There are few things as disconcerting as riding with a bunch, hanging with them through the hills, keeping contact through some nasty descents, and then just being blown away as everyone effortlessly accelerates away from you coming out of a corner or as you near the end-point of the ride.
This "jump" that they all seem to have - and that some of us so blatantly lack - is not necessarily genetic, so today we look at ways to become more explosive and how we can ensure this power translates into our pedals.
This workout is fantastic for building leg strength, perfecting your pedaling technique, increasing your anaerobic capacity, and developing an almighty jump!
Find a straight stretch of road about 200m long with a gentle uphill gradient - make sure it's not too steep, though, or it will detract from the efficiency of the training session. An incline of between 3% and 5% is perfect.
After a thorough warmup, select a BIG gear - something in the region of 53-14 (big chainring on the front and a medium to small cog on the rear cassette). Stand up out of the saddle and ride very slowly toward a preselected landmark on the edge of the road such as a tree or power pole. As you draw level with it, SMASH the pedals, using all your leg strength and power to get the bike up to top speed as quickly as possible. Because you have selected such a big gear, you will feel that it's impossible to get "on top of" the bike and that you're really struggling to build up speed.
That's part of the plan - if it's too easy to build up speed then you're just doing sprint training, which is a different thing altogether. Keep pouring on the power until you reach a second prearranged landmark. If you've selected the correct hill, the right gear and distance, then you should have ALMOST reached top speed when you reach your second landmark. It's not about speed, it's about the buildup to it when riding such a large gear. As soon as you're done, pull a safe U-turn, ride slowly back to your start line and go again. Do 4 efforts in total.
Remember, these intervals are only about 200m long, and they're done really hard - that's why 4 efforts is enough. If, during your first attempt, you managed to get up to top speed with relative ease then you need to select a bigger gear before you start your next interval. It's all about quality. This workout will build up your strength and power and will give you that "jump" when you launch into a sprint or slingshot out of a corner.
As the name suggests, to improve your jump you need to... jump. Box jumps are a great way to improve your explosive power and develop your leg strength. Here's how to do them:
- Stand in front of the box with feet directly under the hips and hands by your side.
- Lower yourself into the jumping position by bending at the knees and hips. Keep your head up and back straight.
- Explosively jump from the crouched position whilst swinging the arms.
- Land softly on the centre of the platform absorbing the impact with your legs.
- Stand tall.
- Return to starting position by either jumping backwards off the box or by stepping down and repeat the movement.
Remember - land soft and try your best to keep contact time with the box to a minimum. Begin by doing one set of 10 repetitions and work your way up to three sets of 10 reps.
If you want to see an expert in action, check out multiple-time world track cycling champion Anna Meares:
Another jump variation that can be done at home with no equipment is the squat jump - it will make your quads burn, elevate your heart rate, and fire up those fast-twitch muscle fibres that give you explosive acceleration. Here's how you do them:
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Start by doing a regular squat, then engage your core and jump up explosively.
- When you land, lower your body back into the squat position to complete one rep. Land as quietly as possible, which requires control.
- Do two to three sets of 10 reps.
Make sure to use your whole foot to jump, not just your toes, and try not to let your shoulders lean out beyond your knees as this can strain and injure your back.
You can check out a great Squat Jump tutorial here:
OK, there you have it. These exercises will only take a few minutes to do, but will provide tangible benefits to your riding. A word of warning: these drills will leave you sore and tired, so don't overdo it. Once or twice a week is perfect - the rest of the time, just get out there and ride your bike!