Speed Kills, Sprinting Builds

The Holy Grail of Physique Transformation

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Most lifters hardly ever sprint, which is a shame. It’s one of the best exercises – if not THE best exercise – for getting strong, jacked, lean, and athletic.

If speed kills, then sprinting builds. Harnessing its magic can take your physique and performance to the next level.

Five Reasons You’ve Gotta Sprint

1. It’s unparalleled for fat loss.

One meta-analysis compiled data from 70 studies and found that, on average, sprinting led to a higher reduction in body fat than both conventional high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and moderate-intensity continuous training by 39.6% and 91.8%, respectively.

The conclusion? Sprinting is the most potent fat-burner there is. It’s not even close. It also smokes the core – especially the rectus abdominis – which is a double whammy for sculpting abs like Sylvester Stallone in Rocky IV.

2. It accelerates muscle growth.

Sprinting contributes to muscle growth in two unique ways. First, it increases the proportion of type-II fast-twitch muscle fibers in the lower half – namely in the glutes, hamstrings, and calves – which have the most potential for muscle growth.

Second, it’s been shown to increase protein synthesis and HGH release (by up to 230% and 500%, respectively), boost testosterone, improve insulin sensitivity, and increase mTOR signaling for up to two hours post-training, all of which are directly linked to muscle growth (not to mention fat loss, strength, and recovery).

3. It develops strength and power.

Sprinting’s impact on strength and power boils down to the fact that it’s at the peak of maximal speed on the force-velocity curve.

That means sprinting hits the central nervous system – the driver of all force, essentially – harder than just about anything else. As a result, it increases inter- and intra-muscular coordination, which leads to increased force production between muscles, enhanced ability of individual muscles to contract faster and with more force, and ultimately massive improvements in force potential.

4. It builds a robust work capacity.

On top of improving strength-endurance and anaerobic power, sprinting facilitates improvements in aerobic capacity just as well as (if not better than) aerobic training, which makes it tough to beat for building work capacity.

By building up your work capacity, you’ll increase your ability to tolerate higher workloads, sustain peak performance for longer periods of time, and recover faster in the short-term (within a training session) and long-term (between training sessions).

5. It makes you better at everything.

Want to lose fat while maintaining (or gaining) muscle? Sprint. Want to gain muscle without putting on fat? Sprint. Want to get stronger while improving your body composition in the process? Sprint. How about increasing your life expectancy? Sprinting has been shown to do that, too.

Wait, Isn’t Sprinting Dangerous?

Not really. The only truly “dangerous” exercises are the ones the body isn’t prepared for. Sprinting is no exception.

In fact, for as long as humans have been around, being able to sprint fast has been a means of survival. Imagine if our ancestors had avoided sprinting in fear of pulling their hammies? They would’ve ended up as dinner for saber-toothed tigers.

Granted, if you haven’t sprinted since your last day of peewee football, venturing out to your local track and going all-out on day one is a bad idea. A better approach is to develop a smart plan, follow some basic guidelines, and listen to your body. Here’s how to start.

Sprinter

The Plan and The Details

two main variables should be considered to reduce injury risk and set yourself up for success. First, start with shorter distances in the first couple of weeks – between 20-30 yards per sprint – and cap the total distance per session at around 150 yards.

Second, progress from slow(er) to fast. If you haven’t sprinted for a while, stay between 80-90% for the first couple of weeks to get accustomed to sprinting all over again.

Sample 6-Week Plan (One Session Per Week)

Week One: 7 x 10/20/20

  • 2 x 10 yards using 80-85% intensity
  • 2 x 20 yards using 85-90% intensity
  • 3 x 20 yards using 90-95% intensity

Week Two: 8 x 10/20/30

  • 2 x 10 yards using 85-90% intensity
  • 2 x 20 yards using 90-95% intensity
  • 4 x 30 yards using 90-95% intensity

Week Three: 8 x 20/30/30

  • 2 x 20 yards using 85-90% intensity
  • 2 x 30 yards using 90-95% intensity
  • 4 x 30 yards using 95-97% intensity

Week Four: 9 x 20/30/40/40

  • 1 x 20 yards using 85-90% intensity
  • 1 x 30 yards using 90-95% intensity
  • 2 x 40 yards using 90-95% intensity
  • 5 x 40 yards using 95-97% intensity

Week Five: 9 x 20/30/40/40

  • 1 x 20 yards using 85-90% intensity
  • 1 x 30 yards using 90-95% intensity
  • 1 x 40 yards using 90-95% intensity
  • 6 x 40 yards using 95-97% intensity

Week Six: 10 x 20/30/40/50

  • 1 x 20 yards using 85-90% intensity
  • 1 x 30 yards using 90-95% intensity
  • 2 x 40 yards using 95-97% intensity
  • 6 x 50 yards using 95-97% intensity

When and Where to Sprint

No track? No problem. Treadmills are a good option for those who can’t sprint regularly. However, since they don’t allow for all-out sprinting, the distances and intensities will differ. Try experimenting to find what works.

The other piece of the puzzle is figuring out where to plug sprints into your training. The answer really depends on figuring out what works best for you. There are three primary options:

1. Separate your sprints from lifting days.

If you can get out and sprint on one of your “off” days, doing sprints a couple of days before or after hitting a lower body lift is ideal. However, once you get accustomed to it, lifting and sprinting on back-to-back days can work as long as you don’t overdo it.

