Friday, February 24, 2012

The Sprint

Everyone knows that a Sprint is that mad dash to make up some distance or reach the finish line in a race.  We see and hear that term all the time in racing, whether we're talking about a foot, auto, horse or bicycle race.

But wait...

That's not what it means when we're talking about Spinning®and doing a sprint. This is one of those instances where indoor cycling and outdoor "real" cycling diverge (ref. "Virtual Reality Check" Feb. 19, 2012).

First remember that the cadence parameters for all of Spinning® is between 60rpm and 110rpm (with the noted exception for the elite athlete being able to go 120rpm.)
"But I can pedal way faster than 120rpm"
I'm sure you can pedal faster, but should you?  Remember that Spinning has it's roots in outdoor cycling, although it's currently it's own fitness phenomenon.  So can a real cyclist pedal at those fast cadences outdoors?  No, probably not unless he is going down hill with the wind behind him and he's in a low gear.  Why would a cyclist do that?  The answer is:  he wouldn't because it will not get him down the hill in control in a safe manner.

Here's the mechanics of it.  I borrowed this, with permission from C.O.R.E. cycling because I didn't think I could say it any better.
Individuals pedal at high cadences thinking that their body is working harder and burning more calories. However, pedalling too fast or with too little resistance causes the pedals to bottom out because the flywheel, not the individual, is in control. Injuries occur in and around the knees because the quadricep muscles are not engaging. The quadricep muscles contract to assist in keeping the patella (kneecap) tracking correctly. If the legs are moving without enough resistance the quadriceps will not contract to keep the patella tracking properly, leaving it vulnerable to injury. More resistance means more activation, increased muscle strength and endurance, equalling more caloric expenditure and less stress on joints and connective tissue. (ref. T. Mardosas , C.O.R.E Cycling® Feb. 21, 2012)
If you've sat through one of my sessions you've heard me say, "If you're bouncing that means the bike is riding you, not you riding the bike."  That's my little way of reminding you that you should be in control of the Spinner, and you can't with too little resistance and too high of cadence.

Sprints are about POWER! 
Breaking through a big resistance with SOME speed and then maintaining that speed.

So here's the rules of engagement:

  • Top Cadence is 80rpm.  (YES I said 80. Eight-Zero. I didn't make a typo)
  • These should last for no longer than 30 seconds.
  • Each sprint should be followed by a recovery period, at least twice in length as the sprint effort.
  • These should only be performed by participants that have built a cardio base generally longer than 6 weeks of actively participating in Spinning classes.
  • Each participant should understand how to emergency stop the bike.

Starting from a seated flat (light to medium resistance), the participant adds HEAVY resistance.  This resistance is well beyond what they would have for a seated climb and will most certainly slow them down.  Quickly come out of the saddle to hand position 3 - Standing Climb, and with all the explosive power you can muster, break that big gear "resistance" and get the cadence up there to around 80rpm.  Drop to the saddle and back to hand position 2 without changing resistance and try to maintain that cadence for the duration of the sprint.  If the sprint effort is targeted for 30 seconds, but you find that you're going less than 60rpm YOU ARE OVER.  STOP!  Maybe you're sprint effort isn't for the full 30 seconds, who cares you put your best effort into it.
Sprints are performed for up to 30 seconds
between 60 - 80 rpm 

When the sprint is over, lower the resistance to a seated flat, bringing your cadence back to 80rpm and recover.  The exception to this would be a Sprint on a Hill; after the sprint effort you would then come back out to hand position 3 - Standing Climb and continue your climb.  If you're doing the Sprint on a Hill recovery time has to be longer since your effort doesn't stop at the end of the sprint.

Sprint                        Sprint on a Hill

Performing either type of sprint within these guidelines will allow you to exert incredible amounts of power, exerting the stresses that you want to improve your cardio health while minimizing the risks of injury to the knee and leg.

Spin Hard but Spin Right!


  1. Love this! Great post.

  2. I attend a spinning class where the instructor asks the class to sprint between 90 and 110 for extended periods of time, up to 3 minutes. I don't believe that this is good the your heart or muscles. But, my problem is how to tell the instructor that her routine is not healthy!

  3. First off, I should come back and make a correction edit to this. The true parameters for a Sprint can take you over 80rpm, but I find that when people are given the choice between resistance and cadence they tend to choose cadence which leads to unsafe speeds.

    Your problem however is different. The 90-110 cadence for 3 minutes isn't a problem, we do it all the time as part of a flat or pace line. Take it to the extreme during an endurance ride and you could be doing that for > 15 minutes. The question is one of how much resistance are you being coached to use. If it's heavy and all out than yes, you're right it's too much.

    My guess is that the instructor is using the term sprint differently than it's defined in Spinning® (and how I use it). Try the same exercise with less resistance. You can continue to lessen resistance as long as you're not too fast (>110rpm) and not bouncing in the saddle.

    I would think the best way to approach the instructor is ask after class what the difference is between her sprint and what you've read on the internet, and let her explain it, and then tell her you "misunderstood" her cues. I've had participants ask/tell me things that weren't clear. They were clear in my head, but obviously I didn't communicate it well, and if one person didn't understand then more than likely there were others; so then I modify my cue language to see if I can improve. This especially works if the instructor is open to that type of feedback at the end of class. I always ask for feedback.

    Good Luck. ~ Spinning Freak