Since the dawn of man, people have been sprinting. Our ancestors sprinted to catch their dinner and to escape becoming dinner, and in more recent years it has been an athletic competition. Sprinting isn’t going anywhere soon, and for good reason: there’s nothing more effective than sprints for fat loss. After a bout of sprinting your body is hustling to recover from the lack of oxygen and to return to its resting state. This process is known as excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC). Your metabolism is ramped up as your body works to recover and you’ll be burning calories long after sprinting.
But melting fat isn’t all sprints are good for. Sprinting has been shown to increase levels of growth hormone (HGH). HGH plays a vital role in building muscle, improving bone strength and improving body composition. So sprinting can actually help you pack on some size, especially in the hamstrings, glutes and abs.
To make the sprinting deal even sweeter, you can be done within 30 minutes including a warmup. So if you’re short on time but still need a good workout, sprinting is the answer.
Where to Sprint
The best place to start sprinting is outdoors on a hill. A grass hill is even better. If you can’t find a hill, an incline on a treadmill will do the trick. Sprinting on a hill or an incline will help prevent one of the main causes of injury: overstriding. Overstriding means your going to pull the hamstring as the leg swings forward and because your leg is ahead of your center of gravity, there will be a ‘braking’ effect. This braking effect is going to slow you down and increase the impact of each stride. Hill sprints force you to run at a safer angle than flat sprints that greatly reduces the risk of pulling a hammy.
Plus, hill sprints are hard as hell.
How to Start Sprinting
Heading outside to sprint at your maximum intensity for the first time is like signing up for a few rounds with George St. Pierre.
You’re going to have to take it down a notch.
Spend 10 minutes thoroughly warming up. Breaking a sweat is an indicator of being good to go. Spend the time performing dynamic flexibility and mobility drills. Some good examples include bodyweight squats, jumping jacks, glute bridges, leg swings, walking lunges, high knees and skipping.
After the warmup, start with some lower intensity sprints. If you’ve found a hill start at an intensity of around 50%, run for 30 yards. Gradually increase the intensity over 3-4 more sprints until you’re sprinting at about 90% of your maximum effort. At 100%, it would feel like a volcanic eruption in your lungs – don’t go that hard. Depending on your ability, you should aim to perform 5-8 of these sprints at 90% intensity.
After a couple of weeks, you might want to make things a bit more difficult. You can up the intensity to your maximum once you’re fully warmed up, sprint a bit further, find a steeper hill, or decrease the rest time between sprints. Keep in mind that your sprint time should always be well under 10 seconds, and your overall workout time should not be longer than half an hour. Most of that time should be spent resting between sprints. If you’ve got the energy to train longer than half an hour then you aren’t working hard enough.
If you don’t live near any hills don’t fret, there’s plenty of good alternatives for the treadmill. To replicate the experience of outdoor hill sprints on a treadmill, here’s what you do:
- Fire up the treadmill and walk on it for a couple of minutes at a slow pace.
- Stand on the sides of the treadmill and set the incline to 10%, and adjust the speed to 8mph/13kmph.
- Once the treadmill is up to speed, get back on and sprint for 20 seconds. To do this without flying into the back wall of the gym, hold on to the hand rails and lower your feet back on to get them moving at the pace of the treadmill. It’s safer than it sounds.
- After 20 seconds, jump off by grabbing the hand rails.
- Rest for 1 minute, and then repeat 10 times.
These sprints might not seem too difficult, but you should perform them at the above speed/incline for at least a week to let your body adjust. After that, you can keep progressing by making incremental changes such as increasing the speed, incline or decreasing rest periods. Just remember to keep your sprints brief. It’s incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to sprint at your maximum intensity for 30 seconds. After all, Olympic sprinters are tanked after 10 seconds.
Just like pumping iron, high intensity work requires lots of rest to recover from. Beginners might need up to 5 days to recover from this sort of conditioning work, but the absolute minimum should be 2 days. Ideally, these workouts should be performed on a day where you don’t have any other training scheduled. However, if you have to do it alongside another workout make sure it’s not after lower body strength training. You’ll put yourself at risk of injury and will not be able to perform at high intensities.
Alongside a good strength programme, performing sprints no more than once or twice will work wonders.
- Relax. Keep your head upright and your shoulders down. Don’t tense up or make any weird faces
- Stand tall. Keep you back straight.
- Don’t clench your fists. Fingers should be slightly curled.
- Pump your arms back and forth in a rhythm with your legs. Your arms should be positioned at right angles, moving forwards and backwards. Don’t let your arms cross your body.
- Use your legs like pistons. Drive your knees forwards and high.
- Your foot should not be striking the ground too far out in front of you.
- You should land on your midfoot. For maximum speed, your heels should not be striking the ground.
The effectiveness of sprinting is tried and tested, and will crank up your metabolism so much that you’ll be burning fat for the next day. All you’ve got to lose by sprinting is bodyfat, so if you’re looking to get faster, get stronger, and get ripped go outside and find a hill to start sprinting.