2. Swap out a lifting day for a sprint day.

Subbing out a regular lower-body lifting day for an intensive sprinting day can be a powerful way to kick-start new gains once you get back into the gym.

3. Do them prior to training.

You’ll probably have to dial back the volume if you’re sprinting before lifting. But doing 4-5 short sprints can be effective for firing up the CNS, potentiating the system, and setting the table for muscle growth.

After 6 weeks, you can play around with different distances, intensities, frequencies, and total volume. The beauty of sprinting is that it’s inherently self-organizing and self-regulating, meaning there’s no need to jack up the volume or distances to “chase” progressive overload. The longer you do it, the faster you get, and the faster you get, the harder it becomes.

Sprinting Guidelines

Do a thorough warm-up.

Start with 5 minutes of light movement – say, an easy jog – to get some blood flow going and increase your core temperature. After that, do a brief ground-based warm-up consisting of some basic mobility drills (like adductor rocks) and “activation” movements (like glute bridges) that you’re familiar with.

Finally, go through a dynamic warm-up consisting of 4-6 movements, progressing from low-level (extensive) to high-level (intensive) plyometrics. End with 4-5 build-up sprints, progressing in intensity in 10-15% increments.

Here’s an example:

  1. Low Pogo Jump (1 x 10)
  2. High Pogo Jump (1 x 10)
  3. A-Skip (1 x 10 yards)
  4. Power Skip for Height (1 x 20 yards)
  5. Power Skip for Distance (1 x 20 yards)
  6. Bound (1 x 20 yards)
  7. 20-yard sprint using 50% effort
  8. 20-yard sprint using 60% effort
  9. 20-yard sprint using 70% effort
  10. 20-yard sprint using 80% effort

Leave a little bit of gas in the tank.

Despite making hardly any difference from a benefits standpoint, sticking within the 95-97% intensity range is far easier to recover from than going all-out at 100%. Whereas the latter can have lingering effects for days – like hitting a true 1-RM lift – the former is considerably less taxing on the system. By leaving some gas in the tank, you’ll be able to recover significantly faster without taking away from future workouts.

Find the work-rest sweet spot.

The most important component of sprinting for body composition purposes is intensity, meaning that the quality of the sprints is more important than the rest periods taken in between. Determining how much rest is needed, then, is a balancing act between resting long enough to sprint at high intensities (while maintaining good technique) without taking so long that you’re out there all day.

Shoot for good (enough) technique.

Most lifters who care about the benefits of sprinting more than they do about their speed should focus on developing a “good enough” technique so as to not get hurt. To reduce injury risk, stay relatively loose, try to be “springy” rather than heavy, drive the knees up (rather than letting them drag), and transition smoothly between acceleration and top speed (rather than rushing it).

Give yourself some room to slow down.

A lot of hamstring injuries occur while decelerating, so give yourself some breathing room – 20 yards or so – to slow down.

Four Other Options

If you can’t sprint due to pain, previous injuries, contraindications, etc., try these options:

Hill Sprints

They’re the most foolproof option for lifters due to their joint-friendliness. They slow you down, involve minimal impact, put the body in a “safer” position due to the decreased footfall (which prevents over-striding), and reduce overall joint stress. Plus, they don’t require any fancy equipment – just a hill or an incline treadmill.

Resisted (or Light Sled) Sprints

Similar to hill sprints, resisted sprints – either with special equipment (as shown) or sleds – are a joint-friendly alternative to regular sprints because they slow you down, reduce impact, and give a little bit more wiggle room in terms of technique and deceleration.

Curved Treadmill Sprints

For those who have access to them, curved (non-motorized) treadmills are a good option to get most of the benefits of sprinting while reducing impact by up to 85%, according to some studies.

Assault/AirDyne Bike Sprints

If all else fails, going all-out on an Assault or AirDyne bike for brief bouts of effort is a fair alternative to sprinting. It isn’t the same, but it’s as close as it gets from an intensity standpoint.

Related:
How to Sprint on a Treadmill

Related:
4 Anabolic Metcon Workouts

References

  1. Rizzo, Nicholas. “Sprint Interval Training: Burn 40% More Fat Than HIIT in 60% Less Time.” RunRepeat, 31 Mar. 2019, runrepeat.com/sprint-interval-training.
  2. Sandvei, Marit et al. “Sprint interval running increases insulin sensitivity in young healthy subjects.” Archives of physiology and biochemistry vol. 118,3 (2012): 139-47.
  3. Nevill, M. E., et al. “Growth hormone responses to treadmill sprinting in sprint-and endurance-trained athletes.” European journal of applied physiology and occupational physiology 72.5-6 (1996): 460-467.
  4. Abernethy, P J et al. “Acute and chronic responses of skeletal muscle to endurance and sprint exercise. A review.” Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.) vol. 10,6 (1990): 365-89.
  5. Sözen, Hasan, et al. “The Effects of Aerobic and Anaerobic Training on Aerobic and Anaerobic Capacity.” The Journal of International Anatolia Sport Science 3.3 (2018): 331-337.
  6. Robinson, Matthew M et al. “Enhanced Protein Translation Underlies Improved Metabolic and Physical Adaptations to Different Exercise Training Modes in Young and Old Humans.” Cell metabolism vol. 25,3 (2017): 581-592.
Charley Gould, CSCS, is a former professional baseball player and strength-and-conditioning coach. He specializes in helping individuals look, feel, and perform like elite athletes. Charley is the head of sports performance at Universal Athletic Club in Lancaster, PA. Follow Charley Gould on Instagram