Sprinting Tips From a Pro – Team Clif Bar Racing's Pete Morris

This is an excerpt from Episode 185 of the Ask a Cycling Coach Podcast where Pete shared simple technique tips that will help any cyclist increase their peak power. We’ll be cutting out sections of each episode that we find particularly useful, and doing a deeper analysis on them on the TrainerRoad Blog and here on the Forum.

Any tips you’d like to add to Pete’s list? Feel free to share them below!



1. Create a Circle of Power

Inefficient power transfer during a sprint is a problem many cyclists have but may not realize. Usually this is manifest by a “noodly” or “wild” sprint technique, with too much energy going into excessive bike or body movement rather than going directly into the pedals.

Pete’s solution for this is to create a stable platform for sprinting. He starts this by cocking his wrists (slightly curling the hands in and wrists out), letting his elbows move slightly outward into a stronger position, and applying inward force on your bars in such a manner that you feel like you are bending your bars inward toward each other. This is what Pete refers to as the “Circle of Power”.

2. Let the Saddle Brush Your Thighs

Another problem many cyclists have is finding the fore and aft balance point while sprinting, which usually causes the back wheel to lift into the air. In many cases, this is because cyclists are putting too much attention on maintaining a low upper body. While this is aerodynamically efficient, it can easily rob you of peak power and worse yet, cause a crash.

To check if you are in the proper position, the tip of your saddle should just barely brush the back of your thighs while the bike goes side to side.

As you get more comfortable, feel free to lower yourself while sprinting. Instead of lowering just your upper body and throwing off your balance, try lowering your entire body so your saddle still brushes your thighs, but you are in a lower, more crouched position.

3. Use Opposing Tension

Sprinters are famous for wagging their bike side to side, but excessive wagging only robs you of efficiency. The reason the bike moves side to side is to allow you to put more force into the pedals and carry the force evenly from one half of the pedal stroke to the other.

The reason this wagging happens is due applying opposing pressure through your handlebars and pedals. What this means is while your left foot is at its point of peak force in the pedal stroke (about the 1:00 – 2:00 position), you will also be applying peak force on the right handlebar by pulling upward. As you move closer to 5:00 and 6:00, you transition to doing the same motion, but mirrored to your right side.

If you aren’t matching the peak force of your leg with peak force of the opposing arm, you are missing out on peak power output. Interestingly, this can be manifest in two opposing ways – either your bike will not be wagging side to side at all, or it will be doing so excessively. When it’s matched well, there will be lateral movement, but it will be minimal. As you improve your technique and strength, it’s likely that your lateral movement will decrease.

4. Perfect Practice Makes Perfect

Faster sprinting is as much about technique as it is your ability to produce a lot of force, so practicing technique is key. Because sprinting is a peak-effort activity, fatigue ramps quickly, and with fatigue comes increased difficulty to maintain proper technique.

When employing Pete’s sprinting techniques, only do so as long as you can maintain proper form. If that’s just a pedal stroke or two at first, that’s fine. If you find it difficult to maintain proper technique while putting out peak power, drop your power output down a bit and prioritize technique. With time and practice, your power and speed during a sprint will increase more rapidly as you employ proper technique.

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Great tips! I’m in the “how on earth do I do this” phase of learning how to sprint.

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Should add Pete comment for sprint drills here too!

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Subscribed - my sprinting is atrocious!

Totally worth getting out and nailing this. Just getting The Circle of Power dialled in makes a massive difference.

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What would you recommend in terms of starting gear and RPM and what max RPM should you be hitting at peak sprint? Do you change gear mid-sprint?

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@RCC

So, my gearing is a semi-compact upfront (52) and an 11-25 outback. I typically get things underway in 14 and change gear pretty swiftly into 13. I honestly have no idea what my RPM is. I’ve never considered it because I’m up and out of the saddle so bouncing isn’t a concern. I highly doubt it much above 100 though.

Just one thing I’d add to this is practice, practice and practice some more your standing drills. Popping out of the saddle and driving the bike forward, rather than backwards is key in my opinion. Not just for speed but safety. If you have someone on you wheel and it comes flying back towards them, there’s a fair chance it will all go sideways very quickly. Keep this in mind when you’re on a wheel too. I always stay just to the side.

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Ha, yes. I’ve been taken out by a wheel flying backwards before. I still have the road rash scar.

