Sprint interval training is easily one of the most effective forms of exercise, making you stronger, leaner, and fitter. Sprints have also been found to improve cardiovascular health, prevent depression, improve cognition, and prevent diabetes.
Then there are the performance benefits of sprint training:
Increased endurance and work capacity,
Improved mental toughness,
Greater vertical jump
Of course the one drawback to sprint training is that it can feel a little rough, especially when you’re doing the same workout over and over again. Memories of the physical pain can drag on you to the point where you dread your workout. This is when you need to mix things up. A new routine can make all the difference by providing you with mental relief.
The key to designing alternative workouts is to mimic the principles used in sprint training:
1) Use strenuous bursts of activity that are short enough to preserve peak effort.
2) Target the glycolytic energy system, using work bouts that last between 20 and 60 seconds in length.
3) Use short rest intervals that are long enough to allow for work intensity to be maintained. This is typically somewhere in the range of 10 seconds to 1 minute.
4) Use sufficient work bouts so that you get the body to start producing lactate. Long interval workouts don’t exist—they should last less than 30 minutes total, and most should be closer to the 20-minute range.
With those principles in mind, here are five research proven alternatives to sprint training.
#1: HIT With Weights
High-intensity training with weights is an excellent way to mimic the physiological overload of sprinting, while simultaneously maintaining strength and keeping things interesting. An Italian study provides an example of a program that triggers a massive EPOC, which is code for excess post-exercise oxygen consumption and a fancy way to say the elevated calorie burn you get in the 24-hour recovery period after a tough workout.
Trained young men did a 30 minute HIT workout with weights that consisted of leg press, chest press, and pull downs at an intensity of 85 percent of the 1RM. They did 6 reps, rested for 30 seconds, then repped out until failure, rested 20 more seconds and repped out again. Then they rested for 2 minutes and repeated the same protocol for3 sets per lift.
This resulted in a 25 percent increase in calorie burn (452 extra calories) compared to at rest. Lactate, which are a marker of the intensity of the workout, was 10 mmol/L. Anything over 4 mmol/L indicates that the training program is metabolically intense.
This is just one example of a how to apply interval training principles to weight workouts. In designing your own workouts always use multi-joint exercises, high reps, and moderately heavy weights with little rest.
#2: Battle Ropes
According to a recent study that compared the oxygen consumption of 13 exercises, battling ropes are the most challenging, eliciting the greatest metabolic demand.
Researchers compared oxygen consumption (a marker of calorie burn during training) between battle ropes and host of other exercises including burpees, push ups, planks, squats, deadlifts, and lunges.
The battle ropes resulted in an average 10.3 calories burned per minute during training compared to squats and deadlifts which produced an average energy expenditure ranging from 7.2 to 8.2 cal/min. The battle rope protocol was 3 sets of 30 seconds of training interspersed with 2-minute rest.
Be aware that there are two pitfalls to battle rope training: First, people often take it easy, only using their arms. Instead, you need to give a maximal effort and put your whole body into your effort in order to elicit a worthwhile effect.
Second, novices often don’t have the core strength or total body coordination to achieve the necessary overload. Therefore, it’s best to develop baseline strength in the traditional exercises of squat, deadlift, etc., prior to using battle ropes for conditioning.
#3: Sled Training
Sled training in which you push a weighted sled as fast as you can is an excellent way to build strength and fitness simultaneously. It has the added bonus of using primarily concentric lower body motions, which minimizes muscle damage and post-workout muscle soreness.
Sled workouts should typically use intervals of 25 yards for 5 sets with up to 75 percent of body weight loaded on the sled. Novices can start with just the sled and work their way up. You can try sled pushes and drags for variety.
#4: Heavy Carries
Heavy carries, such as farmer’s walk in which you carry a weight in each hand, are a fantastic way to build strength and stamina. They target all the muscles of the hip, core, back, and arms, while also training your grip, which is an often-overlooked part of the body.
Start with the farmer’s walk. Ideally, you want to avoid using dumbbells because they will bang against your legs and can alter your natural motion, putting your back at risk. Top quality gyms have special implements for farmer’s walk but you can also load up two barbells and carry one in each hand. Obviously you want to put the same weight on each barbell!
Progress to sandbag carries (literally carrying a heavy sandbag a set distance) or a suitcase carry in which you carry a heavy kettlebell on one side. Yoke training, which is done with a special implement called a yoke (surprise!) is also recommended if your gym has it.
#5: Leg Press To Exhaustion
This exercise is a little trick for leaning out the upper thigh area, which is a particularly stubborn area for some women, because it targets the beta lypolytic fat cells in that region. It is best used at the end of your workout after traditional strength training.
Get in the leg press machine with a moderate amount of weight and go until exhaustion—ideally 2 minutes. Rest 2 minutes and repeat three times. Try to lower the weight on a controlled 4-second count and raise it as fast as possible.