Sprinting - Strength is there, is it just a matter of application/technique?

Hi all,

I’m new to TR and just started a structured training plan 3 weeks ago (currently on SSB1). I am new to cycling in general (started 2-3 months ago). I do have years of weight lifting experience as well as two years of collegiate rowing experience (one year novice, one year on varsity team as a lightweight rower).

My strength numbers are all north of what is recommended by Coach Chad’s strength calculator for sprinters. However, I’m quite disappointed in my sprint numbers.
5s FTP is 834 (12.2 w/kg) and FTP from ramp test is 209 (3.07 w/kg) at 68 kg.

Is it just a matter of learning to apply the strength on the bike by doing more drills/sprint focused workouts? I’ve been doing some reading (perhaps to my own detriment) that suggests that sprinting ability can be dependent on physiological/genetic factors). How trainable is peak power/sprint if the strength is there?

Additionally, what are things I can do to help improve my sprint ability on and off the bike? I’ve been changing one of my two leg days from to more plyometric work. I currently have sustained power build planned as my build phase to improve overall wattage for my longer rides (longest ride has been 50 miles). Should I switch it to short power build?

Thanks for the help! Looking forward to this continued journey of learning and growing in cycling.

Safe to say you just haven’t adapted to cycling. Weight lifting strength doesn’t necessarily translate directly to the bike. It’ll probably come with time. Focus on building your aerobic engine and the proverbial rising tide will help lift all boats. You’re kind of putting the cart before the horse worrying about sprint power right now.

As to your build, what are you training for? You seem really focused on sprint power. Track?

Thanks for the response. Not necessarily training for anything at the moment but would like to get into crit racing sometime in 2021. I’m mostly interested in sprinkling some additional training in to not neglect the sprint while I am currently focused on aerobic base work.

You can train your sprint in four weeks when race time comes around. You should finish base, and probably do sustained power build based on your FTP and current aerobic fitness. Build that up, then look to another base-build phase with a higher FTP.

Some light reading here:

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More practice will definitely help. My squat has been in the low 500 lbs range since before I could do 1000 watts for 13 seconds. Now I’m at 1245w for 13s, after about a year of almost no gym exercises. My legs haven’t gotten any more raw “strength” but they have definitely learned how to generate more power. Similarly, the sprint training on the bike gave +150 peak watts on the rowing machine (also mostly leg-based, if you’re unfamiliar), with literally zero sessions on the rowing machine in between.

So the strength benchmarks are definitely an awesome starting point to lay a foundation of potential, and then you can totally build on top of that with specific work.

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You can easily spend 5+ years finding your genetic limits for cycling. Cycling is 99% an aerobic sport. I’d keep working on your base for the rest of the year. You could cycle through TR’s base/build into next year.

That is somewhat true. Personally, I’ve always been a sprinter. My 3 second power this year was 1400 watts and my 5 second is 1000 watts - I’m 54 years old and don’t do heavy gym work at all.

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Maybe obvious, but are you doing your sprints on the trainer? My sprint numbers are absolutely pathetic on the trainer because of the inability to move the bike like I would on an outdoor sprint. For that reason I’m also bit dubious about practicing sprint technique indoors- and i’m not sure what the training effect would be if you’re not reaching your ‘true’ maximum.
If you’re not already, I’d recommend taking your all-out sprints outdoors, and using the trainer for either low rpm force work or ‘form sprints’ in a low gear to improve your leg speed- these skills will directly translate to improving your sprint. In the early stages I personally feel it’s more important to practice regularly to make sure you’re nailing the actual execution before hitting the gym to improve your raw power- one thing that really helped me was adding in a couple of sprints towards the end of my endurance rides, which meant I was getting a really high level of frequency without too much extra fatigue.

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I’m in strong agreement.

My maximum power efforts are always outside, so if I’m trying to get true peak power and max torque, I will only do that outside. However, after having issues throwing chains in outdoor sprint practices (including painful embraces of my bike’s top tube), I have shifted to training sprint power on my Kickr and shoot for 20- to 30-second efforts where my power remains relatively steady throughout the interval. Doing 1 to 2 sessions a week where I include anywhere from 3-6 efforts have primarily helped the repeatability of my longer efforts, but I haven’t notice much change to my peak power. Rest up for 3-5 minutes between each sprint, and you can get an insane workout in anywhere from 12-30 minutes.

This last fact has been interesting to me because my sprints from a couple years ago when I started riding until now are not far off in the peak range (1-5 seconds, as I’ve only gained maybe an additional 150-200 watts there), but my endurance through those 30-second efforts has increased substantially–which have been much more meaningful to me when sprinting against others for signposts, etc. Massive peak and 5-second power feels cool, but being able to put out 1000 watts for 30 seconds is where the real fun happens.

Outdoor Covid rides are the perfect opportunity for lots of zone 2 and 3 or 4 nauseatingly intense sprint efforts. Absolute max effort in that 20-30 second range also has lots of benefits for your aerobic system as well, and the interference effects of the gains that come from your sprints are minimized by truly keeping the rest of the ride in zone 2. Wind up a relatively heavy gear to a decent cadence around 110 rpm, then start stomping and trying to rip the handlebars off your bike. It should feel like you’re doing a max effort deadlift on your arms and shoulders.