How to Improve Your Sprinting Skills

Belgian pro Tom Boonen demonstrates proper sprinting form as he crosses the finish at the 2006 Paris Roubaix cycling race.  Credit: Francois Lo Presti<br>AFP/Getty Images

Sprinting is an activity in cycling that's necessary for being successful in the sport. It's often what separates the winner from the runner up, many times only by inches. It's important in so many aspects of cycling that all types of cyclists must develop this ability.

Cyclists often say, "I'm just not a sprinter," when what they really mean is "I'm not a great sprinter," since most people don't like to do things they don't do well.

Like it or not, if you're going to race a bicycle, you'll have to learn how to sprint. You may not be the one who gets the lead-out at the State Championships next year, but training to sprint might help you make the break, win the field sprint or just finish the race.

More: How Great Bike Sprinters Are Made

Sprinting involves the activation and the training of the ATP-CP system -- responsible for short-burst activities lasting 10 to 15 seconds -- and the anaerobic glycolysis system, which supplies the energy required for high-intensity efforts lasting longer than 10 seconds.

Becoming a Better Sprinter

To become a better sprinter, both systems must be developed through specific training. Training these systems will enable you to rely on them to generate more speed and explosiveness, as well as tolerate and buffer high levels of lactic acid -- thus making you a better-developed rider.

Let's take a moment to go over the basics of a good sprint:

More: 6 Cycling Drills to Improve Sprinting Speed

  • Sprinting should be done, or at least initiated, out of the saddle. While many track sprints are performed seated, most begin out of the saddle and it's rare for someone to win a sprint without standing at some point.
  • Practice with your hands in the drops. In this position, you'll get the most leverage from pulling up on the handlebars and you'll maintain better control of the bike during the sprint.
  • Lower your body by leaning slightly forward over the front of the bike to improve aerodynamics and obtain more power from your hips -- the primary source of power for the sprint.
  • Lift and extend from your hips quickly and powerfully to generate the most power during your efforts.

Keeping these key points in mind while doing sprint drills will improve your sprinting mechanics and speed dramatically.

Once you've begun to improve your basic sprinting ability, you should begin to practice sprinting in race-like situations, including: attacking uphill, sprinting downhill, into or out of a corner, sprinting from inside, in front of, or from behind the pack. Practice these and you're sure to fare better in your next race.

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As with other sports, the fundamentals necessary for developing sprinting skills are best acquired in a periodized fashion. Many of the drills performed in the off-season during the base-building/endurance or power/build phases of training are geared toward developing the necessary power, leg speed and neuromuscular efficiency needed for effective sprinting.

Remember, power is a function of strength x speed, and both are required to sprint with the best. Many of the fast-pedaling drills, small-ring jumps and big-gear surges performed earlier in the training year are precursors to sprinting and power efforts later.

These drills help develop the necessary leg speed and neuromuscular recruitment needed to produce that "snap" that many successful sprinters have in order to create a gap between them and the rest of the peloton. Practice these in the small ring in order to develop the necessary speed and leg strength before moving on to the big ring.

More: 3 Tips for Maneuvering Within a Peloton

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