Cycling, Podcast, Science and Physiology

Including sprint training in cycling – training responses and peformance improvements with Nicki Winfield Almquist, PhD | EP#300

 August 23, 2021

By  Mikael Eriksson


Nicki Winfield Almquist, PhD, is a researcher at University of Copenhagen, Denmark. In this interview, we discuss the effects on performance as well as acute muscular and hormonal responses of including sprints in otherwise low-intensity cycling (and other endurance) training. 

In this Episode you'll learn about:

  • Effects on (cycling) performance of including sprints in otherwise low-intensity, long-duration endurance training
  • Muscular and hormonal responses to this type of training
  • Recovery time-course when including sprints
  • How might the results seen in studies in cyclists translate to running and swimming?
  • Practical applications - when, how and why might triathletes benefit from including sprints in their endurance training?

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03:25 -

  • My name is Nicki Winfield Almquist and I am a doctor in exercise physiology.

    In my spare time I am an avid amateur cyclist.

Introducing sprint training into endurance cycling training

05:00 -

  • The main theme of my research is on introducing sprint training in lower intensity endurance rides.

    In total we have published 6 studies on this topic, with slightly different angles.
  • From a hormonal response we didn’t see too big of a difference between the groups that included and not included the sprints.
  • In terms of muscular responses, the results are slightly hard to interpret but overall it appears that introducing sprints into endurance training stimulates mitochondrial biogenesis, improved vascularization of muscles and fat burning capacity more than just regular endurance training.

    However, these are only indications.
  • In regards to performance, the sprint group unsurprisingly increased their sprint performance but also maintained their 20mins time trial power compared to the ”endurance only” group that decreased their 20mins power.

    It is also important to state that the ”sprint group” didn’t improve their VO2max during the course of the study.
  • To clarify, the study protocol for the sprint group was 9 ”sprints!” during the course of a 4h ride, so it is not massively hard in terms of total energy expenditure.
  • In terms of recovery and perceived exertions between introducing or not introducing sprints in the low intensity endurance rides the recovery process did not appear to be affected much.

    In regards to perceived exertion, the athletes rated the sessions with sprints harder to start with but after a while the athletes rated the sessions with or without sprints fairly the same (they habituated to the sprint training).

Implementing this concept to running (and swimming)

37:00 -

  • For running, sprints are very effective in order to improve running economy (6 weeks of sprint training could improve running economy by about 2 %).

    However, the impact is rather high, and hence one could instead contemplate executing the sprints uphills.
  • Just speculating, but I do believe that introducing sprints in the swim training could generate the same results, however, this is just speculating.

Implementing the research

43:15 -

  • For professional athletes, introducing sprints in endurance rides could be a possible implementation of the research.
  • Many professional athletes do these kind of sprint training to prepare for the classic races as the sprints mimic the demands of these kind of races.

    But also time trial athletes that have a more steady output during their races could improve from this kind of training.
  • It does not appear that the sprint training only improve the anaerobic and sprint capacity, it also improves your aerobic capacity.

My current research

50:30 - 

  • My current research is focused on nutrition and how well-trained athletes respons to different compositions of macro nutrients.

Rapid fire questions

51:30 -

  • What is your favorite book, blog or resource related to endurance sports? Everything that comes from Alex Hutchinson!
  • What is a habit that you have benefited from, athletically, personally or professionally? Athletically I was trying to do everything better but also be satisfied with what you do.
  • Who is somebody you look up to and/or has inspired you? Professionally I have been super inspired by late professor Bengt Saltin.


Mikael Eriksson

I am a full-time triathlon coach, founder of Scientific Triathlon, and host of the top-rated podcast That Triathlon Show. I am from Finland but live in Lisbon, Portugal.

Please contact me if you have feedback on the podcast or want to make suggestions for improvement or send in a question for a Q&A episode.

If you are a long-time listener and appreciate the value the podcast brings, please consider taking a couple of minutes for leaving a rating and review on iTunes/Apple Podcasts, or wherever else you can think of leaving a rating and review.

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