Improve Your Sprint Finish With a Strength Workout

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After finding success in Europe with Rabobank's U23 program, American Tejay Van Garderen joined HTC-Columbia this season and has already come out swinging. At his debut ProTour stage race, the Tour of Algarve in Portugal, Van Garderen climbed his way to fifth on the mountaintop finish of stage 3, just 25 seconds behind stage winner Alberto Contador. He was holding on to fifth overall until a mechanical in the final time trial forced a bike change and he dropped to ninth overall.

Most of the lithe young American's training is done on the bike, of course, but he depends on a few weight-room workouts to complete the package. This squat-sprint exercise he learned from American pro Chris Baldwin (UnitedHealthcare).

For this series of exercises, you'll need a squat rack and your bike set up on a stationary trainer.

Van Garderen starts his work out with some yoga, core exercises and stretching, and then he moves on to the first phase, squats. He does the first set of squats at about 80 percent of his body weight, and does about 20 reps. When doing this, keep your weight on your heels, your chin up and your spine in neutral alignment--neither flexed nor hyper-extended.

Begin with low weight to keep good form and prevent injury. Immediately after the squats, hop on your bike and do two minutes of hard tempo. For Van Garderen, that means averaging about 300 watts. For non-professionals just shoot for an effort of 7 on a scale of 1 to 10.

When the two minutes is up, do an all-out sprint. This should be your maximum wattage for 30 seconds. "It's a whole lot of no fun," van Garderen said, "but it's a super workout."

That's one set. Now, do three or four more.

Neal Henderson, sport science director at the Boulder Center for Sports Medicine, said this workout replicates a race finish. The squats and the two minutes near lactate threshold replicate the last intense kilometers, followed by that final pop to get you across the line.

The workout doesn't rely on high resistance, and develops the quadriceps, gluteals and hamstrings for localized muscular endurance, which coordinates high-speed and high-force muscular contractions.

"A hard sprint is usually never more than a couple hundred pounds of force on the high side, like a standing track start," Henderson said.

He explained further by crunching some numbers from an elite track and road cyclist. If you convert the peak torque of a standing track start to pounds, the equivalent squat weight would be roughly 300 pounds. And, by doing the same conversion, for a 160-pound cyclist, a road sprint effort would equate to a 256-pound squat. To break down that squat further; it would be you plus 60 percent of your body weight on the bar.

Henderson said this workout would be best for all racers in the pre- and early season phase; and sprinters should keep this routine up until about two weeks before their big peak. He suggested that GC and climbers only do this in the pre-season and drop it as the season really kicks into gear.

Van Garderen said the workout has improved his jump, as promised, but that he also feels more stable on the bike because of it.

"I have a problem with my right knee going in on my top tube when I ride hard," van Garderen explained. That same biomechanical habit was present when he would do squats; every time he came up, van Garderen's right knee would want to cave inwards.

"You focus on keeping everything in a straight line and all that transfers beautifully into the bike."