Sprinting – Speed vs Acceleration

January 7, 2008 · Print This Article

speed vs acceleration

From Michael

Out and out pure-bred speed – the cipo/boonen/tinapic musclebound express – is a thing both rare and prized. If you don’t have it, you can get it … but man, it do take a long hard while to attain.

But, acceleration … acceleration is something that can be gained in a relatively short amount of time through disciplined training and attention to detail. And, acceleration will pay off … big time.

The ability to accelerate quickly will enable you to make more breaks, cross gaps in races, and participate in many a sprint situation. Yeah, there may be someone with a bit more overall speed who comes around you once in awhile – but if you practice and achieve your acceleration ~ you’ll be a player in the sprints more than you thought you’d have the potential for.


Some of ya’ll have heard mention of what I call “technique sprints.”  These are sprints that last 20 – 50 seconds and done on the 4 – 6 minute rest regime. Trust me, if you do 6 of these in a workout, you’ll be feeling woozy.  And if you do 10 … you’re going to rip folks legs off.

once a week = progress

twice a week = you’re bloody serious about this stuff.

Technique sprints are focused on combining and practicing the elements of acceleration – elements such as breathing, gearing choice, shifting, leg speed, vision (foreward and behind), relaxation…

Breathing ~ one of the weirdest things I see folks do as they start their sprint is … scrunch up their body in one giant clench … like they’re going to heft up a huge box, or maybe pinch off an uncooperative loggie.  These clenchings are with held breath and maxed out muscles, tightened into a spasmodic ball of impotent effort.

Sprints last many, many … many seconds. In fact, some sprints have lasted a couple of eternities, as I recall. Ouch.

You need oxygen to sprint. You need it desperately. So, BREATHE! My favorite technique to get more O2 into my system is to exhale a relatively slow and deep breath as I begin the first few pedalstrokes of my sprint. By letting out a nice long push of breath as you start the sprint, you force the body into taking a big ole gulp AND you really can improve your overall relaxation of body and mind. 

Gearing choice ~ don’t shift to start a sprint! When you sprint, you should be in the right gear and should not need to shift. You don’t won’t to overload your muscles by slamming down two gears to start your acceleration. All you’re doing is flooding your muscles and slowing your body down.  The first 4 or 5 pedalstrokes can be quick, lively things that shoot your speed up. And, you get to not alert the universe to your intention by the “CLANK, CLANK” of your drive train.

Shifting ~ this is one of the keys to excellent acceleration and ONLY comes through much, much practice. You’ve got to be completely in tune with your bike, in joyous harmony with it. You’ve got to reach a level of intuition with your machine that moves you to shift at just the right moment and only 1 cog at a time. You should be able to downshift and upshift during your sprint. Practice, practice, practice. Mostly, it’s about shifting during the dead-zone of your pedalstroke, because shifting under extreme power loads does nothing for acceleration. Your shifting should be smooth, quiet, and timed just right.

Leg Speed ~ sprint at a high rpm.
’nuff said.

If you need to work on leg speed – do your sprints on a slight decline. Trust me, it really helps.

Vision~ as you are out of the saddle, sprinting … practice glancing down at your saddle. Then, after you become comfortable looking briefly at your saddle, move your line of sight just slightly over through that gap between your elbow and your hip. On both sides. Then, when you get familiar with that, practice glancing down to look through the gap created by your butt and your saddle. Once you get that, you’ll be able to accelerate quickly and check to see who’s on your wheel and which direction they’re coming. Very useful – but this is an advanced technique.

Relaxation ~ the most important element. The more relaxed you are, the more power you will generate. Breathing is how I remind myself to relax – what will your technique be? Twiddling the toes? Opening your fingers from the bar? Running your tongue around the lips? mmmm…

The more relaxed you are, the faster you will accelerate, the more precise your shifting will be, the longer your acceleration will last, and the faster you will recover.

This fabulous post was written by one of our awesome bella volunteers ~ Sabine is the cofounder of Velo Bella and if you like this report, you can thank her with brownies and beer.


One Response to “Sprinting – Speed vs Acceleration”

  1. Genny on June 16th, 2009 6:41 am

    Hello! this is very useful information. I am starting to cycle in a pack and every piece of advise is welcome. As for acceleration and sprints, I was adding 2 gears when starting the sprint and just overloaded my muslces. I will definitely apply your method. thank you!

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