Cycling endurance is a valuable asset, and 95 percent of the time, it's what will set individual performances apart. But there’s something primal and electric that appeals to us all about the ferocity of a sprint to the finish line.
BMX might not immediately come to mind when you think of sprinting. (The sport made its Olympic debut in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, but now boasts a stellar USA Cycling program, which produced 2016 Rio Olympic gold medalist Connor Fields.) It's a discipline that requires tremendous power for riders to propel themselves around the 400- to-600 meter track and over jumps. You might not know it, but BMX’s elite are some of the cycling world’s finest sprint talents.
In fact, perhaps the greatest sprinter of the modern era, Mark Cavendish, got his start riding BMX at the Douglas Cycling Centre on the Isle of Man. In his first pro season on the road, he recorded 11 wins, and has (so far) amassed 30 Tour de France stage victories, as well as multiple world titles on the road and track.
Feeling inspired? Good, because here are five foundational BMX exercises any rider can use to take their speed to the next level.
Use cones, or chalk off 90 to 120 feet on a quiet street or parking lot. On your bike of choice, come to the slowest roll possible, track stand, or go BMX-style with foot propped on a small box to keep yourself upright.
In a moderate to slightly heavy gear, stand up out of the saddle and start to pedal. Once you’re rolling, fully engage your sprint by bringing one foot to the two o'clock position, then pushing it down while pulling back on the bars. Throw your hips forward, and let your back foot come quickly back around. Keep driving until you cross all 90 to 120 feet. For variance in your training, change things up by performing a standing start on flat, uphill, and downhill terrain. Start with 2 sets of 6 to 8 efforts.
Sprinters hone cadences upwards of 200 RPMs, which is imperative for maintaining your drive on the pedals at high speed. For this exercise, start on a steep downhill or from a moderately fast pace on the flats. Jump into your sprint by standing up from the saddle, and hold the highest cadence possible for 5 to 8 seconds. Aim for 10 efforts per session. (You can measure your power and RPMs with a power meter, like this new one from Specialized.)
In a perfect world, we’d get to sprint without any hazards or distractions, but in reality, most sprints take place in a pack. Use the motivation, camaraderie, and friendly competitiveness of your training partners to stimulate the adrenaline of a race-like environment. A sprint to the next town sign is always a tried-and-true training method, as is lining up for your standing starts side by side.
It’s a fact that sprinters are strong in the gym, but it can be overwhelming to know where to start with gym training. Olympic lifts provide the biggest bang for the buck, training your muscles to move moderate to heavy loads with peak force application. That said, they can also be complicated to do correctly, so find a credentialed coach to help you perfect your technique before you grab heavy weights. Local CrossFit gyms are a good place to start.
The power clean in particular targets nearly every muscle in your legs, as well as the stabilizer muscles in your core and arms. Start with 5 sets of 3 reps, building load as proper form permits.
While a base level of strength is necessary for performing power work in the gym, key movements should focus on low rep, high load, and explosive speed. Keep moves like squats and deadlifts to 5 sets of 5 reps for strength-building and 5 sets of 3 for power.
Another great tool for improved explosiveness is single- and double-legged jumping. Two standards of excellence in the plyometric world are high box jumps and single-legged hurdle jumps.
For the high box, start in a partial squat, exploding off both feet on to the highest box you can comfortably land on. Make sure that your knees don’t buckle in or out, and that you’re landing while still centered on your feet. Start with 3 sets of 3 before increasing reps.
For single-legged work, set up six to eight hurdles 24 to 30 inches apart. On one foot, jump over each hurdle with minimal contact time on the ground, aiming for speed and accuracy. Start with 3 times through on each leg for hurdles.
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The science behind sprint performance suggests that it can lead to improvements in peak power and leg speed, no matter your cycling goal. Focus your efforts on moving heavy loads quickly in the gym, then hone your leg-speed on the bike, and channel your inner BMXer to ace your next sprint.