For anyone who enjoys the feeling of quick movement, running is a natural go-to exercise of choice. But simply jogging a few miles isn’t the whole spectrum of running for exercise. Sprinting, which means running for short durations at your fastest speed while working your body as hard as you can, is a way to level up your running and get even more benefits out of this straightforward form of exercise. It takes very little time because you’re giving your all, so it can be a great addition to a workout regimen for people who are pressed for time and want to incorporate an impactful, intense addition to their routine. To find out more about the benefits of sprinting, we tapped Katie Kollath, ACE, CPT, and co-founder of Barpath Fitness, and Chase Solarin, certified run coach for STRIDE.
Meet the Expert
What Are the Benefits of Sprinting?
Adding sprinting to your workouts will enhance your fitness in numerous ways. It’s a full-body exercise that uses most major muscle groups. Kollath tells us that sprinting will help you build explosive power, which will then “carry over to pretty much any style of training, and not only make you a stronger/faster sprinter, but stronger with your resistance training as well.” And that’s just scraping the surface of what you’ll get out of it. She also notes that sprinting encourages muscle growth and fat loss simultaneously. “It improves aerobic capacity and up-regulates growth hormone and protein synthesis,” Kollath says. In layperson’s terms, up-regulating growth hormone means that sprinting can increase your body’s production of human growth hormone, which helps fight aging. Increasing protein synthesis means that sprinting will improve your muscle function on a cellular level.
What Beginners Need to Know
Before you start sprinting, there are a few important things to know.
- Solarin and Kollath both stress that you’ll need to start slowly. While that may sound like an oxymoron because sprinting, by nature, is actually fast, it means that you shouldn’t plan on sprinting too fast or for too long right from the start. This is an activity type that you need to ease into, increasing both your speed and your distance/time duration gradually. Solarin suggests that to start, you don’t max out your efforts but you should focus on finishing a workout rather than going your hardest at it. While that sounds a bit counterintuitive for an exercise that by definition has you working as hard as you can, starting gently will help you get to the point where you can work harder more safely than doing that from the start.
- Warming up is key. Because sprinting uses so many muscles, and taxes them so thoroughly, it’s vital to be warmed up before beginning. Kollath suggests a moderate walk and/or jog for at least 5–10 minutes, along with “some dynamic drills such as leg swings, high knees, and lateral bounds.” You can also incorporate sprinting into the workouts you already do, adding it at the middle or end; just be sure you aren’t fatigued before beginning.
- Be prepared to feel your sprinting workout for a day or two afterward. Solarin puts it this way: “You’re going to be sore for the first few workouts.” As with any new activity, this isn’t surprising, since bodies take time to build new muscles and adapt to new exercises. It’s a great idea to stretch after sprinting and before starting, and to walk or jog a bit afterward to help your muscles cool down slowly, rather than working out in an abrupt start/stop manner. This will help mitigate soreness to a large extent, but you should still anticipate some soreness.
Who Should Sprint, and Who Should Avoid It?
In theory, everyone is a good candidate for sprinting, because it’s essentially a sped-up version of an action our bodies are already performing regularly: walking. However, it’s important to note that not everybody is able to walk or run at a fast pace, and doing so could prove damaging. If you have any previous injuries, especially to your joints, knees, or ankles, you’ll want to consult with your practitioner before starting to sprint. Sprinting also may not be for you if you have any cardiac issues, ranging from heart disease to leaky valves. If you have concerns about sprinting, speak to a professional before beginning.
For people who are sedentary and haven’t already been working out, sprinting is a great goal to work toward. It isn’t something to jump into, but rather an activity to build up to. If you haven’t been exercising and you feel out of shape, begin with walking, gradually building speed, and then try jogging. Once you’re comfortable with your body’s capacity to run, it will be more safe to give sprinting a try. Kollath says that before you sprint, you should make sure you’ve built up “some aerobic capacity, as well as strength in the lower body.”
Sprinting workouts will look different depending on where you’re at in the process of increasing your sprinting speed and duration. Use these examples to help you gradually build on your ability to sprint and get better at this exercise.
Resting between sets is important for sprinters of all levels, but it’s particularly key for beginners. Kollath recommends a cautious approach of sprinting for a very short duration of time, such as 10 seconds, then resting or walking for 2–3 minutes. You’ll repeat that 4–6 times for your first sprinting workouts, then work up to 10 repetitions of that cycle.
Conversely, Solarin thinks you may be able to go a bit harder right from the start: He suggests cycles of running fast for 15 seconds, then resting for 45. Repeat that four times, to begin with, and work up in rounds from there. No matter your approach to a beginner workout, you’ll want to do a comprehensive warm-up first to ensure that you avoid injury, and stretch well afterward.
Once you’ve mastered short sprints, Solarin thinks it’s time to get hills involved. That’s because “hills promote good posture, knee drive, and power,” he says. For an intermediate sprinting workout, he recommends 6–10 rounds of 45-second uphill sprints, with 45 seconds of recovery in between each round. Once you’re done, cool down with at least a half mile of jogging or walking.
If you’d rather do an intermediate workout that focuses on shorter durations with more intensity, Kollath suggests 20 seconds of maximum-effort sprinting at a time. If fact, she finds 20 seconds to be the max that anyone should sprint for. “I generally never recommend going beyond the 20-second mark unless the athlete is training for a specific event, such as the 400-meter dash,” she says.
Because sprinting is short in time duration, becoming advanced is more about your speed than your distance. By the time you’re an advanced sprinter, you’re probably running multiple days each week, and will likely be able to jog or run for moderately long periods of time as well.
Kollath says that you should shift focus to “improving your sprint time/distance for those 10–20 seconds, rather than adding a bunch of rounds/sets during a workout.” Otherwise “fatigue will set in, and training at sub-max intensities defeats the purpose of sprint training.”
As with the intermediate workout, Solarin thinks more is more when it comes to sprinting. His idea for an advanced workout is to begin with a two-mile run for a warm-up, then run 2,000 meters 10 times with a minute of rest in between each round, aiming for a goal of 30–45 seconds of sprinting each round. Once you’ve done that, he adds in a two-mile cool-down. But Solarin warns that to do this “you will need to be comfortably running 20–30 miles per week, with six months of a pretty advanced running program.”
Sprinting is a powerful way to enhance your fitness using only your body. Because it requires you to go at full force, it’s an activity that you never have to do for a long period of time. With this guide to sprinting workouts, you can quickly be on your way to becoming your fastest running self.