With Grands less than three weeks away, now is what we like to call crunch time! It’s a time when BMX Racers nationwide hone their skills and make last-minute gains forThe Greatest Race on Earth (AKA: USA BMX GRAND NATIONALS). It’s the highest points-paying race of the year, with multiple titles on the line. It’s a race you DON’T want to show up unprepared!
Which brings us to question,
How is your Grands prep going? Are you feeling confident, or are you a bit unsure about how to prep? One thing is for certain, we all need to get our sprints in!
Sprints are an essential training tool within every racer’s prep kit. But with so many variations and philosophies, things can get confusing about what you should actually do. Our goal for today is to outline a few variations and discuss the benefits of each. By the end, you’ll have a solid understanding of how each sprint style affects your progress.
So, what sprints should you be doing? Let's talk about it!
Understanding Your Objective
As expected, things are going to look different for every racer, and this is where you’ll have to do some self-reflecting. Before you go any further, take a moment to stop and think about your weakness and strengths as a racer. Maybe even write them down, similar to a pros & cons list.
Here’s a quick example:
Corner moves (passing)
First straight Spin (top speed)
This may seem a bit silly at first, but it’s the most important step next to actually doing the sprints. You can’t improve on your weaknesses if you don’t take the time to recognize them. Through this reflection exercise, you can better build a customized plan for your/rider’s needs.
Okay, enough lecturing. Let’s get talking about some sprints!
Choosing the Best Sprints for YOU
As mentioned before, sprints come in various styles and philosophies. But ultimately, it comes down to two key differences: Box Sprint vs. Rolling Start and Short Sprints vs. Long Sprints
When to do Box Sprints -
You’ll hear the term ‘box sprints’ thrown around at the BMX track, but what does this actually mean? A box sprint is a style of standing start where the rider places their non-starting foot onto an item for balance. This could be a footstool, a piece of wood, a few bricks stacked up, or even an official ‘sprint block.’ But the idea is that the rider performs a sprint from a standing start, similar to a gate start.
We could write a separate article just talking about the box sprint (maybe something for another time), but we’ll keep it pretty simple for now. The box sprint closely mirrors the gate start technique. Riders can use the box sprint to work on specific gate start mechanics at their own pace without the distractions of the local track environment.
Here riders can focus on leading with the head & shoulders, driving through with the hips, and keeping a neat acceleration form. All you need is a clear road and something to balance; no fancy tools required! What you’ll learn from the box sprint will transfer over to your gate start with time. Because of this, box sprints are a top recommendation for riders who struggle with starts.
However, we must also mention that box sprints DON’T replace gate starts! Rather, they’re a tool to help you build muscle memory of what a strong starting technique should feel & look like. But you’ll still have to take the time to apply the new material to your gate form. But Box sprints are a great place to start improving away from the track!
When to do Rolling Sprints -
As the name suggests, the rider approaches the start line at a specific speed and explodes into a sprint. Rolling starts are typically paired with longer sprints since the higher start speed requires less effort from the athlete.
These are most commonly paired with downhill sprints, where the rider rolls into a downhill path and spins the cranks at the highest RPM possible. This specific sprint develops high pedal cadence and top speed, things needed for sprinting out of corners and tracks with long straightaways.
If a rider is losing ground between jumps that isn’t a result of messing the jump up, then long distance rolling sprints could be useful. These could also be helpful for riders who have an ineffective sprint form and struggle to spin at high speeds.
When to do Short Sprints -
Short distance sprints would be anything under 60ft in total distance. These sprints are focused on developing explosive power and acceleration. This style of sprint training would be beneficial for anyone who struggles with getting to the first jump first.
Do you constantly find yourself an elbow behind the competition after the gate? Are you struggling to find clear air down the first straight? Chances are, you lack the necessary power and efficiency needed to charge toward that first jump. We recommend focusing on shorter sprints for the rider we just described to help develop grade-A acceleration and sprint form.
You would also look to do shorter sprints if the session is focused on honing a specific skill or mechanic. The shorter sprint requires less effort from the athlete allowing them to do more reps. The more reps they do, the more familiar they get with the specific mechanic (form adjustment) you're trying to nail.
