Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Sprint to Ride - Improving The Bike Through Sprinting.

I have recently re-evaluated running and whether the impact on my body is worth the potential cross training benefits.I have issues.I overpronate my left foot with my right foot being neutral. I am a heel striker. I also have some spinal subluxation issues with my back and, more recently,with my neck and shoulder - the unfortunate legacy of a bike crash.

 I am not a naturally gifted runner and will admit that I do not enjoy running. It does not compare to the freedom and fun of bicycling but was always a means to a fitness end - I hate to run but love the burn. This past winter I discovered the concept of Tabata sprints while searching for options and began incorporating them into my training. Run distance no longer mattered but rather intensity had become the focus. I switched from a plodding style of running(getting progressively twisted as the distance increased) to sprinting; either doing Tabata style 20 second efforts/10 seconds recovery or straight up 70/ 90 metre sprints(odd distances but based upon natural terrain points for start/finish)

70/90 Metre Sprints

 Not only do I get a time efficient intense workout from sprinting but it does not negatively impact my body as much as distance running.The nature of sprinting forces you to run off your forefoot as opposed to heel striking. I usually do a warmup walk/jog to my sprinting "track" - a flat stretch of hard pack dirt trail of 70-90 metres(I used my cycle computer to help determine accurate distances). After a series of track drills/stretches I start with some moderate effort 70 metre sprints then progress to maximum efforts at both the 70 and 90 metres distances.It certainly is a full body workout with a best time(to date) of 11:56@70 metres and 14:49@90 metres.

Why Is Sprinting So Effective?

"A sprint consists of a series of short but very intense concentric contractions by several muscle groups. This consists of flexion and extension in your calves, quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes (maximus and medius), hip abductors, pecs (chest muscles), lats, biceps and triceps. There is further horizontal rotation and flexion of the abdominal obliques as well as contraction of your deltoids (shoulders). Each muscle contraction during a sprint consists of explosive accelerations and decelerations...."

In relation to cycling I have definitely noticed a difference upon the bike.The only change over last season's training has been the addition of sprinting and intermittent fasting. Not only do I recover faster but I am improved at responding to attacks, jumps and chasing down breaks. I am definitely stronger this season and have been able to contest prime/final sprints in all three of my competitions thus far this season.I have even seen gains in hill climbing despite my svelte 195 pounds(wink).

"Sprinting naturally increases the body's endurance strength, making longer cardio and muscle strengthening training sessions easier to complete. Through sprinting and speed training exercises, the body increases its ability to store oxygen......another benefit directly related to sprinting involves the increase in mitochondria size. These cell parts store the energy consumed through food sources, then release the energy to the parts of the body that require and endure work or repair. In other words, working muscles receive more energy, because cells become better suited to store and release energy in an efficient manner, ultimately increasing growth."

A McMaster University study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology found that performing high-intensity "sprint"-type exercise resulted in substantial changes in skeletal muscle and endurance capacity.....

"Researchers found that endurance capacity in the sprint group increased on average from 26 minutes to 51 minutes, whereas the control group showed no change. The muscles of the trained group also showed a significant increase in citrate synthase, an enzyme that is indicative of the tissue's ability to utilize oxygen."


Sprinting is hard effort. Start with modest distances/efforts and build from there. It is essential you warm up well before you subject muscles, ligaments and tendons to the rigors of intense exercise. Uphill sprints minimize the chance of injury so incorporating a small grade as your "track" is advisable, albeit, more daunting (wink).Specific track and field drills are also important for both efficiency and injury prevention.You can generally use standard runners for sprinting or utilize specialized track spikes. I purchased a pair of Asics Hyper MDs on Ebay after I was unable to locate my size at local retail outlets.It will be interesting to see how my body responds to the minimist design of the track shoes but since I got a good deal it was worth a gamble.

The science of sprinting certainly seems to indicate that improvement in VO2 max, wattage, weight management and recovery are achievable goals. The beauty is you really only need to do sprint training a couple times a week to be effective. You will definitely feel it the next day, the "burn" is awesome, motivation comes from beating your previous best and, in my case, it limits repetitive strain issues associated with distance running.I (now) sprint to ride better!

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