By Chris Garay
Sprinting is awesome, and everyone should do it. Agreed? Okay, great, thanks for reading!
Okay, so maybe there is a bit more to it than that. My mission here today is two-fold: first, to persuade each and every reader to try at least one sprint session this week, and second, to offer some practical tips on how to add sprints into your fitness routine most effectively.
The Benefits of Sprinting
Let’s play a quick game. I will describe an activity, and you will guess what it is. First up: you sit in your car not moving for a long time while other angry drivers nearby honk and yell. If you guessed, “stuck in traffic,” you were correct! (Just making sure you are still paying attention.)
Next up, you lose body fat, build lean muscle mass, increase your endurance and conditioning, improve both heart and brain health, and build mental toughness, all while investing minimal time each week. Any guesses? Ding ding ding! The answer is, “Sprinting!”
Now to be clear, sprinting can mean different things for different people. For instance, what Usain Bolt calls a sprint workout and what the average Joe calls a sprint workout are two vastly different things. While running at high speeds is great, other options include cycling, rowing, swimming or even jumping rope. And keep in mind that ‘fast’ is a relative term: what matters most is that each individual pushes themselves towards and beyond their own perceived limits.
So whether you are simply trying to lose some body fat, beat your old 5K time or just stay healthy, the choice is clear: you will benefit from adding sprints into your fitness routine.
Preparing to Sprint Properly
This is the time where if you and I were working together one-on-one, then I might give you different advice based on who you are, how you move, and what your goals are. However, there are some general tips and tricks you can try to get the most from your sprint sessions.
First, choose where you will be sprinting. My preferred location is a grassy field with a slight incline, but really any area where you feel safe running quickly could work. Be sure the area is relatively clear of debris, as the last thing you want to be thinking about when sprinting is whether or not you will step on something. As stated earlier, you could also try sprints elsewhere: on a treadmill, on a bike, on a rower, in a pool, etc. The possibilities are endless.
Second, be sure to warm up before sprinting. When running I like to include various multi-planar and multi-directional agility drills in my sprint warm-ups, such as high knees, butt kicks, skips, side shuffles, and cross-overs (also known as the “carioca” drill). There is no need to over-analyze these drills, but a few simple YouTube or Google searches can help with the form and technique. Pick a feasible distance for you (probably anywhere from 20 to 100 yards), and perform the drill down one way while walking back the other for rest.
Sprint Workout Options
Now, once again, you have options as to how you would like to proceed. I will offer two paradigms for your sprint workouts, one based on perceived effort, and one based on time.
For the first example, I want you to sprint the first set at about 50 percent of your maximum effort. (No one is measuring here, but this can be a great exercise in body awareness.) During your sprint, concentrate on staying light on your feet, moving quickly and breathing. On your walk back to the starting line, take lots of deep inhales in through your nose if possible, and exhale slowly. From here, each set should gradually increase in perceived effort:
-Set #1: 50 percent
-Set #2: 60 percent
-Set #3: 70 percent
-Set #4: 75 percent
-Set #5: 80 percent
-Set #6: 85 percent
-Set #7: 90 percent
-Set #8: 95 percent
-Set #9: 100 percent
Depending on your athletic prowess and the distance you have chosen to sprint, this entire workout, including the warm-up, should take less than 30 minutes. However, if you are low on time, you could also skip the 75%, 85%, and 95% sets, thus making the workout even shorter.
For the second example, be sure to have a watch on you that can easily record both sprint and rest intervals. There are many possibilities, so here are three that emphasize fat loss, endurance, conditioning, and work capacity:
Option #1: Sprint 10 seconds, Rest 50 seconds, Repeat for 10-12 sets
Option #2: Sprint 20 seconds, Rest 40 seconds, Repeat for 8-10 sets
Option #3: Sprint 30 seconds, Rest 30 seconds, Repeat for 6-8 sets
Here are a few examples that emphasize muscle building, speed, and fast-twitch muscle fibers:
Option #4: Sprint 15 seconds, Rest 1:45, Repeat for 6-8 sets
Option #5: Sprint 30 seconds, Rest 2:30, Repeat for 4-6 sets
Option #6: Sprint 45 seconds, Rest 3:15, Repeat for 3-5 sets
Like I said, the possibilities here are endless, but the key thing is that you go out and try it! If you are newer to exercise and fitness, then the classic “Tabata” protocol could work well: 8 sets of a 20 second sprint followed by a 10 second rest. However, if you are a seasoned athlete, then you could even try something as brutal as sprinting all-out for 1 minute, resting for 7 minutes, then repeat for 3 sets. (If you happen to do that one, then be sure to let me know!)
The Bottom Line
Sprinting is awesome, and everyone should do it. You see? I told you we would agree. Whether you have a few pounds to lose, are trying to build some muscle, or have an upcoming road race, you should add sprints into your fitness routine. Thanks for reading, and best of luck training.
Chris Garay is a instructor at Fitness on the Run in Old Town Alexandria. He holds his Bachelors Degree from the University of Virginia and literally dozens of health and fitness certifications. Chris has dabbled in triathlon, trail running, yoga, CrossFit, Olympic lifting, powerlifting, gymnastics and many other athletics. Along the way, he earned a degree in philosophy and religious studies and is currently pursuing graduate studies in health, movement, and well-being. Come visit Chris at www.fitnessontherun.net.
“Eight Reasons Everyone Should Do Sprints.” Poliquin Group. Web. 30 April 2014. https://www.poliquingroup.com/ArticlesMultimedia/Articles/Article/989/Eight_Reasons_Everyone_Should_Do_Sprints.aspx
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