So if you're working on developing your first 3 pedals. It wouldn't make much sense to do a 200ft box sprint when you could do a 30ft box sprint and hit more reps. It all comes back to outlining a goal for each session and building your sprint plan around that goal.
When to do Long Sprints -
Seeing as the gate start is considered the most important part of BMX racing, we should solely focus on acceleration exercises and call it a day, right?! No way! Long sprints are just as important!
We consider a long sprint to be anything past 60ft in total distance. These sprints develop top-end speed and high pedal cadence. They’re also used to improve conditioning (fitness), especially if you don’t have easy access to a track.
Let’s say you have a great gate, and you’re typically the first to the first jump. But you get passed in the sprint after the first jump or after other jumps on the track. Maybe people are catching you during the sprint out of turns. If this sounds like you, you could probably use a healthy serving of long sprints!
Now with the examples listed above, there could also be other factors that affect those things, like bad turning technique or messing up the first jump. In that case, you would need to work on those specific skills. But while you’re honing your turning and pumping skills, you can get more bang for your buck by adding in some longer sprints.
Another time to do long sprints is if you struggle with full lap fitness. Obviously the best solution would be to actually do full laps. But if you can't get to the track everyday, long sprints are an effective alternative for building more fitness and getting into better shape!
What it all Means
If you’ve learned anything from this blog, it should be that you can’t work on everything at once. Pick one piece of your skillset and build your sprint plan around that. Creating a focused sprinting environment will yield maximum performance gains.
Doing too many things at once is ineffective and can be very confusing, especially for the younger riders!
If you’re a parent of a younger rider or even a coach, try giving your rider one critique at a time. Avoid laying out every single detail the rider got wrong with each sprint. Rather, focus on one section and keep working until your rider nails it a few times. Then you can start to bring up other flaws within the sprint as they improve.
By keeping your sprints simple and focused on one specific skill, the rider (& coach) can pay more attention to their actions and recognize when/where things went wrong! This mindset adds a more rewarding feeling to sprints, and you can leave the session feeling like you accomplished something.
The last thing you want is to just go through the motions and do a set amount of sprints just because it’s on the training plan. Each session should have a specific goal, and you should be working towards something. Take some time after each session to look back at your self-reflection exercise from earlier and update it as you get better at each skill. Follow this simple process, and you will see strong results atThe Greatest Race on Earth!
Before we go, let’s look at the sample self-reflection table from earlier.
Corner moves (passing)
First straight Spin (top speed)
So for the rider described in the table above, we would really lean into short distance Box sprints to help with the weak gate. As the rider gets better on the block, we can start to move that technique to the gate. We would also add in long-distance rolling sprints to build up that top speed.
The plan would look something like this:
3x a week - 15 box sprints @60ft distance (1-2 min rest between sprints)
2x a week - 10 rolling start sprints @120ft (roll in at 50% speed 2-3 min rest between sprints)
This is just one of many different combos you can try. But feel free to add this simple sprint plan into your next week of training! As you get more adjusted to this plan, you may have to increase the rep count or distance. But this should be a pretty fun plan to try!
Sprints in Action!
Below, our man KJ breaks down his own personal sprinting philosophy. Here you'll gain even more knowledge about sprinting as well as getting a more visual representation of what sprint sessions should look like!
We should also mention that you can use rollers for sprinting too. This is a slightly more advanced style of sprinting as you'll need to learn how to ride the rollers first. But still, it's an effective tool for getting those legs spinning fast even on days when the weather isn't good for bike riding. Below, Factory Pro, Cam Moore tells you all about it!
As you can see, sprints come in an array of different styles. You can do them on an uphill, downhill, change your gearing, off a box, on rollers, and so much more. Obviously we can't cover it all in just one article, but if you want to see more guides similar to this one, let us know!
We here at Supercross BMX want to thank you for taking the time to read this article and wish you the best of luck in Tulsa this year. Be sure to stop by the factory tent at Grands to pick up some stickers or get signatures from your favorite riders! We may even have a few giveaways planned as well. But for now, that’s gonna do it for this article, so get out there and do your sprints!
- Written by Jonnie Vance
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