Sprinting or Accelerating?

Does your coaching/cuing differentiate between describing a sprint and an acceleration? Often I hear those two words used interchangeably, which, if you’re not dealing with someone’s heart and ability to breath, probably isn’t a big deal. But, we are. So… what’s the difference and how can our coaching reflect that?

The training I’ve had defines a sprint as having a specific duration range of 5-20 seconds with a specific effort (described as peak capacity), and a work-to-recovery ratio of 1:3.

A sprint can begin in the saddle, then out of the saddle for a big push to gain momentum, then returning to the saddle to hold. Or, it can be all seated or all standing.

I’ve also been trained to be strategic about placement, duration, and recovery time with sprints.  Even though we’re talking about seconds, placing the “longer” sprints (15-20 seconds) in the beginning of your profile and saving a 5-10 second sprint for an all out effort at the end of your ride can align nicely with recovery times. Regardless of where you decide to use your sprints, factor in the 1:3 recovery ratio time. If you ask riders to sprint for 20 seconds, they need a minimum of 60 seconds to recover.

So how does an acceleration differ from a sprint? An acceleration is usually an anaerobic effort which means it has a different recommended duration – 30 seconds to 3:00 minutes; and a shorter recovery ratio: 1:2.  You can, of course, have riders accelerate for less than 30 seconds.

Your coaching for an acceleration is different than what you might use for a sprint.  Here are two analogies that you can play off of: 1) Describe an acceleration as a surge of speed, as if you’re trying to pass someone in a car or on a bike (of course!) and a sprint is the top end speed of your “vehicle” – what you are capable of.  Also, 2) Movement is medicine. Dosage is important. Always ask yourself whether sprints are appropriate for your audience. If yes, prescribe wisely!

The take-away is to be mindful about differentiating between sprints and accelerations.  Be specific when building your profile, make sure sprints are appropriate for your audience, and be true to the recommended recovery ratio.  Your riders trust you – make sure to give them a smart challenge!

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