By Steve Auchterlonie
The Pedal Stroke Part 3
Ok, this proves it…Steve needs a straight-jacket and to be locked-up in the looney bin. Sprinting efficiently…what? Also, how can he talk about sprinting when he has never won a race in the final 200 meters? Oww, these comments cut close to the bone. In response, I invite the viewers to read-on for what I dare say is really good content to improve performance.
The reality is sprinting is not relegated to the last 200 meters. Breakaways, bridging gaps, late race-winning moves all depend on sprinting. Simply, all racers/riders must develop their sprinting skills, even if you can’t win the final 200 meters.
Sprinting is a vicious attack on pedals using maximum, neuromuscular force. How can an efficient pedal stroke improve such an explosive power effort? Answering that question was the purpose behind several sprinting workouts by yours truly. Three sprint workouts were conducted on separate days with very similar weather, on the flats south of Greenland. The results were both interesting and surprising.
TABLE 1. STANDING AND SITTING SPRINT AVERAGES OF 3 WORKOUTS CONDUCTED
AUG. 6, 20 AND 27, 2015
**Important to note: sprints were equally divided on all three days – half standing and half sprinting. Also, all values in table are averages of 10 sprints standing and 8 sprints for sitting.
- Yea, I’m a 58 year old who cannot produce impressive sprint power anymore.
- Let me describe both sprinting techniques. Standing involved getting off saddle but keeping head down as low as possible and, hopefully, good form with knees and elbows in. Sitting stayed on saddle with head as low as possible and knees and elbows in.
- Clearly for me, seated sprinting is faster in terms of speed gained during both 15 and 30 second sprints, even though average power was higher while standing.
- Pedal efficiency was 10% greater seated as expected, since standing involves a huge downward thrust which produces a greater percentage of radial power. The average pedal forces (in newtons) document this difference in the two sprint methods, with the standing sprint producing almost 30% more force per pedal stroke than the seated sprint. Interestingly, the standing sprint only produced 10 to 15% more power (watts) at a muscle crushing force 30% greater.
- The seated sprint pulled away from the standing sprint beyond the 15 second mark, at almost the same power level.
How can a greater power level of the standing sprint “lose” in speed to the seated sprint? The answer is aerodynamics. Again, for me, I am more aero sprinting seated than standing and it “over-powers” the greater force/power produced standing. We have all marveled at how aero Mark Cavendish positions his body in a sprint. That is also why he pursues aero bikes like his new Specialized Venge.
The other key difference is the high efficiency of seated sprinting…a 30% reduction in pedal/leg force required. Think of how important that is in a criterium with repeated accelerations out of every corner, or recovering from a brutal launch off the front.
So, the question becomes when is standing sprinting an advantage? Take a look at Table 2.
TABLE 2. 0 TO 10 SECOND STANDING AND SITTING SPRINT AVERAGES OF 3 WORKOUTS
CONDUCTED AUG. 6, 20 AND 27, 2015
**Important to note: sprints were equally divided on all three days – half standing and half sprinting. Also, all values in table are averages of 10 sprints for standing and 8 sprints for sitting.
In the initial 5 seconds of the sprint, the greater power produced standing accelerates the bike faster than seated by almost 1 mph. From 5 to 10 seconds, the aerodynamics and efficiency of the seated sprinting equals the standing acceleration. Then, as shown in Table 1, the aerodynamics of seated sprinting outpaces the standing method from 10 seconds through 30 seconds.
These results are for me, a 58 year old who has lost most of his fast-twitch, muscle fiber resulting in drastically reduced peak power. My max peak power is 1000-1100 watts at 150 pounds body weight. Younger amateur sprinters are capable of 1500+ watts peak. Professional sprinters reach 2000 peak watts. At those higher levels, I would expect the power advantage to last longer than my 10 second break-even point shown in tables 1 and 2. This is why you see pros sprint standing for 20 plus seconds. However, the importance of aerodynamics and efficiency remain valid at those power levels.
There is no substitute for explosive power when sprinting. The key is to develop high cadence (up to 200 rpm) suddenly with massive force on the pedals. That ability is mostly natural talent but can be coached to a certain extent. Natural ability, injuries and age can limit what we can produce in a sprint. However, each of us can maximize our potential. For me, this brief study documents that aerodynamics is a major factor early in a sprint to reach maximum sprint speed. Cyclists with higher peak power may be able to sustain the standing sprint longer than my 10 seconds. However, seated sprinting is more aerodynamic than standing sprinting, and the aerodynamics take precedence when sprints last longer than 10 seconds for me and maybe up to 20 seconds for higher peak power sprinters. In addition, seated sprinting requires up to 30% less pedal/leg force due to a more efficient pedal stroke. This translates to producing a longer sprint (which may be strategically advantageous if your opponent is a better 10 second sprinter than you) and/or more frequent sprinting performance, such as in a criterium race.
Pedal harder and more efficiently.
To read The Pedal Stroke Part 1 click here
To read The Pedal Stroke Part 2 click here
To find out more about the services Steve offers at Cycling Performance Lab you can contact him at:
We gotta talk. Mainly about efficient out of the saddle technique.
1. The side to side sprinter – like Valverde or Cipolllini who can produce tons of power for about 10 seconds but require several K’s of lead out. I would call these guys true sprinters. Max power, few seconds where aerodynamics don’t mean a thing.
2. The aero non bike thrower – like Boonen, Hincapie or Griepel. They don’t require a huge lead out but can hold a max power effort for 20 seconds where they are more aero to accommodate their longer effort. More up and down technique.
Sprinting seems to be about knowing your max power effort and knowing how to use it.
Knife fighter or long range sniper. Me? Knife fighter. If your not a knife fighter, better kill me from a distance!
Ben, you and I agree completely. I like your subcategory nicknames: knife fighter vs sniper. Holt texted me “what about rocking handlebar side to side”…like your knife fighter…doesn’t this increase the peak power? In my experience, a power meter measures what happens “where it counts” which is power applied to the transmission. Rocking allows the rider to apply more peak power than seated “non-rocking.”
Ben, let me add another subcategory: ICBM – Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile, for those sprinters who need to start very far away from the finish line…like 58 year olds with no fast twitch left…hmmm…wonder who he’s talking about?