A Guide to Track Sprint Training

John Paul and Lee Povey
I’ve been listening to a lot of chatter on the internet lately about the do’s and don’t’s of Track Sprinting training and racing, so here is my advice as a coach.

1. Just because someone faster than you is doing something doesn’t mean it’s the right thing for you (or even them!). Some riders are just plain more talented than others and can still be quicker than you even training badly. At the Olympics, World champs, World Cups etc that I’ve been at I’ve seen riders with frankly ridiculous warm up protocols, poor technique in starts and horrible bike set ups, and every one of them is faster than me…. but they could be so much quicker if they were doing it better.

This goes for coaches too, it’s irrelevant how quick your coach is as a rider if they can’t understand how to relate that training to you and your needs. Often the riders that aren’t as naturally gifted make better coaches because they have had to analyze themselves more carefully to compete with their more naturally gifted counterparts.

2. Gearing is the biggest misnomer right now, firstly cadence is where you should be focussing, the gear choice being a byproduct of that. Emulate the elite guys cadences not gearing. For a variety or reasons gearing in training is different from gearing in races, and is usually a fair bit smaller (except over geared training efforts), think about this when designing your training program, again go back to cadences, you will find 94″ on a cold windy outdoor track is a very different gear to 94″ on double discs and tires at 220psi on a wooden indoor track, train at the cadence you want to race at not the gear you want to use.

3. The current trend for super big gears is a little misleading for most non elite riders (by elite I am talking 10.5 and under) for the less well trained and efficient athletes whacking the gear up can have a short term speed gain, it doesn’t mean it’s helping your long term development, and then we come to racing itself……

4. I know its fun to brag sometimes about things like peak power/max squats/chainring sizes etc, however it often becomes a focus and leads you away from the real aim which should be to win races! Too many people focus too narrowly on small areas and not seeing the whole picture. The 200m is just the entry ticket to the races, if your training is constantly about the “right” gear/cadence to do a good 200m there is a good chance you won’t be able to race as well as you could.

The Elite riders I know can do the same 200m time on gearing between 102 and 120 but you won’t catch them racing on 120! most will race on between 4-8″ less than they qualify and are pedalling at way higher rpms in a race than almost everyone who hopes to emulate this success.

The gear you choose to race in needs to be able to cope with a variety of tactics and scenarios, having an “overspeed” buffer where you can still be effective over a wide range of cadences is a big advantage, especially when rushing the slipstream on an opponent. Bear in mind the steeper the banking and the tighter the radius of the turn the more your rpms will go up in the bends, it can make quite a few rpms difference between the outdoor track/road you train on and the indoor one for your major comp.

5. There is no magic formula, no silver bullet, no perfect answer. Real progress is made by a combination of lots of factors, with the gear you use for your flying 200m just being one small part. Do you get enough quality rest? Is your diet conducive to excellent recovery? Are you working on all the aspects of your sprint? Starts, accelerations, top end speed, speed endurance, form, aerodynamics, recovery between efforts, tapering, roadblocks, rest breaks, mental prep, practicing tactics-observation, injury prevention, supplementation?

Some of these things are quite personal too, what works for Bob might not always work for John and vice versa. Although there are a lot of things that will work for the majority of people if applied at the right level for them and not just copied ad hoc from the elites.

6. Gym work.
In my experience with the athletes I have worked with and the ones I see racing and hear about, gym work is a vital part of MOST sprinters training. It’s the most effective way to build muscle mass (if you need more which isn’t always the case..) and can also be very effective at teaching better fibre/neural requirement.

What you do in the gym though can make a big difference, the training these days is quite different to the more body building programs of the 80-90’s and early 00’s. Todays sprinters are leaner yet stronger. Numbers are totally personal, just because you can back squat 250 and the other guy can do 400 doesn’t mean he will be quicker (Theo Bos couldn’t back squat more than 150kg apparently, he seemed to do alright…), what is relevant is progression, USUALLY an increase in gym strength for a rider will correlate with faster times on the track although there can be occasional exceptions to this.

