fit, but a good indication that you are maintaining good body position is if you can feel the nose of your saddle brushing up against the back of your hamstrings. In general, it is a good indicator that you are positioned far enough back, your back is flat and you are in a position that enables you to engage your anchor points.
Once you are in optimal body position, focus on distributing tension into your body. Evenly disperse tension into your core, chest, arms, back and hips. Actively engaging these muscle groups will not only make for a snappy start, but will allow you to maintain control of the sprints momentum from start to finish.
Executing Your Sprint
The first few seconds of sprinting are critical, this is where you establish the proper technique to carry you through the rest of the sprint.
Your hips and your handle bars are your main anchor points during your sprint. To engage your anchor points make sure your hips are hinged and your hands are firmly placed high up in the drops. With your body in the proper position and tension maintained throughout your body, you are ready to apply force.
When you exert force in your pedal stroke, pull the bars towards your hips, rather than up, or simply back. Do this with each pedal stroke – pulling your left drop into your hip when you exert force on your left pedal and pulling your right drop into your hips when you exert maximum force on your right pedal. As you repeat this action over and over again and increase your comfort level, you will naturally fall into a smooth rhythm that we all recognize as the “sprinter’s sway”.
As the speed of your pedal strokes increase and everything starts to happen at a faster rate, it can be difficult to maintain the same body position and technique. If body position falters and you round your back, for example, it will be very difficult to maintain tension through your body. If tension is lost, you’ll stop retaining all of that force you are putting into the pedals and coordination will falter. When sprinting feels uncoordinated instead of powerful, one of these key components has been lost.
Sprinting well in races comes with lots of repetition and practice. The best way to improve your sprinting technique is to integrate sprinting drills into your regular workouts. Start by practicing with low cadence, low effort and low speed drills and work your way up as your comfort increases. Remember, you don’t have to go all out in every practice sprint. Start low and work your way up gradually.
As you gain confidence in your technique steadily integrate shifting into your sprint drills. The best time to shift up is when you feel you can increase your stability and speed with additional gears.
Shifting adds additional complexity to your sprint and has the potential to be dangerous. To avoid jumping gears in the middle of the peak force phase of a pedal stroke, time your shifts so that the chain switches gears just before your cranks reach the 12 o’clock position. Remember to ease up ever so slightly on the force when you shift. This allow your chain to easily and safely change gears. Fostering good shifting habits now can be the difference between a winning sprint and a broken chain.
If it helps, you can also break down your sprints when you practice. The preparation, the start of your sprint, and the end of your sprint can all be worked on and adjusted separately. Focus on making precise changes within each aspect of your sprint to increase the efficacy of the sprint as a whole.
When you work on sprinting, try not to worry too much about speed or power and focus on technique. As you sharpen your skills and proper technique becomes second nature, speed and power will come naturally. The more you fine tune your sprint, the faster your sprint will be.
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