If you’re interested in maximizing your training time, sprint training should part of your routine. Sprinting has gotten a lot of attention lately due to how it can help with losing body fat and improving energy levels in people from all walks of life.
Scientists are fascinated with sprinting because it stimulates powerful adaptations that you can’t achieve any other way. Additionally, sprint training can be time efficient compared to conventional aerobic exercise and many people like the variation of rest and work intervals that break up the typical monotony of steady-state exercise.
So why is sprinting good for you? Let us count the ways:
#1: Fix Your Metabolism
You probably think of yourself as a fairly healthy person with a decent metabolism. But even if you don’t currently have diabetes, you would be surprised to learn how bad habits like being inactive due to the need to binge on Netflix or overindulging on unhealthy foods can harm your metabolism. Just one high-fat, high-carb meal or a single night out drinking and splurging on bar treats can trigger blood sugar irregularities and inflammation. A day of desk work makes your cells less sensitive to insulin, which in simple terms, means your body spends more time in fat storage mode.
Sprint training, even at lower work intensities (called interval training) will protect your metabolism, restoring insulin health and glucose tolerance. It also forces your body to burn fat and can overcome hormonal imbalances associated with inactivity and poor diet.
#2: Lose Body Fat
By fixing your metabolism, sprint training sets you up to be able to lose excess body fat. Now all you have to do is achieve a calorie deficit. Sprinting helps with this too: Some studies show sprint training blunts appetite and we know for sure that intense bouts of exercise stimulate release of the catecholamine hormones that raise metabolic rate and mobilize fat stores to be burned for energy. Further, sprinting puts you into oxygen debt: Basically, this is when the body uses oxygen at an accelerated rate during the 24-hour period after exercise as you recover from the rigors of training.
How much can you hope to lose? Studies indicate fat loss of up to 5 pounds without altering diet. Reductions of as much as 8 percent body fat are possible from simply adopting a 25-minute sprint workout a few times a week.
#3: Lower Blood Pressure & Protect The Heart
Sprinting is a great tool for maintaining flexibility of the blood vessels and increasing the efficiency and function of the heart. Because sprinting intersperses intense bouts of exercise with prolonged rest, you improve your stroke volume, or the amount of oxygenated blood pumped with each beat.
Your heart rate variability also improves, which refers to how your nervous system responds to and handles stress. Overall, studies show the cardiovascular payoffs from sprint training tend to be greater than with steady-state exercise, leading blood vessels to work better, reducing inflammation that leads to heart disease, and improving the efficiency and function of the heart.
#4: Increase Cognitive Health
We’ve known for a while that exercise can reduce cognitive decline in older individuals, but more recent studies show it may also improve learning. One study found that older participants improved their recall of new vocabulary by 20 percent after sprint interval workouts compared to a group that did no exercise. Another trial found that adolescents who did 10 X 10-second running sprints improved mental processing and increased response time on a well-known psychological test. Other exercise studies show students have better grades and employees have higher incomes when they train intensely on a regular basis.
#5: Delay Aging & Increase Longevity
In addition to helping you maintain muscle mass and keep fat gain at bay, sprint training keeps joints healthy and arthritis free. It also lowers inflammation in the brain that leads to dementia and even stimulates new mitochondria. Mitochondria are little organs in your cells that power your metabolism. Many factors including poor diet, inactivity, and toxin exposure leads to the loss of mitochondria.
Scientists theorize that the loss mitochondria is a key component of aging that leads to greying hair, wrinkled skin, frailty, and disease. Sprint training, along with other forms of intermittent exercise like weight training, lead to the birth of new mitochondria, while optimizing the function of existing ones. The overall effect is healthier aging and a longer lifespan.
#6: Increase Speed, Power & Coordination
Sprinting targets your powerful fast-twitch muscle fibers and trains the elastic component of the muscle, building power and enhancing the brain-to-muscle connection that allows you to react to outside stimulus to catch a ball, jump high, or avoid tripping and falling. Your velocity at maximal efforts increases, but so does your speed at lower intensities. This means a faster 5K time and quicker ability to power up a flight of stairs. You’ll also find that lesser intensity workouts “feel” easier.
#7: Blow Off Stress & Improve Resilience
Sprint workouts are the perfect way to work through stress, boosting mood and improving your mental outlook. Not only do you get the lovely release of beta endorphins that stimulate the “runner’s high,” but sprinting impacts brain chemistry, raising levels of the adrenaline hormones that stimulate the brain. The end result is that you feel on top of the world and are more capable with a higher self-esteem.
#8: Boost Energy & Endurance
If you envy those people who can go and go all day long without any drop in energy, sprint training is for you. Because sprinting improves your body’s ability to produce energy efficiently, optimizing metabolism, it’s a great tool for putting pep in your step. It also improves balance of hormones and other chemical transmitters that regulate how energetic you feel, allowing you to avoid lulls during the day.
How To Get Started?
When it comes to sprint training, the key is to individualize your program. There’s no one-size fits all protocol, but here are some general guidelines:
Novices can start with moderate intensity “sprints:” Pick an exercise modality that you are comfortable with (bike, elliptical, track are a few examples) and do 30 or 60 second “somewhat hard” efforts interspersed with an equal amount of active rest. Start with 6 to 10 minutes of total training time and increase to 20 over the course of a few weeks.
More advanced trainees can try a few well known protocols:
The Wingate Protocol: 30-second maximal effort sprints on a resisted bike or track interspersed with 3-4 minutes active rest. Repeat 4 to 7 times.
New South Wales Protocol: 8-second maximal effort sprints on resisted bike interspersed with 12 seconds active rest repeated for 20 minutes.
Decreasing Distance Protocol: A track running workout of 400 meters followed by 4 minutes rest, 300 meters, followed by 3 minutes rest, 200 meters, followed by 2 minutes rest, and 100 meters.
A few notes to get the most out of your efforts:
Always prioritize recovery, making sure you are consuming adequate water, electrolytes, and high-quality nutrition.
Don’t skimp on sleep. Restful sleep is a time that body performs recovery processes and it’s necessary for release of hormones involved in muscle building and fat burning.
Train against resistance, either with a bike, elliptical, or rowing machine to maximize strength and body composition gains. Hill sprints, stair runs, and high-intensity weight training are other ways to get all the benefits of sprint and strength work at once.