Here's what you need to know...
- Sprinting isn't the primary method for muscle growth, but like all speed work, it can quickly get you bigger.
- A few sprint workouts during mass phases can greatly reduce bodyfat accumulation and also increase insulin sensitivity so you get even leaner in the process.
- Doing some speed work immediately after your warm-up will potentiate the CNS, thereby increasing force output.
Sprinting has typically been associated with athletic development rather than as a way to acquire quality muscle mass. However, while in many ways sprinters and bodybuilders couldn't be more different, the fact is there's considerable overlap between the two disciplines and you can exploit this overlap in your pursuit of bigger, stronger legs.
Speed work such as sprinting isn't the primary method for muscle growth, but it does "speed up" the hypertrophy process. So think of sprinting as a secondary technique for size, one that can get us to our size destination much faster.
Here's how specific speed work and sprinting can help you with your physique.
1. Speed Work Prevents Fat Gain
Speed training creates a huge metabolic disturbance and is one of the best methods for losing or maintaining fat stores. According to the many DEXA scans I've run on athletes and clients, body fat stores rapidly decrease and muscle size increases once sprinting is employed. One reason is the effect (and after-effect) sprinting has on our underlying physiology. Sprinting significantly increases EPOC, or post-exercise oxygen consumption, which sucks up calories like a sponge for hours after high intensity training.
This can really assist your efforts during mass phases by limiting unwanted fat gain. Keep in mind that you only need a few hundred calories to pack on a single pound of muscle, while any extra will be diverted to fat stores. Sprinting effectively establishes a safeguard against this all too common bulking pitfall.
Additionally, since a leaner body is more insulin sensitive and has less aromatase (estrogenic) activity, it's in your best interest to keep body fat to a reasonable level – even while adding size.
2. Speed Work Improves Anaerobic Conditioning Levels
The more work we do in the hypertrophy training zones (70-85% of 1RM), the better we can grow. Sprinting can ensure that the specific energy support systems (alactic and lactic) that fuel performance in these zones are performing at optimal levels. This will generate greater rep work output, resulting in more muscle growth.
3. Speed Work Potentiates the CNS
By sequencing some speed work immediately after your warm-up or movement prep but before strength work, your CNS and force output will be far greater, resulting in more growth.
Furthermore, even general speed training will induce specific adaptations in the neuromuscular system (i.e., rate of motor unit recruitment, synchronization, etc.) that will allow the body to generate force faster. The faster you can summon force, the more total force you can generate during a rep attempt. This allows you to lift more weight and complete more volume, two of the most important variables for building muscle mass.
4. Speed Work is a Form of Progressive Overload
Barbells, dumbbells, and kettlebells are forms of external resistance. However, sprinting offers a not-so-common form of resistance by way of the momentum of our body mass, which creates another essential source of overload.
Studies show that the landing impact during sprinting can exceed three times bodyweight. Multiply this across several foot contacts during a sprint and you can see both the challenge and benefit that this type of training can bring for promoting tissue growth.
5. Speed Work Functions as Supplemental Hip Training
Sprinting is a good general test for hamstring strength, since the hamstrings are the dominant muscle group in sprinting. The specific joint angles that occur during a sprint mimic a reverse hyper, a staple supplemental exercise for people looking to get strong or big. Integrating some speed work into your training helps address weaknesses at the posterior chain and ensures that this area is contributing maximally during your lifts.
Real World Evidence
Powerlifters are very big and strong. They also do a form of direct speed work in their training programming called Dynamic Effort work, which is markedly similar to sprinting. Their speed work helps recruit more mass, increase force production, drive through sticking points, and provide a new source of stimulus to prevent stagnancy – not to mention putting on size!
Another example of individuals who do speed work, obviously, is sprinters. Many are very muscular and extremely lean, often without doing much resistance training work. Of course, the best of the best have genetic advantages that influence their results, but clearly sprinting helps accentuate their genetic gifts.
These sprinters are generally very muscular because the conditions required for growth are all present during sprinting – general overload, volume-fatigue, and high eccentric contractions.
Note: You must start with an Acceleration/Speed Prep Phase. This is designed to increase specific strength of the sprinting musculature and improve coordination, flexibility, and mobility. It also helps prevent the initial muscle strain that often occurs when someone integrates standard sprinting into his program without preparing for it.
- Week 1: 5 x 5-second sprints on treadmill at an incline.
- Week 2: 5 x 20-yard sled sprints using bodyweight + bodyweight as external load.
- Week 3: 5-10 x 10-yard sprints
- Week 4: 5 x 20-yard sprints
If you're an athlete, you could expand this to 40 yards x 3 reps in week #5, but there's no need to train at a greater distance if you're just looking to get big and strong. Twenty yards is sufficient and safer, too.
The progressions provided will still enable you to build speed and power, groove your sprint pattern, limit fatigue, and reduce the rate by which the limbs have to react – all of which can be a source of sprinting injury. By the fourth week you should be ready to go with standard sprint training.
Here's how to apply your sprint work into a 3-day "modified" Westside Barbell template. If you prefer to train 4 days a week, make sure to sprint every other training day on lower body days only, so you enable full recovery and limit both local neural fatigue and lower body muscular fatigue.
3 Day Template
- Day 1
- Max Effort Lower
- Supplemental Work
- Day 2
- Max Effort Upper
- Supplemental Work
- Day 3
- Dynamic Effort Lower
- Supplemental Work