HIGH SPEED STATIONARY CYCLING: AN OVERLOOKED TRAINING METHOD
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, a variety of sprint-assisted training methods were tested at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) that examined the many factors influencing an athlete’s speed of movement in team sports. At VCU summer speed camps, curiosity seekers were astonished to see athletes being towed on a track behind a motor scooter. At that time, other towing methods were not yet perfected. It was a period also when researchers were much more aware of the influence ground contact forces had on the start, acceleration, stride length, stride rate and the maximum speed of athletes than other factors. Neuromuscular training received little attention and stride rate was perceived as an unchangeable gift of genetics.
There was also no emphasis on the role of fast and slow twitch muscle fibers and the effects of training on the various fiber types. Few researchers even had the ability to conduct pre and post-test muscle biopsy studies to examine the changes occurring in fiber types following various training programs. In addition, coaches recognized that acceleration was the key to success in team sports and very few athletes reached their maximum speed during competition. After all, a 60-80 meter sprint to reach maximum speed is a rare occurrence in football, rugby, soccer, baseball, field hockey, and lacrosse and impossible in sports such as basketball and tennis.
What became most evident during these early years was how much researchers did not know about training to improve speed. This led to a group of studies to isolate almost every training program imaginable to determine the effects on the start, acceleration and speed. A study by Dr. Dintiman in 1964 (The effects of various training programs on running speed, Research Quarterly, 35: December, 1964, 456- 463) and 1966 (The relationship between the ratio leg strength/body weight and running speed, Journal of the Connecticut HPER, 12: May, 1966, 5-7) had already revealed encouraging findings on the importance of weight training and flexibility training, used in conjunction with sprint training, on speed in a short sprint. Studies designed to improve stride rate also led to the invention of the Sprint Master, a machine developed by John Dolan, Mike Watkins and George Dintiman in the early 1980s. Eventually, cost of production, the confinement to one-on-one training and new evidence made the apparatus impractical as it yielded to the use of other approaches to the improvement of stride rate.
High Speed Cycling
One of the least popular sprint-assisted programs eventually tested was high speed cycling; in spite of the potential to improve a number of factors associated with sprinting speed. Very few studies had examined the effect of this method on speed endurance, stride rate and maximum speed even though stationary cycles were readily available and easily adaptable to most speed training programs. In addition, wind resistance, gravity, and body weight are eliminated to allow athletes to complete more revolutions per second (similar to steps in sprinting) than they are capable of completing during the sprinting action. Although the muscular movements of cycling and sprinting are not the same, the possibility of neuromuscular transfer does exists and it was theorized that high speed cycling involving low resistance for maximum revolutions and high resistance for improving speed endurance and speed-strength would improve speed in short sprints.
Although evidence was revealed by
Increased Stride Rate
The immediate after effects of high speed cycling are tested by utilizing high speed cycling only minutes before a running or sprinting event. Studies have demonstrated that athletes performing a rhythmic activity for an extended period of time involuntary continue the movement pattern. An example of this phenomenon, referred to as perseveration, examined the rate of leg turnover (stride rate) in triathlon runners immediately following the cycling portion of the race. Faster cadences with low resistance in cycling substantially increased the subsequent average running speed and stride rate of runners during the race (Jinger S. Gottschall and Bradley M. Palmer; The Acute Effects of Prior Cycling Cadence on Running Performance and Kinematics). Participants ran faster primarily by increasing stride frequency. Immediately after each cycling bout, the participants ran with a stride frequency that reflected the prior cycling cadence. Studies employing the use of towing with surgical tubing 10-15 minutes before a competitive 100-meter dash yielded similar results and showed an increase in stride rate and speed.
The long-term effects of high speed cycling on stride rate involve training to improve two areas: ground contact forces and swing time or time in the air as the feet switch position. Of the two, ground contact time is the most important and training is designed to increase the force of the push- off and reduce the time the foot spends on the ground. Gains in speed-strength that also involve a significant change in the athlete’s strength-weight ratio is critical to faster leg turnover. The greater the strength-weight ratio, the faster the leg turnover (stride rate). Although ground contact forces have long been the target of training to improve stride length, the same type of training has also been shown to improve stride rate. Findings by a Harvard research team revealed the importance of strength-weight ratios, referred to as Mass-specific force applied to the ground, as the key contributor to improvement in stride length and rate. Strength-weight ratios are changed by altering current training methods slightly to increase speed-strength and reduce body fat to minimum levels. The leg strength/body weight and other strength-weight ratios in the NASE testing battery can be used to measure changes produced by a properly prepared speed-strength program. The second area of stride rate, swing time, or recovery phase when the leg swings from the hip while the foot clears the ground, does not appear to be as important as ground contact forces with world class sprinters differing only slightly from other sprinters in the time required to reposition the legs in the air.
Although the VCU studies showed carry-over to flat surface unaided sprinting with increased stride rates (measured during a flying 40-yard dash) and overall times, only a small number of subjects were used and training protocols involved a combination of high speed cycling at a resistance that allowed individual maximum revolutions per minute and heavy resistance settings for short bursts. Changes in stride rate could have occurred from changes in speed-strength and the high resistance portion of the program.
Speed endurance programs that mimic the length of the sprint (time in seconds), the rest period between repetitions (10-40 yard sprints at 25-30 second intervals for football), and alter resistance or load are recommended. The objective is to make high speed cycling as close to actual game conditions as possible. Stationary cycling can be adapted to any sport since it permits the use of repeated high speed, low to high resistance, and repetitions that simulate the distance or time and rest intervals of most activities. Used as a supplement to, and not a replacement for, traditional speed endurance programs used in football and other sports, such as interval sprint training, cycling has considerable potential for improving and maintaining speed endurance.
Rehabilitation from Injury
Stationary cycling is commonly used by athletic trainers to help maintain existing levels of endurance (muscular and cardiovascular) for injured athletes with limited exercise choices. Returning to competition with an acceptable level of aerobic fitness, percent of body fat, and speed endurance is critical and stationary cycling is often the exercise mode of choice.
High speed cycling programs should be used with one other method, such as towing or downhill sprinting. Resistance is adjusted to find the optimum load that allows the athlete to reach his maximum pedaling speed. A load that is too light or too heavy will not allow the athlete to reach maximum revolutions. A tapering off period of 10 seconds occurs after each pedaling repetition. This tapering off period returns the athlete to a slow cadence in preparation for the next repetition. Athletes are told to continue pedaling this slow cadence of 25-30 revolutions per minute while in the two minute recovery period.
Individual maximum speed pedaling is also used with medium to high resistance for 3-8 sets of 2- 10 seconds duration to target speed strength and speed endurance.
Cycling can be performed indoors using a stationary cycle or outdoors using a racing bicycle that allows use of the gears to regulate low and high resistance pedaling.