Sprint and jump training for improved mtn-bike performance

Credit: Mike Powell/Allsport
Being able to sprint or jump up to a group of riders or punch it over a hill is crucial to success in your off-road career.

There are many ways to improve your speed and jumping ability on the bicycle. If you're a professional such as Roland Green or Alison Dunlap, you've got a mind that's constantly searching for more speed, always squeezing a little more out of your body, your bike and the course you are training on that day.

Speed training is used to develop quickness and explosive power and involves short, intense periods of cycling from five to 30 seconds or so in length, with heart rate reaching 95 to 100 percent of maximum during some of the longer sprints.

Speed, power and acceleration, not heart rate, are the key elements to be concerned about during these training sessions. It is important that a long recovery period as much as two minutes follow such sprints, to allow for a total rebuilding of ATP (adenosine triphosphate, a molecule required to help in muscle contraction) at the muscle level and to ensure the quality of the workout.

The key to your success in sprinting lies in the principle of specificity of training. Specificity applies to the rate of movement and the resistance employed, which means that your training should simulate the action as closely as possible.

If you want to be successful in sprinting then you need to sprint under various situations, such as in a group, up a hill, on a narrow and rough singletrack and at the end of several hours on the bicycle to replicate sprinting at the end of a race.

How much can you improve your sprinting ability? To be a pure sprinter for downhill slalom racing, you may need a high percentage of fast-twitch fibers. But if you do not possess over 50 percent Type II (FT) fibers, don't feel like you will never win a race.

While you may never be as fast as Roland Green, you can improve your reaction and movement time by practicing the drills presented here. Add some of these particular drills to your spring training program for increased speed and power this season:

Jumps: You can increase your reaction time on group rides by sprinting for all city-limit or other road signs. The designated sprinter in the group decides when they will initiate the sprint. The others respond and chase until the initial rider is caught or ends the effort. Take turns on who initiates the sprint and vary the distance from 100 to 300 meters. This type of sprinting (as well as other drills listed below) also can be practiced on jeep or forest service roads.

These drills will force you to learn to sprint in various gears, uphill, downhill, into the wind with the wind at your back and at various positions in the group. Get off the saddle, charge down the road as you build speed and cadence, then sit down and increase your rpm. Stay low on the bike and reasonably smooth lots of erratic movement the bike is unsafe and will slow you down.

Sprints in progressively bigger gears: After a good warm-up, complete two sprints of 200 to 250 meters, one sprint of 300 to 350 meters, one or two sprints 200 to 250 meters. Rest for at least eight to 10 minutes between sprints, or until your heart rate returns to about 120 while riding in an easy gear, before you start another set. Use the first 50 to 100 meters to get up to speed and then ride all-out until the finish of each sprint. As the season progresses, gradually increase the longest sprint to 500 meters.

Declining time springs: After a good warm-up, start with a sprint of 60 seconds, then 50 seconds, 40, 30, 20. Allow for your heart rate to return to below 120 before beginning the next set. Finish with two to four sprints of 30 seconds.

Race sprints: While riding with several teammates (no more than five or six) try to replicate race sprints or jumps that you have seen from race videos or from past race experiences. One rider should attack at a certain place on the trail or at a particular speed and then everyone goes from there. The person who is selected to jump also decides how long the sprint should last. These sprints can be completed during the last few hours of longer rides.

Ins and outs: At his Dirt Bike Camps, Skip Hamilton likes have younger or beginning cyclists practice sprinting while getting in and out of the saddle. You start by jumping (rising) out of the saddle in a big gear, for 10 pedal revolutions and then sitting back down in the saddle, sprinting for another 10 revolutions. Repeat these sprints three times while jumping out of the saddle and then sitting back down, and then coming out of the saddle.

You will have sprinted 30 revolutions in the saddle and 30 revolutions out of the saddle, for a distance of about 400 yards. These sprints are best done with the wind at your back or on a slight downhill.

This drill works on your ability to sprint and accelerate several times during a long sprint. This often happens during racing when riders keep jumping in the final kilometers of the race.

Hill sprints: On a hill of about 5 percent to 9 percent grade, find a spot that will take about 20 to 25 seconds to reach the top. From this spot, initiate each sprint with a jump of seven to 10 pedal strokes and then return to the saddle and go all-out to the top. You may get out of the saddle again for the last 10 yards to the top. Then turn around and pedal easily back down the hill.

Do not begin another sprint until your heart rate drops below 60 percent of maximum. Keep the bicycle as straight as possible, and ride in as straight a line as possible to the top.

Increase your gear for each sprint. For example, on a road bike use a 42x17 for first sprint, 42x16 for second sprint, 42x15 for the third, and 42x14 for the fourth, and if your feel really strong go for a fifth sprint in a 42x13 gear. Adjust your gearing when done on your mountain bike.

Online training diary: Use Training Bible to record your mileage and vital stats, and gear up for your next race.

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