Power Workouts: Explosive Jumps
Back in October, I wrote about weight training for cyclists and touched on the explosive, cycling specific, jump squat. As promised, today I will further describe the jump squat and introduce standing start intervals. Together these two workouts provide the necessary bridge to transfer your strength gained in the weight room into power on the bike.
Jumping Jack Flash
To start with the basics, cycling performance is most dependent on an athlete’s ability to generate power against the pedals. Power is dependent on time (Power = Work/Time) and is therefore speed-specific. There is no correlation between being able to squat an enormous amount of weight and producing power on the bike as it relates to cycling performance (2). The speed of a squat is simply not specific (its much slower) to pedaling a bike. Consequently, it is necessary to train in a speed specific-manner. Enter the jump squat: an explosive strength training exercise with reduced resistances conducted at high speeds. When performed properly, athletes “jump” off the ground. Extreme, eh?
In the lab, jump squats at 30% of trained cyclists’ one repetition maximum have been shown to improve peak power, peak velocity, and 20 & 30 meter sprint (5,8). What does that mean in English? Ummm, jump squats make you faster.
Caveats to jump squats:
• Do not do jump squats until you have put on a big base of 6-8 weeks of adaptation and maximal strength phases. This is necessary to build the musculature and adapt your body to the stresses. There’s no point to being explosive if you have no strength in your legs to explode!
• The point is speed and explosiveness of movement, NOT heavy weights! Do not concern yourself with jumping with big weights, but focus on speed throughout the movement.
• Jump squats place a huge amount of impact forces on your knees and back. DO NOT do these if you have a history of knee or lower back problems! Make sure you warm up with standard squats, wear quality shoes, and make sure the floor is padded.
The jump squat alone will not guarantee that you’ll be winning the city limit street sprints. The weight room is great, but ultimately it’s still not completely specific to the action of pedaling a bike. Therefore, come the spring, you still need to transfer the explosiveness you’ve built in the weight room to specific on-bike explosiveness. That’s where standing start intervals come in.
Standing start intervals are self-explanatory. By rapidly accelerating from a dead stop on a trainer or a slow roll on a flat road all out, balls to the wall, you will generate an incredible amount of power that is specific to attacking, counter attacking, and sprinting. You can increase the “resistance” by increasing the gearing and/or doing these on a hill. Typical standing start interval workouts consist of 10 – 15 sprints of 6-10 seconds in length separated by a proportionally larger amount of recovery time. For a 10 second standing start I suggest at least a 60 second rest, a 1:6 ratio.
The best time to incorporate these workouts into your training regimen is in the late winter and early spring. This corresponds to the later phases of your yearly base training, and the end of your power phase in the weight room. The volume of the sprinting intensity is low enough that one can successfully perform these intervals at the beginning or in the middle of a long aerobic base ride.
Caveats to standing start intervals:
• Keep your focus on proper sprinting form while you’re doing these starts. Work on smoothly transferring power through your arms, core, and legs rather than just thrashing on the bike. Practise positioning your body forwards and backwards on the bike to see where you get the ideal power output without affecting steering (too far back) or making the rear wheel skip off the ground (too far forward).
• Keeps you eyes up and down the road!
• As with any interval workout, focus on quality above quantity. I would rather see 10 high quality starts than 25 half-assed efforts.
• Stick to a maximal effort over 6-10 s. The goal is also not to extend the time of effort.
Are These Workouts For You?
The benefits of explosiveness training, and indeed of resistance training in general, on cycling performance is still hotly debated in the scientific literature. However, a good deal of the debate really comes down to the research problem of trying to transfer lab-based research and tests into real-life benefits on the road. From a basic physiological perspective, I personally feel that both jump squats and standing start intervals can be a valuable part of every competitive cyclist’s arsenal. They are also highly specific to the critical moments of a bike race. I would advise you to consult with your local sport physiologist or coach on how to incorporate these workouts into your program and your goals for next season.
Questions or comments? Visit Frank at FasCatCoaching.com Frank is a USA cycling certified coach and category 1 racer that can be found in and around Boulder, CO standing around and then moving very quickly.