Adding a few sprints to your weekly workouts may give you an edge over the competition.
When scientists compared trained cyclists who did their normal endurance sessions with riders who added a series of sprint sets twice a week, they found the intense efforts helped the riders become more fit.
Sprints vs Endurance Training
To do the study, the scientists recruited 17 male cyclists, each with at least two years of training experience, and measured their height, weight, body fat, maximum aerobic capacity, or VO2 max, and the number of hours of they practiced per week.
The researchers then randomly broke the cyclists into two groups and tracked their training over a four-week period. The first group maintained their endurance workouts, training about 8 hours per week. The second group trained 5 hours per week outside of the lab and then performed 2 sprint sessions at the Human Performance Research Center at Brigham Young University in Utah.
The sessions included a warm-up and then a series of 30-second all out efforts followed by four minutes of easy spinning. By the end of four weeks, the cyclists in the sprint group were performing ten 30-second all-out efforts twice a week.
Short Fast Sprints Improve Fitness
Running a battery of tests on the cyclists as they practiced, the scientists found that the cyclists adding sprints to their training regimen improved their peak and mean power and overall total work by six percent. The cyclists doing only endurance training improved their peak power by four percent their mean power by three percent and their total output by only two percent.
One of the tests the scientists did was to collect the cyclists’ blood while they were riding. Analyzing the samples from before, during and after a workout, the scientists found that the sprinters had more lactate in the plasma of their blood than their endurance-only counterparts, which suggests the sprinters’ metabolic system improved with intense training.
Along with blood draws, the scientists also hooked electrodes to different parts of the riders’ legs. The electrodes measured when muscle fibers were firing, a signal that originates in the brain. Based on the readouts, the sprinters appeared to be better able to recruit new cycling-specific muscle fibers after adding intense efforts to their workouts. In other words, the sprints improved a rider’s conversation between the brain and working muscles.
The results of the experiment suggest that adding intense, all out sprints improves a cyclist’s overall power and fitness, metabolic efficiency and even the connection between the cells in the brain and the muscles in the body that control the riders’ movements.
Only 28 Minutes of Riding Improved Power by 6%
In the experiment, the sprint group performed only 28 minutes of intense effort over a four weeks, along with their regular endurance practices. Here’s the set:
Warm up: 5 minutes at 100 Watts
4×30 second all-out sprints, w/ 4-minute recovery at 50 Watts at a cadence <75 RPMs
5 minutes Cool Down
You can add 2 sprints per week, so during the fourth week, you’ll do 10×30 second all out sprints.
Do you do sprint or interval training?
Even if you are a recreational cyclist you should be doing some sort of interval training. The sprint or interval training outlined in this study is very taxing on your joints and body. Many riders may be better suited for less intense intervals to avoid injuries.
Have a sprint set you love? Share it below.
Have you done the types of intervals in this study? Have you seen improvement? Please leave a comment.
Citation: Neural, metabolic, and performance adaptations to four weeks of high intensity sprint-interval training in trained cyclists. Creer AR, Ricard MD, Conlee RK, Hoyt GL, Parcell AC. Int J Sports Med. 2004 Feb;25(2):92-8.
Ashley Yeager is a science writer and a triathlete. Follow her on twitter at @tri_science.
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