Maintaining out-of-the-saddle sprinting form during training plan

I started using The Sufferfest in early October. I’ve nearly completed three weeks of the advanced all-purpose road training plan, and overall it’s been fantastic—I’m definitely a convert! Please view the following criticism in light of this overall enthusiasm.

I discovered what I think is a potential shortcoming of this style of structured training plan, at least when it’s completed entirely on an indoor trainer and no other riding is incorporated.

The vast majority of the workouts are done spinning in the saddle, with relatively little prescribed time standing—and, crucially, no out-of-the-saddle maximal-effort sprinting at all for the first two and a half weeks, prior to the Standing Starts workout. The upshot of this, I think, is that the muscles which are recruited for sprinting aren’t strengthened or maintained to the same level as those used for pedalling in the saddle, and could potentially atrophy or lose their resilience.

The reason I think this is because when I did the first 5-second maximal sprint in Standing Starts towards the end of week three, I slightly pulled a muscle around my hip (it feels like one that inserts onto my femur). Not a major injury—I expect it should only take a few days to heal—but a definite small, noticeable tear.

I was well warmed-up in general—I even did the GCN Ready Steady Go as an extra warmup before Standing Starts—but those sprinting muscles apparently weren’t properly prepared.

Sprinting is one of my strengths—I clocked 1099 watts for the 5-second part of the 4DP, which puts me between “very good” and “excellent” for my FTP.

When I’m not diligently following a structured training plan, I instinctively get in and out of the saddle regularly to work different muscle groups—especially when riding outdoors. I also do little sprints whenever I feel like it, which presumably keeps those muscles from atrophying. I’ve never pulled a muscle sprinting before.

I suspect that it’s risky to prescribe a maximal-effort sprint after a couple of weeks of almost exclusively sitting and spinning, and with no standing warmup efforts to get those muscles fully prepared.

I think that incorporating occasional maximal out-of-the-saddle sprints throughout this training plan would keep those specialist sprinting muscles in form and lessen the risk of this sort of injury happening.

Alternatively, or in addition, prescribing a bunch of sub-maximal warmup sprints before the maximal ones could be an effective way to prevent injury. In future I will definitely be doing warmup sprints on my own before a workout like Standing Starts.

It might also be no coincidence that this is the first workout in weeks that I’ve done in level mode, rather than ERG mode (I have a Wahoo KICKR CORE). In ERG mode the trainer lowers the resistance when you get up out of the saddle, so the potentially much higher resistance experienced when sprinting in level mode could be a shock to some of your muscles.

Anyone else experience anything like this?

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I just find full-on out of saddle sprinting very unnatural on an indoor fixed trainer. It’s the one thing I really need to be outside for, so I can swing the bike around properly. Probably also carries some risk of frame damage with the bending loads it puts on seat-stays etc. Similarly it probably loads up your muscles in a different way too. Or at least their alignment is different. Maybe there is some science on this somewhere to reference?

Edit: just to add if I was doing a lot of sprint training indoors I would probably invest in one of those wobble boards to make it more realistic.

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I think all those points you raise are true. I don’t think there’s any real substitute for practicing sprinting outside, though. The wobble boards don’t let you throw your bike around in the necessary way, and I suspect they’d put your seat-stays under even greater stress.

In any case, I’m definitely going to be throwing regular out-of-the-saddle sprints (of varying intensities) into my sessions from now on, so that those muscles maintain their strength and resilience!

I’ve never used a rocker plate, but thought it might help a little with the feel when out of saddle. When I’m sprinting on the trainer I just focus on keeping side load off the frame, which limits my power indoors to around 800W. I can put down a fair bit more power sprinting outdoors, but I think I’d destroy my bike on the trainer if I used the same technique!

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I exercise the same caution!

Perhaps plans could incorporate these out-of-saddle maximal efforts as separate, outdoor efforts. In the MTB program there are outdoor trail riding efforts with power/HR recommendations tied to them. Perhaps there could be some maximal sprint repeats within a program more dedicated to sprint or NM/AC improvements.

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Hi @roger,
Thanks for your post. I think I understand. Basically, preparing for maximal sprints in a gradual and focused way would be helpful. Sprinting on a trainer is definitely a learned skill. And your suggestion is well received. A couple of quick notes in the meantime. I highly recommend cadence drills, this will help recruit and build the neuromuscular coordination that is required to initiate and maintain maximal engagement of your fast twitch fibers; Even in the saddle. Part of sprinting is pushing load but the other part is velocity, or cadence.
As for getting out of the saddle and doing hard efforts. If you know that this is a need, I would suggest at this time, to use some of the AC efforts that are in your workouts and get out of the saddle then to get the extra push. These AC sections should be enough that you can give it a good go and prepare yourself for full out sprinting later.

The other thing that you want to do is make sure that you are in the right gearing when you sprint. If you have a sprint coming up and your cadence is too high or too low you can and should shift before the effort to find the right resistance. Even in erg mode. Most trainers will allow you to do this without losing a beat.
I hope you find this helpful. Thanks again for your post.

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Hi Jeff, yes, that’s right—preparing for maximal sprints in a gradual and focused way would be helpful. Basically, I’m saying that:

  • Doing 2-3 weeks of intensive indoor interval training that mainly consists of seated efforts at sub-neuromuscular intensities, especially if done exclusively in ERG mode, could cause a strength imbalance between those muscles which are recruited for seated pedalling (these may get substantially stronger) and those that are recruited for standing sprints (these might become relatively weaker—at least that’s what I believe that’s what happened to me).
  • If you then throw yourself into a maximal effort standing sprint, while expecting that your leg muscles are going to perform as well as they did 2-3 weeks earlier, this could be bad news for those weakened muscles—at least, it was for me!

All-out standing sprints have always been my greatest strength as a rider, both because of high intrinsic leg strength and good neuromuscular control (pedalling extremely fast comes naturally to me!). I also feel quite comfortable sprinting on an indoor trainer. But when doing structured interval training plans indoors, it’s all too easy to sit and spin more that is probably healthy for one’s all-round muscular wellbeing!

Thanks for your suggestion to stand during AC sections. I will definitely do that from now on, and I’ll also try to do more workouts in level mode, especially for low-cadence and standing efforts.