Gym is quite rev specific with most of the gym gains relating to roughly 0-75rpms on a bike, anything much over 100rpms is very difficult to train with gym work. Other factors are the age of the athlete and also how their body handles weight training, some athletes can cope with it really well and others get broken by it. Again the guys that make it at elite level are usually the ones that can cope with big workloads and big poundages. They are just more gifted than us at training, but what works for them now might be having some long term negative payoffs for later life. There comes a point where training at elite level goes past what is truly healthy for some people, worth considering when racing a bike is your hobby not your job… find what works for you, if your lower back can’t take squatting/deadlifting at a weight that’s useful try leg press or single leg squats instead. Don’t risk your long term health. Again find out what works for you and be prepared to change it when it stops being effective or causes you problems.

Finally… yes you can become elite/fast without weights, they are just a useful tool if you can handle them. ALWAYS put form 1st, remember you are using weights/resistance training to go faster on a bike, not to be the strongest guy or girl in the gym, little and steady improvements here are the way forward.

7. Equipment
The difference between high quality tires and clinchers/training tires is as much if not more of a time benefit than between spokes and aero wheels/discs. Frontal area matters, aerodynamics is a very complicated arena, a simple rule of thumb for most of us though is if you make your frontal area smaller you will go faster for the same given power output, this goes for weight too, with 3-4kg’s being roughly a 10th of a second over a flying 200m, and more like 2-300th’s over a standing lap. Think about that when buying expensive wheels, laying off the cake could have a bigger gain 1st…

I think that’s enough from me for today ;)

Lee

Performance Cycle Coaching

Book Review – Bicycling Science

 

Bicycling Science, 3rd Edition

Everything you wanted to know about the bicycle but were too afraid to ask
By David Gordon Wilson with contributions by Jim Papadopoulos. The MIT Press

 

David Gordon Wilson is British born Professor of Mechanical Engineering Emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is the co-author of the first two editions of Bicycling Science and was the editor of the journal Human Power from 1994 to 2002.

This book covers the history of human powered vehicles and, as the title suggests, focuses firmly on the bicycle.  It is a text in three parts: I Human Power, II Some Bicycle Physics and III Human-Powered vehicles and machines. Each of which can read independently of the others.

The third edition’s (2004) first section, I, ‘Human Power’ opens with a very informative and myth-dispelling addition to the growing canon covering the history of the bicycle. It is a short but authoritative supplement with diagrams and photographs smartly selected and well positioned to support the text. Rather refreshingly all claims, throughout the book, are fully referenced to allow the reader to delve deeper should they so wish along with a recommended reading suggestion here and there (is that a  ‘get a life, Dey’ I hear from my ever loving partner!) For the more evangelical bicycle advocate there is a brief but telling list of ‘new’ technologies born from bicycle design, engineering and use; leading the way is the mass production and use of ball bearings with the oft-neglected good-roads movement also getting a mention – topical as the latter is today. Chapter one also covers, in sufficient detail for all but the expert, Human Power Generation. This encapsulates bicycle focused physiology (how energy gets to the muscles of a rider), biomechanics (how the muscle produce power at the pedals) and should, the author states, ‘allow the reader to feel qualified to absorb the main conclusions of the research papers in this area.’ It is essentially a well written literature review and I for one felt a little daunted at times but quickly discovered my research reading skills were revving back up to speed. The counter-intuitive description of ‘the timing and direction of foot force, choice of crank length, the effect of saddle height and gear ratio, and where to stand up or ‘bounce’ the upper body’ are all treated in depth and supported by evidence based research, with the tradition of the philosophical ever present.  For the more competitive cyclist there is a very useful treatment covering the measurements of human power output, how to describe pedalling performance quantitatively and a very useful presentation into critical power using power-duration curves along with detailed pedal-force data and graphs. Non-round chainwheels also receive useful coverage, another highly topical debate in the age of Wiggo. There is a closing piece on the thermal effects of cycling. Again one only needs to observe the top riders and teams to see this science trickling in and, not before time, replacing much erroneous traditional methods.  The conclusion to the chapter reads like a British Cycling ‘marginal gains’ to do list and the eight pages of academic references tell you all you need to know about the diligence of the author.