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Gearing and RPM depend on the speed and scenario, but I never count which gear I am in, so I won’t be much help on specifics :slight_smile: .

Certain cyclists do better with a low cadence / high force sprint while others prefer the opposite, but the more common problem I see is starting in too heavy of a gear. Sure, it feels like you are sprinting super hard and putting out a lot of power, but you’re actually losing speed and not putting out as much power as you think. The balance you are looking for is something that allows you to turn the pedals over at a rate that will create a significant increase in speed, but not require you to shift directly after initiating the sprint.

Eventually, you’ll almost always have to shift mid-sprint, since you should be accelerating while you sprint unless you have already topped out in speed or are on a steep hill. The tricky part that you need to nail is how to manage your power production like you have an internal clutch. Any time you shift, there should be a slight decrease in force to not cause the chain to aggressively slam into a taller gear or cause a dropped chain. Chances are you already employ this slight reduction in power every time you shift, it’s just more critical during a sprint.

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Something that has made my sprinting more productive toward generating speed (that’s the whole point, right? hehe) is sprinting on the CX bike and mountain bike on mixed surfaces. The relative lack of traction forces you to refine your technique and take the excessive flailing down a few notches. You won’t likely lose traction on road during a sprint from too much torque or bad technique (barring wheel hops), but that perfect traction may be enabling you to be a little sloppy.

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Hi @Jonathan, Pete Morris’ form sprint description was perfectly timed for the Fireworks section of Disaster (10 x 8 second 200% sprints)! And your comments here add further value to making form sprinting effective (I’ll try it before getting to use it during the sprint sections of our “spirited” group rides :). Thanks.

A question for you regarding Coach Chad’s form sprinting drill during “Bald Knob”. He has us execute them at 70% of FTP - fixed for the entire drill. Despite a couple of repeated tries, my cadence gets into the 150s (I can spin a lot higher) before finding that there’s just not enough resistance to make the drill effective. And in further thinking about it, it seems that a power ramp-based section would be substantially better for learning/practicing form sprinting. Do you (and Pete) really practice your form sprinting at a low, continuous fixed power level or more of a ramp?

Thanks again for having Pete on podcast (and for all of your podcasts!) - that was a great interview!

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Thanks Jonathan.
I guess I start at about 90rpm and top out at about 110rpm. I’d never made the jump to actually changing gear once the red mist descends and i’m mid-sprint. Realistically power is my limiter as i am more of a triathlete, with aero legs. I need to face up to the need to hit the gym sooner or later and do some squats :wink:

Cheers

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One thing I would add is that when working on sprint form it really helps to film yourself and then review while you recover. I made a lot of form improvement doing this, really helps to visualize what you’re doing wrong. Similar to using cues for weight training.

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Great idea! Same could be said for all aspects of riding that involve technique. It’s uncomfortable when you suck, and we all suck to varying degrees, but it’s a good way to improve. :slight_smile:

High cadence, lower resistance sprint drills are very useful and I use them regularly in sprint training. The main objective is to train your body to be able to put out a high amount of power at a very high cadence while doing so in sprint position and maintaining stability. Where this sort of training pays off is when you are faced with a high-speed sprint, or a sprint situation where your gears are limited for some reason (dead Di2 battery, poorly adjusted derailleur, not a big enough chainring, etc.).

Just remember Pete’s guidance on form and sprinting: Only go as long as you can maintain perfect form. So, if you find your form degrading when your cadence goes past a certain point, stay within that.

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I’m confused by this description. When the left foot is at peak force, the left arm is pulling up on the left dropbar with maximal force and the right arm is pushing down with maximal force on the right dropbar, causing the bike to wag from left to right as the left leg transverses the pedalstroke from 1 o’clock to 6 o’clock. If the right arm pulls up on the dropbar while the left foot pushes down, the bike would tilt to the left while all of the bodyweight is on the left side and the rider would fall over.

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Yeah, seemed opposite to me too.

I pull on the bars with the same.side and the pedal down stroke.

Description matches Pete’s words in the video from how I interpreted it.

Slow motion sprint

Hey Jonathan, do you think you guys could make a video going over all of these tips? Just to put a visualization to it would really help a sucky sprinter like myself! Thanks.

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I agree with @dennenj

This video depicts the opposite of what Trainerroad describes. At ~17s the Sky rider is clearly pulling up on the bars on the same side peak force is being applied to the pedals. Trainerroad describes pulling up on the opposite side- at least the way I’m reading it.