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How to Get into Sprinting as a Non-Sprinter

By Jiri Kaloc

Sprinting is often seen as something only elite cyclists do but it’s surprisingly accessible and beneficial for everyone. Most hobbyists don’t see themselves as sprinters so they don’t even entertain the idea of trying to learn this discipline and include it in their training. This article demystifies sprinting, showing how even non-sprinters can easily do it and reap the rewards.

What most self-proclaimed non-sprinters may not realize is that sprinting doesn’t just improve sprinting. Studies have shown that sprints can improve endurance capacity, especially in recreational cyclists. And sprints can be relatively easy to include in your usual rides. Let’s take a look at what a good sprinting technique looks like and some examples of sprint workouts.

Technique checklist

Sprinting will feel much more natural and fun when you learn the proper body position, tension, and rhythm essential for an effective sprint. Here are a few things to keep in mind when starting out. You probably know most of these things but take it as a checklist, maybe there are a few that you could focus on.

Body Position: when preparing to sprint, position your hands at the top of the drops, behind the shifters. Hinge forward at the hips for a flat back position but stay far back enough for balance. The saddle’s nose should brush against the back of your hamstrings.

Arm position: bend your wrists slightly, move your elbows outward, and apply inward force on your bars, as if bending them inward.

Tension: pull the bars towards your hips with each pedal stroke. Synchronise the peak force of your leg with the peak force of the opposite arm. Distribute tension evenly across your core, chest, arms, back, and hips for themost efficient power transfer.

Cadence: a high cadence out of the saddle is essential, it will help you generate more power during sprints. The ideal sprinting cadence is between 90-120 rpm depending on the rider’s physiology. It takes time and practice to build up to high rpm.

Sprinting is often seen as something only elite cyclists do but it’s surprisingly accessible and beneficial for everyone. © Profimedia

Uphill sprints

Uphill sprints are a great place to start as they favour lighter riders who would normally struggle against typical sprinters who dominate on the flats. It’s important to keep hill sprints really short due to the difficulty in maintaining top speed uphill. This is what a beginner-friendly workout could look like. Find a relatively steep hill in your area, approach from the flats at a high speed and then jump out of the saddle for a 15-second sprint as you hit the incline. Stay fully focused on proper technique for the whole 15 seconds to get the most out of it.

Recovery between sprints is crucial, take at least 5 minutes to spin easily before attempting a second go. The number of sprints you should do varies by experience level. Beginners should do 4, intermediates 6, and advanced riders up to 10, possibly split into two separate sets with longer recovery in between.

Linked speed intervals

If you want to give sprinting on the flats a try, linked speed intervals are a fun way to test your skills. You can think of these as a 3-stage sprint. To prepare, you have to get up to a decently fast speed with a fast cadence of around 90 in a relatively hard gear and your hands on the drops. Then follow these steps:

  • Jump out of the saddle and sprint for 10 seconds.
  • Sit and continue to ride at maximum effort for about 5 seconds.
  • Shift into one harder gear, jump out of the saddle and sprint again for 10 seconds.
  • Sit and keep riding at maximum effort for another 5 seconds
  • Shift into one harder gear and sprint one final time for 15 seconds.
  • Spin easy for 5 minutes after to recover for another round.

If you want to check out a few more ideas on sprint training sessions, check out our previous article.

Pay extra attention to rest and recovery

What non-sprinters may underestimate is how demanding sprint training can be. Despite the short duration, the high intensity makes sprints really taxing on your muscles as well as your nervous system. You will need more recovery time than what you’re used to. For beginners, it’s enough to do 1-2 sprint sessions per week. The focus should be more on technique rather than achieving the highest possible power output. Intermediate cyclists can do up to 3 sprint sessions per week and advanced cyclists up to 4. But the actual number you choose to do also has to reflect the phase of your training. The off-season is probably a good time to ease into sprinting, you can ramp it up as your racing gets closer next year.