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Cycling sprint training: Tips to improve your cycling power

Cycling sprint training
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Saying the rider who produces the most power wins is not always true when it comes to racing but it’s not too far from the truth. While there are many performance factors that go into winning a race, at the end of the day, you need the power to back it up.

The main issue with improving your power is that it, unfortunately, means putting in some more training (or more structured training). The following training methods or tips will assist in boosting your power output:

Training consistency

The most important element of training is without a doubt consistency. Being consistent in terms of your frequency of workouts as well as adherence to the workout format will lead to greater improvements in performance. Following a well- structured training plan that is designed accordingly to your specific lifestyle will allow you to be consistent and improve your performance.

Taking your training indoors to maximise your training time can assist in improving your training consistency and quality of training while at the same time assisting those with time constraints. 

Incorporate strength training

Including two sessions of strength training per week over an 8 – 12 week period has shown to be effective in increasing power output. Strength training can be done off- or on the bike.

Off-the-bike sessions should include exercises that mimic the movement pattern utilised in cycling. It is recommended to perform between 4 and 10 reps with 2 – 3 sets with approximately 2 – 3 minutes recovery between sets. Start with lighter loads and then progressively increase weight while reducing reps.

Some of the exercises that can be included in your training program include: squat, half squat, step-up, leg press (progressed to single leg at a time), one-legged hip flexion and toe raises. As you progress closer to competition and strength development is not the main goal, you can incorporate more explosive strength training exercises.

Torque (or big gear) efforts are a good alternative to off-the-bike strength training. These sessions are performed by maintaining a high power output at a low cadence. These are especially effective utilising the erg mode function on a turbo trainer where the resistance is maintained throughout the effort or on a long, steady climb.

Make the hard sessions really hard, and keep the easy ones easy

Avoid putting in 'junk miles' at all costs. It is a common mistake for cyclists to feel that they need to ride hard on each session in order to make an improvement. Often this is characterised by athletes spending large amounts of time training in this heavy intensity domain (the sweet spot). The trick is to keep the easy sessions easy to allow you to go hard when the time is right and greatly improve your power output.

Keeping the easy sessions at a low intensity allows one to incorporate High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) sessions. The HIIT sessions are used to accumulate a greater amount of time at a high intensity than one continuous effort. 

Incorporating two HIIT sessions per week into your training program for as little as 2 – 4 weeks can significantly boost your power output. Ensuring adequate recovery between HIIT sessions will allow you to maximise your performance improvements. You should aim to couple 15 – 20 % of your total training time at high intensity (>FTP) with the remaining 75 – 80% spent at low intensity.

Include regular performance testing

Performance tests are conducted for a range of reasons, however, the most applicable reasons for any individual are training zone prescription and performance monitoring.

While this may seem a no brainer, many individuals shy away from conducting performance tests. Conducting regular performance testing and monitoring will allow you to ensure your training is being conducted in the correct training zone. Doing your sessions at the correct intensity is vitally important to increasing your power output and increasing your performance.

Conduct a valid and reliable performance test, indoors or outdoors, every 8 – 12 weeks (every 4 - 8 weeks if you're new to structured training) to ensure your training prescription is correct. Your coach can also assist with performance monitoring and may enable you to incorporate these tests into your training sessions.

Try these sessions to improve your cycling power

1. Standing starts

Come to a standstill in a high gear, then start sprinting as hard as possible until your cadence is higher than 100rpm. Do 6 – 8 reps with 10 minutes of easy riding in a light gear between efforts.

2. Torque intervals

Do four minutes of seated climbing on a moderate gradient. The aim is to keep your cadence low (50-60 rpm) at a relatively hard intensity (90-95% FTP). Keep shoulders and hands relaxed during climbs. Do 4 – 6 reps with four minutes of easy riding between efforts.

3. Cadence intervals

Do 10 minutes of high cadence riding on a climb or flat road. Your goal is to keep your cadence between 100 and 105 rpm (or 10 to 15 rpm above your normal cadence). You should aim to keep your pelvis stable during these efforts. Keep the intensity moderate (80-85% FTP). Perform three reps with 10 minutes of easy riding between efforts.

4. 40-20 intervals

Do 6 x 40-second sprints with 20 seconds of recovery between each sprint. The sprints should be done at the same power (roughly 120% FTP) for each effort. Perform 2 – 3 sets with 15 minutes of easy riding between sets. 

Training plan

Week 1
DayDuration (minutes)Training
Monday0Rest
Tuesday601 Hour LSD - zone 2 - Keep Cadence High. Include 3 x 2min of very high cadence (>110 rpm). Keep to a very easy gear and stay in high zone 2 / low z3 heart rate. Rest 5 minutes between intervals.
Wednesday45Gym Strength Session
Thursday601 Hour LSD - zone 2 - Any cadence
Friday45Easy active recovery. Have a good social ride. Maintain a good cadence throughout
Saturday120Warm up 30 min zone 2 and 3: Follow with 3 x 10 minutes of seated climbing on moderate gradient. Keep cadence low (50-60). Recovery of 10 minutes - zone 2 between climbs. Keep shoulders and hands relaxed during climbs and try to keep pelvis stable. Stand for 50 metres if you cannot sustain seated position. This session is about keeping your core stable and generating a round pedalling action. Focus on pulling up and pushing over the top of the pedal stroke.
Sunday1502.5 Hour LSD - zone 2 - Any cadence. Low intensity ride in zones 2 on undulating terrain.

