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How & When To Start Sprint Training

Sprint cycling training benefits nearly every type of rider. Whether a short race, or even if your goal is a hundred mile sportive where sprinting for a finish line is unlikely. There are still clear reasons why sprinting training can benefit your fitness. We’ll show you why you might want to consider sprint training and give top tips on how to improve your sprint.

Table of Contents:

7 Benefits of Sprint Cycling Training

You may think that some lucky cyclists are born with the innate ability to sprint, and whilst physiology can play a part, we think that everyone has the ability to become a better sprinter. More than just speed, there are other benefits to sprint training which you might not have considered:

  1. Building endurance -  For a start, sprint training, 30 seconds of all-out effort followed by 4.5 minutes of recovery has been shown to have similar benefits to endurance training. So sprint training is a time efficient way of building your endurance for long events.
  2. Improve leg speed - Sprint training can improve leg speed, which in term can help you climb. Increased leg speed can improve your hill climbing by recreating a higher cadence and lower gears.
  3. Breaks monotony- Sprint training breaks up the monotony of an otherwise repetitive training plan, this invigorates you and gets you motivated to face the next session.
  4. Hits the spots - When you sprint you recruit more of your muscle fibres to provide the maximum power to the pedals. For less intense efforts not all of your muscle fibres need to be engaged, so it could be said that sprinting hits the spots that other training misses. 
  5. Limits fatigue - One single maximal sprint will engage nearly all of your muscle fibres but research has shown during repeated sprints your central nervous system regulates muscle fibre recruitment to limit fatigue. This still means that a series of sprint training efforts will hit more fibres than a steady ride.
  6. Improve reactions - Sprint training also has a positive effect on your bike handling skills, reaction times and alertness. If you ride at one moderate pace for most of your training you can start to feel sluggish and slow to respond, sprint training is a wake-up call your body might benefit from.
  7. Improve cadence - Sprint training can improve your cadence and gear selection, which can help you optimise your power output.
a group of cyclists in colourful clothing sprinting to the finish line

Sprint training can be incorporated into your training, in order to support your cycling and help you reach your goals. Almost every cyclist wants to win, whether they admit it or not! It could be a local race, a stage of a multi-day sportive or simply the cafe sprint, it’s always nice to know that you can beat the competition!

When Should You Start Sprint Training? 

Sprint training is high intensity and as such it requires recycling recovery time between sessions. For this reason, some coaches will advocate not using sprint workouts during a base building cycling phase. However, as sprint training has been shown to have a positive benefit on your endurance there is an argument for including at least one session a week. This is if you are cycling with a busy schedule, and are particularly short on training time, throughout the year.

If sprinting and speed is your target, then increase the number of sprint training or interval sessions you do in the pre-competition phase of your training as you reduce the moderate intensity volume to allow more time for recovery.

If you are new to sprint training or high intensity training efforts, then you are likely to get some muscle soreness and stiffness after your first few sessions which is totally normal. However, sprinting does increase the load on your ligaments and tendons. Therefore, if a pain is sharp or located in one specific area, such as knee pain while cycling, rather than a generalised ache, make sure you get it checked out.

How to Improve Your Sprinting 

Training is a proven way to improve your sprint. However, the outcome on the day will be determined by your sprint strategy. We’ve detailed three of the best ways to make sure you’re at the front of the pack:

a cyclist in white kit sprinting away from a group of cyclists in a race

  1. Get your timing right - Sprint training should help you learn how much you have to give before you burn out. This is a key piece of insight to use on race day as it will help you judge when is the perfect time to make your break and start sprinting.
  2. Hold your position - When you’ve trained hard for a particular sprint and know you can give it your all, one of the worst things to happen is being blocked by other riders. Find the right position in the peloton as soon as you can. Don’t be so far back that you risk being boxed in. If you’re at the front, you risk leading other riders in for the win.
  3. Practice, practice, practice - Timing, positioning and gearing are all things you need to master before race day and there is no better way to improve than to practice. Whether it’s a sprint to the cafe on your local club run or a lower level race than the one you’re aiming for, any opportunity to practice sprinting safely in a group will help your race day performance.

How to Integrate Sprints Into Your Training

Sprint training can provide speed and endurance benefits, but only when you’ve successfully built it into your workouts and plans. There are three key types of sprint training, these can be added into longer endurance rides or sessions on their own:

Power Sprints - From A Slow Start

This helps you to develop explosive power from a slow speed. Good for attacking, standing starts or on a climb.

Get into a big gear and roll slowly till you are almost at a standstill. Either in or out the saddle, accelerate and hold it for 20 seconds or until you start to spin out. Ease back into an easier gear and spin for 5 minutes. Repeat up to 8 times.

Super Speed - Sprinting From An Already Fast Pace

If you are sprinting against other riders, then chances are you will already be moving fast. This helps you to accelerate to get the gap.

Use a safe downhill slope to increase your speed, when you get close to the bottom of the hill shift gears and increase your cadence to accelerate. Keep the speed up as you hit the flat, or bottom of the next hill if it is a rolling stretch of road.

Tabata Style Sprints - Repeated High Speed Efforts with Little Recovery

One sprint is seldom enough in a race situation. This will help with repeated sprints out of corners or if you have to go again to make an attack stick.

Sprint hard for thirty seconds, then pedal easily for thirty seconds, repeat 5 times. Make sure you don’t stop pedalling between efforts, you need to maintain momentum to keep the speed high. Recovery spin for 5 minutes. Repeat up to 5 times in a session and follow with a good cool down. This session is best suited to indoor training on your smart bike.

Sprint Training Sessions You Can Try

If you’re looking to improve your sprint training, try one of the following sessions. These sessions work best when added to a structured training plan, so you can work on your overall goal of increasing endurance or power, whilst adding that ‘edge’ to get you ahead of the competition.

Top tip - these sessions are high intensity, so we recommend the 20 minute warm up as the perfect way to prepare with the Wattbike Hub.

  • 5 x 30 seconds at 110rpm, with 1 min rest at 90 rpm - work up to 3 sets (5 minutes rest at 90rpm between sets).
  • 8 x 25 seconds at 115rpm, with 1 min rest at 90 rpm -  work up to 3 sets (5 minutes rest at 90rpm between sets).
  • 12 x 20 seconds at 120rpm, with 40 seconds rest at 90 rpm -  work up to 3 sets (5 minutes rest at 90rpm between sets).

Top tip - you can find a recommended resistance for your Wattbike using the Pro and Trainer resistance tables, for these sessions your power should be at MMP, or up to 15% higher than MMP.

Improve Performance with Wattbike

At Wattbike, improving your cycling performance is easier than ever thanks to our cycling data. You’ll find tailored insights to your training every time you ride. Whilst performance tests and training programmes help you benchmark your progress and reach your goals.