Sprinting Should Be Part of Your Workouts

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When we were young, we used to sprint to get everywhere! It wasn’t something that we had to think about, it was just the way we got around. But as we age, we tend to slow down and sprinting is no longer the way we move. This is unfortunate, as sprinting has been demonstrated to boost our metabolism by building and maintaining muscle mass. It can also decrease blood pressure and increase human growth hormone production in the body, and that can help with body fat loss and slow the aging process.

So, if you’re able bodied, why would you choose to sprint instead of a 30-minute jog? First of all, a sprint will target the fast-twitch muscle fibers. Everyone has two general types of muscle—slow-twitch and fast-twitch muscle fibers. Although slow-twitch muscle fibers do the majority of the work during slow and moderate aerobic workouts (like a walk or jog), fast-twitch muscle fibers are used for shorter, more explosive movements—like sprinting. 

Fast-twitch movements burn significantly more calories than slow-twitch movements. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, as an activity like sprinting is much more tiresome than an activity like jogging. Sprinting also helps you burn calories long after your workout has concluded via a process known as “excess post-exercise oxygen consumption,” or EPOC. During very intense exercise like sprinting, your body actually uses more oxygen than it takes in. When your workout concludes, your body has to recover from that stress and needs to use oxygen to do so. This process burns calories, largely in the form of fat. Yes, sprinting will help you burn off that extra body fat!

Did you know that doing four 30-second sprints can burn the same number of calories (when you include the EPOC) as a 30-minute jog? This was demonstrated in the following study:

Moreover, sprint intervals also seem to burn visceral fat—a type of fat stored in your abdomen which is particularly dangerous to accumulate—much better than moderate aerobic exercise. This was demonstrated in the following study:

The Effect of High-Intensity Intermittent Exercise on Body Composition of Overweight Young Males. Journal of Obesity. M. Heydari J. Freund, and S. H. Boutcher

But what about building muscle? Sprints are better for that, too. Slow-twitch muscle fibers do not get larger the more you exercise them. Fast-twitch muscle fibers do. So if you want to increase your muscle mass and improve your definition, you should train fast-twitch fibers with activities like sprinting. There’s a reason world class marathon runners look so different from olympic sprinters.

How Many Sprints & How Far?

Although much of the earlier research in this field focused on performing four to six 30-second sprints with 2 minutes of recovery in between, recent findings have found similar benefits can be achieved by performing much shorter sprints. This is great, because sprinting for 30 consecutive seconds can be quite exhausting! While athletes who are required to sprint multiple times per competition need training to mimic such rigors, the average Jane or Joe simply looking to get in better shape can see results from performing a small number of short sprints during their routine.

At BTF, we have come up with the following sprint protocol (do this 1-2 times per week):

Weeks 1 & 2 – 5 sprints*

1- 50% effort for 30 yards

2- 75% effort for 30 yards

3,4,5- full sprint for 30 yards

Weeks 3 & 4 – 5 sprints*

1- 50% effort for 40 yards

2- 75% effort for 40 yards

3,4,5- full sprint for 40 yards

Weeks 5 & 6 – 7 sprints*

1- 50 % effort for 30 yards

2- 75% effort for 30 yards

3,4,5,6,7- full sprint for 30 yards

Weeks 7 & 8 – 7 sprints*

1- 50% effort for 40 yards

2- 75% effort for 40 yards

3,4,5,6,7- full sprint for 40 yards

* recovery between sprints ins 30-60 seconds (approximately the time it takes to slowly walk back to your starting spot)

The good news is that these sprint workouts will only take about 10 minutes. Compare that to a long and kinda boring 30-45 minute jog. You can get the same benefit from a quick and explosive 10-minute sprint workout that you get from that long jog. Plus, long and repeated bouts of jogging can lead to overuse injuries such as plantar fasciitis, shin splints, patellar tendinitis and iliotibial band friction syndrome.

Click here to read more about whether or not jogging is the right or wrong activity for you.

Expert tip to avoid the dreaded hamstring strain that can occur with sprinting: If you’re worried about pulling a muscle, try using a slight incline for your sprint work. An incline will force you to shorten your stride slightly which prevents total end-range hip and knee extension with your landing leg, which is when most hamstring strains occur. The incline will have the added benefit of making you work harder and burn more calories while keeping your hamstrings safer!

If you are serious about feeling and looking good, you should add some sprinting into your training routine. Not only are they effective for helping improve your health, but they are perhaps the most efficient form of exercise you can perform. And notice that I haven’t said anything about a certain speed that you need to achieve to reap the benefits of sprinting. It’s not about trying to be as fast as Usain Bolt, it’s about sprinting as fast as you can go to push your body’s limits. Of course, if you’re concerned about not being healthy enough for intense exercise, consult with your health professional before attempting a sprint training session.

Check out BTF’s Dr. Chad doing a sprint on an incline for about 30 yards (keep in mind he was a discus thrower in college and not a sprinter!)

Dr. Chad Sprinting

 

Dr. Chad Moreau
About Dr. Chad Moreau

Dr. Chad Moreau is the President of Back to Function, a sports chiropractic office dedicated to providing elite quality care for athletes and athletic-minded clients. He is also the Chiropractic Consultant for the Los Angeles Kings (NHL) and the Team Chiropractor for the Los Angeles Dodgers. He can be contacted at drchad@backtofunction.com.

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