Sprint training fundamentals

sprint fundamentals


I just leave it at that.


Maximising strength

I started my first heavy week at the gym on May 5th. The basis structure was as follows:

  • Squatting three times a week 2014 training plan
  • Progressive training stress, either by reps or load
  • Three hard weeks, followed by one off-loading week.

So what changed? First and foremost, the form of the lift itself. During the GPP I started experimenting with the ATG style squats. Due to the larger range of motion I through ATG would help me in keeping the loads under control. Also, I’d been thinking the role of squats in building general strength most applicable / transferable on bike.  I’m not an advocate of extreme specificity. What I do believe in is you should build strength at least for the same joint range, prefereably larger/longer than what is used in the main sport. In this light and considering sprinter’s posture on the bike, knee and hip angles of the ATG made a lot of sense. As a side note, I was on my 3rd heavy week when I saw a video from Försti doing ATGs with a ridiculous weight…

The second major alteration was the implementation of the rule of 10 that I applied to most lits in my program: A maximum of 10 heavy but solid reps per session (rep schemes 5+5, 5+4… 3×3). My gym program during late fall had been pretty intense, but for the plan above it would have been too much considering all other elements in the overall plan. Now the strength piece was just a side kick: I wanted to use the available time the best I could, regain as much of the lost strength as possible, create enough training stress yet leave enough work capacity for the actual sprinting. Or better said, use the capacity left from sprinting.

Being used to a little different style of squatting, this ATG plan had an obvious downside (partly explained here), but I was confident I’d either reach my goal or stop before things got out of hand. In the beginning third week I reached my goal AND had the first symptoms of tendonitis in the top end of my right quad (rectus femoris). As the unloading week was just about to start I decided to give my leg some rest. It felt a bit better when starting the first heavy week of my second miniperiod, but obviously one easy week had not been enough to fix the problem. In addition, my back had started to troubling me a great deal. It was stiffer than it had ever been (Iliocostalis Lumborum). So instead of slightly nagging thigh, I now had two problems to solve. Deadlifts seemed like a perfect solution, but that is another story.

So, what did I get out of this experiment? Does it matter which “style” of squats you do? No, not really. What really matters is you have a way of making the WHOLE system stronger, and what ever you decide to do make sure you do it in good form. Because of the sheer amout of weight I’m able to move and 3x per week program, finding the weak link does not take that long. Knowing those weak links helps in trying to avoid major injuries, but avoidance is not a solution. Smart programming IS. I’m sure a little variety and putting strength training to a supporting role is smart programming for an old gym rat!

Squat – improving form

Charlie Francis has said something like “advances anywhere on the force/time reflect in improvement everywhere”. After I got back to serious training in November my squatting – and strength in general – has taken a quantum leap. The progress during the past two months has been absolutely incredible! I have no doubt that this is a result of the combined training of weights and sprints. I’m guessing the peaking period in August – September broke a performance barrier, enabling all these great things.

The core of my GPP was 3 sets x 10 reps of progressive squat. I raised the weights steadily from 160kg to 185kg. At that point I was truly puzzled. Even the 10x185kg did not feel like a max lift. I steamed ahead and finished the preparation period with a 10 rep set with 190kg. I was too excited and frankly amazed of the progress to pay enough attention to my form.

I begun the SPP and the 5 rep scheme the second week of December with 190kg. A week later I squatted 3×5 with 200kg. In the 4th rep of my first set I felt a little snap in my right hip close to the TFL (tensor facia latae). I spent good 5 minutes after the set listening to my body feeling if this was a pull. My thigh was not becoming sore, numb or stiff so I thought this was just “one of those things”. The second set was clean. In the last rep of the 3rd set I had the snap again, bit lower in the thigh. I finished off the set to realize this time it was the vastus lateralis. And it was a pull, not a big one but still. Oh bloody hell!

Squat, hip wideObviously this meant I had to take a break from heavy lifting and think through what had happened and why. This was a clear case of overuse but why? Thinking through my training and revisiting the Starting Strength (Rippetoe) I came to conclusion that either the sport squat or the main sport was having an influence on my form. My stance was too narrow for my own good. Not by much but enough to cause a full bunch of problems. Rippetoe’s book has a pretty good description of all the things you can do wrong and therefore I will not dig in to that too much. I just tell what my personal issue was.

I have relatively long femurs. Because of that and the slightly narrow stance my back angle is too vertical at the bottom of the lift (i.e. excessive forward lean). In addition, when the femurs approach parallel my hip pointers (the small red arrow) start to collide with femurs and limit the depth of the lift. Going deeper will only be possible by moving knees forward. Squatting narrow is a nice way to activate your quads and some cyclists prefer that as it is supposed to be closer to the main sport. Or maybe they just do not know how to squat… Anyway, In my case it was a sure way to get in to trouble.

Squat form, feet angles

Ok, so I needed to fix my stance.  I thought I was wide enough, but my body told me otherwise. The wider stance also means I needed to change my feet angles. That’s the part that needs to come from the back bone. The “not quite” leads to tap dancing with a loaded bar on your shoulders. Not my idea of fun…

Here a little something that might help in getting it right the first time. The picture is perhaps exaggerating the width and angles but I think it delivers the point. Sit on a bench your knees and feet pointing forward. Then lift your feet up, open your hips and when your knees are about shoulder width apart from each other, plant your feet on the ground. Look at where your toes are pointing. As your knees are probably closer to each other then your heels, push your knees out a bit to get them on top of your heels. That shows you how your knees and feet should point to the same direction when squatting down. Pushing your knees out while squatting will help in getting deep enough. 

Proper squat formI’ve been practicing the new set up pictured on the left for few weeks now. A week ago I did 5×5 @180kg and that felt really good. I will need to give my groins some time to catch up with the new role they now have, and I’m sure I’ll be back doing 5 reps on 200kg in no-time. Clearly the new setup has balanced the load over the whole body. The whole lift feels stronger, I do not need to pay attention to the depth at all – it is taking care of itself, and unlike before, I feel much more stable throughout the lift.

Getting back to that quote from Charlie in the beginning. Like I said I’ve made significant improvements in my squat weights this past two months. Same applies to my power on the bike. I have just finished my first strength phase on the bike and as of today I have more power in the saddle than I had in my off the saddle sprints last summer! The first off the saddle sprint in weeks produced a new peak power record. Also, the data I have would seem to suggest I hit the power peak at higher cadence than I used to. I’ll keep an eye on that and if that is truly the case I’ll get back to that at later date. Meanwhile you might want to revisit this.

One thing for sure – I’ll keep squatting!