Okay, the gym is closed and you need a quick workout that will help you stay fit. Sprint training is a great solution. Not only are sprint workouts fast and furious, but they ease stress, boost mood, maintain muscle mass, and give your metabolism a lift.
When it comes to sprint workouts, you have tons of options. Technically, sprinting refers to all-out efforts, whereas high-intensity intervals alternate bursts of intense activity with periods of rest. Luckily, the health benefits come from doing both and the key is to program your workout relative to your conditioning level and goals. For simplicity, this article will use the term sprints and intervals interchangeably with specific recommendation for what training intensity to use.
Sprint training can be done in many different ways. You can hit the track, do them on the road, run hills, or find a sports field or park with open space to do running sprints. You can do them on a road bike, a stationary bike, or other cardio equipment. You can run stairs or even design a body weight circuit and do more of a HIT-style workout. The key is to intersperse intense effort with rest.
The following are traditional interval protocols followed by variations for when you don’t have access to the usual equipment.
1. The 8:12 Protocol: 8-second maximal effort sprints on a bike interspersed with 12 seconds of active rest repeated for 20 minutes.
No Equipment Adaptation: This protocol can be adapted to a road bike by finding a bike path or a road with a bike lane and little traffic. Often times you can time your sprints to the telephone poles. For example, give an intense effort for the distance that it takes you to pass two telephone poles and then recover to the next pole, repeating for 20 minutes.
Take It To The Track: You can also try this on the track, sprinting 50 meters and then jogging/walking 25 meters. Distances can be adjusted as your conditioning improves.
Best For: Novices but can be used by more advanced trainees by adjusting the distance or intensity.
2. The Wingate Protocol: 30-second maximal effort sprints on a bike or track interspersed with 3-4 minutes active rest. Repeat 4 to 7 times.
No Equipment Adaptation: The Wingate protocol calls for a bit more precision than sprinting between telephone poles so the best bet is to rig a timer to your bike handles and time your sprint effort that way.
Take It To The Track: Depending on your conditioning level, this is a great workout to do at the track because you should be able to run 200 meters in roughly 30 seconds. Then take 1 lap for recovery and repeat.
Best For: Experienced trainees or anyone who knows how to push themselves.
3. A 1:1 Work-To-Rest Protocol: 20 minutes of intervals with a 1:1 work-to-active rest protocol, such as ten 60-second sprints (somewhat hard pace) alternated with 60 seconds active rest.
No Equipment Adaptation: Although traditionally done on a stationary bike, you can use this work-to-rest ratio on hill running, a track, up stairs, or on a road bike. Once your fitness improves, you can shorten the recovery interval to 30 seconds or increase your work interval. Be creative and don’t be afraid to push yourself!
Take It To The Track: A popular track workout is to sprint all-out for 100 meters and then recover for 100 meters at an easy pace. If you prefer moderate intensity intervals, shorten your recovery to 50 meters to ramp up the metabolic effect.
Best For: Novices and anyone who prefers moderate intensity training over all-out efforts.
Now that you’ve got the idea of how sprint training works, here are several other research-tested protocols shown to produce results:
The 15:120 Protocol: 15-second maximal effort sprints alternated with 2 minutes rest. Can be done on a bike, track, or soccer field. Start with 8 and increase to 12 repeats over time.
Best For: Anyone who feels comfortable pushing themselves.
The 5:40 Protocol: 5-second maximal effort sprints alternated with 40 seconds active rest. Can be done on a bike, track, or soccer field. Start with 24 and increase to 36 repeats over time.
Best For: Anyone who prefers super short sprints over longer work bouts.
Sprint training is a proven tool for improving health and body composition. Hopefully, this article you will help you maintain your fitness and blow off stress while the gyms are closed. For more information, including a complete rundown on the science of sprint training, check out our e-book, The Complete Guide To Sprint Training.
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Hazell, T., et al. Running sprint interval training induces fat loss in women. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism. 2014. 39: 1–7.
Macpherson, R., Hazell, T., et al. Run Sprint Interval Training Improves Aerobic Performance but Not Maximal Cardiac Output. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 2011. 43(1), 115-121.
McKie, G., et al. Modified sprint interval training protocols: physiological and psychological responses to 4 weeks of training. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism. 2018. 43(6), 595-601.
Rowan, A., Kueffner, T., et al. Short Duration High-Intensity Interval Training Improves Aerobic Conditioning of Female College Soccer Players. International Journal of Exercise Science. 2012. 5(3), 232-238.
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