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POWER GENERATORS
Date: 17 Nov, 2003
Contact: Amy Mason, Sport Scientist, MSc(Hons)

 

Tactical cunning, legs thrashing at unfathomable cadences, mind tormented by pain: this is track cycling. Despite the obvious entertainment provided by track cycling, velodrome junkies are relatively few and far between, particularly in New Zealand. This month we take a look at what it takes to be a sprinting power generator and give you a test to see if you have what it takes to join the fixed wheel riders.

Track sprint cyclists are like fire crackers waiting to go off. Not only do they need to explode quickly but they also need to maintain large amounts of power over a given period of time. They are naturally endowed with a large percentage of fast twitch type II muscle fibres which allows them to produce large amounts of power. At full noise track sprinters work at an estimated 250% of VO2max and only 5% of the energy required to complete the event is supplied by the aerobic system, with 95% coming from anaerobic sources. Post-sprint blood lactate levels up to 20 mmol.L-1 are common, again demonstrating that a high percentages of type II glycolytic lactate producing fast twitch fibres are at work. With low oxidative type I muscle fibres, sprinters tend to have lower VO2max scores in comparison to road cyclists.

Characteristics of Track Sprinters

Test Results

Female

Male

Peak Power Output (W)

>1000

>1700

Time to Peak Power Output (sec)

1-3

1-3

Average Power over 10s

>800

>1200

VO2max (mL.kg.min) typically

45-55

55-65

Body Mass

65-75

>75

Peak Cadence (rpm)

>180

>200

Vertical Jump (cm)

>45

>65

Training for Track Sprinting

If we look at the characteristics listed in the table above it is clear that to be a track sprinter you need to train your ability to produce power. Power is the ability to apply strength at speed. This is where training must be specific to train both facets of power. Some track cyclists get caught up in the gym and become extremely strong, but forget the importance of applying strength at speed. Therefore, they become big, strong and slow. Training the speed component of power is vital and involves training the neural system to recruit as many muscle fibre motor units as possible, over a short period of time.

Specific vs Non-Specific Training

The principle of specificity is one of the most important training principles. This principle implies that training should be devised to train the appropriate muscles and systems of the body, in a manner that is similar to how these systems are used during competition. This is along the same lines as the old adage, "if you train slow, you race slow."

Track sprinters train in the weight room (non-specifically), and on the track (specifically). However, when training in the weight room they help improve specificity by using similar muscles and movements to those used on the bike, such as barbell squats or step ups. These exercises involve both hip and knee extension and flexion similar to the movements during the power (extension) phase and flexion (upstroke) phase. The leg extension machine is a good example of an in-appropriate exercise for cyclists, as it involves knee extension in a movement pattern that does not simulate the pedalling cycle, despite use of similar muscle groups. Weight training improves the force generating capacity of each muscle fibre and therefore strength and consequently power. Specific cycling exercises to improve strength include big gear standing starts, big gear intervals, and short duration big gear hill work. However, as mentioned the vital element to be able to produce power is speed, and velocity specific training is essential to complement weight training, by completing weight training movements at speed or body weight plyometric exercises. On the bike strength to power conversion improvements comes from standing starts, high cadence work on track and high cadence downhill sprints.

Lack of Research:

We have the knowledge of the characteristics required to be a top track sprinter, but pinning down the most appropriate training methods is difficult despite the common methods mentioned above. There has been little published research investigating the effectiveness of different track sprint training methods, despite long standing ingrown methods of doing things. Whether this is due to a lack of elite track cyclists to participate or wanting to participate in research, or likewise countries wanting to keep the information to themselves, this is unknown. Whichever the case, it is important to remember that to be a good sprinter you need to be able to produce high power outputs and everything you do in training should be working towards achieving this.

Vertical Jump Test

A very common talent ID test for determining explosive power is the vertical jump. This involves jumping as high as you can and can be completed anywhere with a bit of chalk, a tape measure and a high wall.

Procedure:

  • Stand side on to a wall with your foot up against the wall and arm fully extended above you (reach height).

  • Measure the height from the floor to the tips of your fingers.

  • With chalk dust or something similar, coat your fingers to allow a mark to be distinguished on the wall.

  • In one movement crouch down and jump as high and as fast as you can touching the wall.

  • Measure the distance between your "reach height" and the mark from your jump. Or alternatively measure the distance from the floor to the mark and minus your reach height from this.

  • Don't "step" into the jump.

  • Make sure you hit the wall with your dusty fingers at the top of your jump, and not on the way up or down.

Are you good enough to be a track sprinter?

 

References:

Craig, N.P., & Norton, K.I. (2001). Characterisitcs of track cycling. Sports Medicine, 31(7), 457-468.

Craig, N., Walsh, C., Martin, D.T., Woolford, S., Bourdon, P., Stanef, T., Barnes, P., & Savage, B. (2000). Protocols for the physiological assessment of high-performance track, road, and mountain cyclists. In: Physiological tests for elite athletes, Human Kinetics.

Polishuk, D.A. (1994). The means and methods of improving a cyclists's strength potential. Fitness and Sports Review International, 29(2), 84-88.

Robergs, R.A., & Roberts, S.O. (1996). Exercise Physiology, Mosby Inc, St Louis.

 

 

 

 

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