Be a Cheetah: How to be a Track Sprinter
Why I Could Never be a Track Sprinter
Every once in a while I get a desire to just say “screw losing weight, I just want to lift heavy stuff and be a big track sprinter.” But as I research the sort of training a track sprinter does, I realize more and more that I may not be cut out to be a track sprinter. Apart from my lack of fast twitch muscles, which a track sprinter has a lot of, their style of training just doesn’t suite me. Here’s why.
Be a Cheetah
The track sprinter is the apex predator of the cycling world. And, like other apex predators, they are fast, aggressive, and lazy. Like a cheetah, the track sprinter puts out one maximum effort to make the kill (win the race) which is followed by long periods of inactivity to recover from the stress of that one full gas effort.
For the track sprinter, volume is a speed killer. Going slow makes you slow which is why a track sprinter spends very little time riding on the road. If they do ride on the road it is just for recovery or weight management and its a maximum of 2 hours long. The rest of their training is low in volume but high in intensity.
How to Train Like a Track Sprinter
During my research into the training of a track sprinter, I came across this piece written by the National Strength and Conditioning Coach for the Australian National Sprint Cycling Team following the Athens Olympics in 2004. It provides an interesting insight into the training of an elite track sprinter and here are a couple points I picked up from it.
Track sprint events are about speed endurance. The winner is normally the rider who can go faster for longer. Apparently the endurance part is easy to build and is tacked on to the end in the lead up to the major event of the year by doing longer efforts or having shorter recovery between efforts. The speed part is what a track sprinter spends most of his time focusing on.
To get up to speed, a track sprinter needs acceleration which means power, and power equals strength plus (leg) speed. To work on the speed, you get on the track. Strength is built in the gym.
In the general preparation phase, an Australian track sprinter would do 3 gym and 2 track sessions a week with more energy focused on gym work and strength. All that mattered was their numbers in the gym, not on the track. As their training got more specific, they would up the number of track sessions per week and reduce the intensity of the gym sessions so as to not hinder the track work in order to focus on developing the speed part of the power equation.
The morning gym session for a track sprinter would be 2.5 to 3 hours long for 6 or 7 exercises. Rest between sets was at least 2 minutes with no maximum prescribed. Since these were being done at maximum effort, the track sprinter needed to be fully recovered before doing the next set in order to reap the greatest benefits. Rep ranges for each exercise depended on the goal: 6 reps for strength, 4-15 for power. All lifts were done at race speed. Remember: going slow makes you slow.
Each gym session for a track sprinter would included 3-4 sets (plus warmups) of 3 max lower body strength or power lifts. One bilateral (two legs) strength lift (squat, deadlift, Romanian deadlift) to primarily strengthen the core (lower back) for standing starts. The other two movements were unilateral (one leg), because you only pedal with one leg at a time, with the single leg press as their go to move. The number of strength or power lifts depended on the time of year: 2 strength lifts (6 reps) and 1 power lift (4-15 reps) during the general phase and 1 strength and 2 power lifts during the specific phase.
The rest of the gym session for a track sprinter would include 2 upper body movements (1 push, 1 pull in the same plane of movement) so that they could hang onto the bars. And 2 ab and core exercises, neither which was a static hold.
The afternoon track session would generally last 3 hours for a track sprinter. During that 3 hours, they would complete 3 or 4 efforts as well as a half hour warm up. Efforts wouldn’t exceed 15 seconds, except during the endurance block, and were followed by 20 to 30 minutes of recovery. So in a 3 hour session, a track sprinter might complete 1 minute of actual work.
Why I Could Never be a Track Sprinter
Although I do like lifting heavy stuff in the gym, I also like riding my bike too much to be a track sprinter. Riding your bike for only a couple minutes a week doesn’t sound fun at all. I could train to increase the number of fast twitch muscle fibers but I don’t have it in me to devote that much time in the pursuit of going really fast for a really short period of time. This style of training leads me to wonder if track sprinters are bodybuilders who ride bikes or cyclists who bodybuild?
Now Mark Cavendish and Elia Viviani are both very fast sprinters and have a background in track. Their max power numbers wouldn’t be close to what an elite track sprinter does (volume kills speed remember) but they are still winning big races on the road and track. So endurance track events may be more up my alley since they do most of their training on the road and do higher volumes of training. Endurance events include events like the Scratch and Point races but also the Pursuit which is more to my liking and better matches my current power profile (5 minute power is one of my strengths).
Unfortunately at this time another bike is out of the question. I would have to sell one bike in order to buy another. Right now that would mean selling my cyclocross bike which, after this past season, has been kind of tempting but I think I would regret that. So, for now, I will stick riding and racing on the road and leave the low volume, high intensity training to the track sprinters.