Section II ‘Some Bicycling Physics’ is the where I began my reading. For want of getting carried away, as I often do when physics takes centre stage, I shall be brief.  Building on the power-duration data from the previous chapter the author presents a quantitative treatment of cycling specific physics. Anyone with an interest in physics, a little patience and, most usefully, a head full of positive secondary school memories, will be amply rewarded for their efforts.  The main protagonists are all covered namely propulsive force, air resistance and rolling resistance. The author then takes it a step further; what happens when bumps are encountered – of vital interest to the classics riders out there. The concept of vibration frequencies is simply presented and should allow the reader to filter the engineering and physics from the marketing hype the next time a high-end bike is purchased. A lot of paper is devoted to the relationship between power and speed and this alone makes this book a must-read for anyone venturing into the world of the power meter. Bicycle aerodynamics is covered with the usual simple physics formula, text, graphs and some very eye-catching photographs to emphasise the points and aid the understanding of the concepts – all the while retaining a strong link to the context of the bicycle. Rolling resistance, with a focus on wheels tires and bearings ramps up the physics a wee bit but is well worth devoting time to, especially if, like me, you are considering taking the hand-built wheel route. A brief but detailed design, engineering and physics of braking, in differing weather conditions, brings to a close this very informative and rewarding chapter.

The final section, III, Human-Powered Vehicles and Machines, is where the author diverges from the bicycle as we know it. It is the authors stated aim to ‘… expand your experience, and perhaps to make you want to use, or even to design and make, some interesting human-powered vehicles other than bicycles.’ In it he takes a more utilitarian approach and differentiates between the developed and developing world, all the while suggesting that the more bicycling the better; ‘… Even in large countries, like the United States, over half the daily “person-trips” by automobile are of under 8 km (5 miles), a distance most people can easily cover on a bicycle in most weather conditions.’ This chapter contains varied examples of human-powered tools and of record breaking and other interesting vehicles – other than the standard bicycle. It concludes with a thought-provoking piece on Human-Powered Vehicles in the Future; one for all you light weight junkies, aero wheel obsessives and mono-blade maniacs. The piece on the hydraulic disc brake, coming as does so soon after a brief summary of governing body regulations and incentives, is somewhat prescient. The question hangs in the air, what drives the industry; science and performance or marketing? If it is indeed the latter then we are living in a dark age of delusion.

 

Overview, from the back cover

The bicycle is almost unique among human-powered machines in that it uses human muscles in a near-optimum way. This new edition of the bible of bicycle builders and bicyclists provides just about everything you could want to know about the history of bicycles, how human beings propel them, what makes them go faster, and what keeps them from going even faster. The scientific and engineering information is of interest not only to designers and builders of bicycles and other human-powered vehicles but also to competitive cyclists, bicycle commuters, and recreational cyclists.

The third edition begins with a brief history of bicycles and bicycling that demolishes many widespread myths. This edition includes information on recent experiments and achievements in human-powered transportation, including the “ultimate human- powered vehicle,” in which a supine rider in a streamlined enclosure steers by looking at a television screen connected to a small camera in the nose, reaching speeds of around 80 miles per hour. It contains completely new chapters on aerodynamics, unusual human-powered machines for use on land and in water and air, human physiology, and the future of bicycling. This edition also provides updated information on rolling drag, transmission of power from rider to wheels, braking, heat management, steering and stability, power and speed, and materials. It contains many new illustrations.


Title:
Bicycling Science – Everything you wanted to know about the bicycle but were too afraid to ask 

Author:
David Gordon Wilson    

Published by:
MIT Press; 3rd Revised edition edition

Available in Paperback

Price:
RRP £19.95 (Paperback)

 

 

 

 

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