Week 2
DayDuration (minutes)Training
Monday0Rest
Tuesday601 Hour LSD - zone 2 - Any cadence
Wednesday45Gym Strength Session
Thursday60IMTG ride: 1 hours LSD - zone 2 ONLY - Fasted state: Do not eat breakfast. Drink only water. Keep to zone 2 only!
Friday60Easy active recovery. Have a good social ride. Maintain a good cadence throughout
Saturday150Warm up for 45 min in zone 2 and 3: Follow this with 8 x 4 minutes in a high gear and at a low cadence (Use a gear which you can only just turn over. Keep your cadence at 40-50 during the high gear efforts and at 90 during the rest periods. Rest 4 min in zone 2 between each high gear effort. Warm down 45 min - zone 2.
Sunday1803 Hour LSD - zone 2 - Low intensity ride in zone 2 on flat terrain. Keep the cadence > 90 RPM

Week 3
DayDuration (minutes)Training
Monday0Rest
Tuesday601 Hour LSD - zone 2 - Keep Cadence High. Include 3 x 2min of very high cadence (>110 rpm). Keep to a very easy gear and stay in high zone 2 / low z3 heart rate. Rest 5 minutes between intervals.
Wednesday45Gym Strength Session
Thursday601 Hour LSD - zone 2 - Any cadence
Friday60Easy active recovery. Have a good social ride. Maintain a good cadence throughout
Saturday180Warm up 60 min zone 2 and 3: Follow with 3 x 10 minutes of seated climbing on moderate gradient. Keep cadence low (50-60). Recovery of 10 minutes - zone 2 between climbs. Keep shoulders and hands relaxed during climbs and try to keep pelvis stable. Stand for 50 metres if you cannot sustain seated position. This session is about keeping your core stable and generating a round pedalling action. Focus on pulling up and pushing over the top of the pedal stroke.
Sunday1803 Hour LSD - zone 2 - Low intensity ride in zone 2 on flat terrain. Keep the cadence > 90 RPM

Week 4
DayDuration (minutes)Training
Monday0Rest
Tuesday0Rest
Wednesday60Easy active recovery. Have a good social ride. Maintain a good cadence throughout
Thursday601 Hour LSD - zone 2 - Any cadence
Friday0Rest
Saturday1202 Hour LSD - zone 2 - Any cadence
Sunday1202 Hour LSD - zone 2 - Any cadence

Week 5
DayDuration (minutes)Training
Monday0Rest
Tuesday601 Hour LSD - zone 2 - Any cadence
Wednesday70Warm up 15 min zone 2 and 3: Follow with 3 x 8 min (40:20) intervals (40 seconds maximal sprints with 20 seconds recovery between each sprint). Recover 8 min zone 2 between intervals. Cool down 15 min Zone 2 afterwards
Thursday45Gym Strength Session
Friday60Easy active recovery. Have a good social ride. Maintain a good cadence throughout
Saturday135Warm up 45 min zone 2 and 3: Follow with 40:20 intervals. do 6 x 40 seconds maximal sprints with 20 seconds recovery between each sprint. Rest 15 minutes in zone 2 and then do another set of 6 sprints. Make sure that you do the sprints with the same average power for each sprint instead of going all out and then fading. Warm down 45 min zone 2 only at high cadence (90-115).
Sunday2103.5 Hour LSD - zone 2 - Low intensity ride in zone 2 on flat terrain. Keep the cadence > 90 RPM

Week 6
DayDuration (minutes)Training
Monday0Rest
Tuesday60 1 Hour LSD - zone 2 - Any cadence
Wednesday80 Warm up 15 min zone 2 and 3: Followed by Intervals of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 minutes in duration. Rest the duration of the previous interval. Warm down 15 minutes zone 2. Power output should be 85% of PPO for each interval.
Thursday45 Gym Strength Session
Friday60Easy active recovery. Have a good social ride. Maintain a good cadence throughout
Saturday150 Warm up 45 min zone 2 and 3: Followed by 8 x 4 minutes zone 5 (or above 80% Peak P.O) with 4 minutes rest between repeats. Warm down 45 minutes zone 2.
Sunday180 3 Hour LSD - zone 2 - Low intensity ride in zone 2 on flat terrain. Keep the cadence > 90 RPM

Week 7
DayDuration (minutes)Training
Monday0Rest
Tuesday60 1 Hour LSD - zone 2 - Any cadence
Wednesday90 10 x 30sec sprints. Warm up 20 min zone 2 and 3: Follow with 10 x 30 second maximal sprints (Start from slow speed on 8-11% gradient. Accelerate as hard as you can and keep dropping through the gears to maintain high resistance). Rest 5 min between each sprint (You can stand still and gasp for the first 2 min). Warm down 15 min zone 2 only at high cadence (90-115).
Thursday45 Gym Strength Session
Friday60 Easy active recovery. Have a good social ride. Maintain a good cadence throughout
Saturday180 Warm up 60 min zone 2 and 3: Followed by 8 x 4 minutes zone 5 (or above 80% Peak P.O) with 4 minutes rest between repeats. Warm down 60 minutes zone 2.
Sunday150 2.5 Hour LSD - zone 2 - Low intensity ride in zone 2 on flat terrain. Keep the cadence > 90 RPM

Week 8
DayDuration (minutes)Training
Monday0Rest
Tuesday0Rest
Wednesday60Easy active recovery. Have a good social ride. Maintain a good cadence throughout
Thursday60 1 Hour LSD - zone 2 - Any cadence
Friday0Rest
Saturday120 2 Hour LSD - zone 2 - Any cadence
Sunday120 2 Hour LSD - zone 2 - Any cadence