For many people, running is a sport that comes with numerous benefits. Such benefits include cardiovascular conditioning, weight loss management, and mental wellbeing. From a competitive standpoint, whether against others or oneself, running also provides an outlet to perform with more efficiency and speed as you become stronger and faster. One way to improve your running speeds is with sprint training.
What is Sprint Training?
Sprint training is a form of intermittent bursts of speed (also known as speedwork), done either by time or distance, that is faster than a steady, continuous running pace. Many may fear the idea of sprint training, but simple science says the only way to get faster is to run faster. However, running long distances as fast as you can all the time increases the risk of overtraining and potential injury. That’s why although sprint training is hard, it is only executed for short periods and with less frequency in a typical week.
Why should you do Sprint Training?
Sprint training is an activity that results in many benefits. Such benefits are that speedwork increases your caloric burn which will overall help to reduce fat, reduce your resting heart rate, and improve your resting Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) also known as how many calories you burn at rest. By including faster sprint and speed workouts to your training program, you also use fast-twitch muscle fibers more efficiently while at the same time increasing muscle mass, developing bone density, and improving your speed.
Sprint training is also a form of anaerobic exercise. This means your body uses stored energy sources like glucose instead of oxygen. Anaerobic exercise is often uncomfortable because you are using maximal effort in short periods but the temporary discomfort can help you push through an exercise plateau.
What are the different types of Sprint Training?
The cool thing about sprint training is that there are a variety of ways in which you can incorporate them into your training programs. From strides, fartleks, intervals, hill repeats, tempo, to practicing running at goal race pace, anything that pushes your standard steady pace is considered speedwork.
Strides: Strides, also known as accelerations, are 100-meter runs that start as a jog and build to almost full speed, and then slowly come to a stop. These can be done in small repetitions (4 to 6 times) with longer recoveries in between. These are usually performed before or after an easy run.
Fartleks: Swedish for “speed play”, fartlek runs are longer runs done based on feel with periods of fast running along with periods of slower or steady running. This type of run is continuous with no rest or recovery periods.
Intervals: Intervals are high intensity repeated runs, that are often short in distance and then followed by an equal or slightly longer recovery time. They are usually the same distance repeated at maximal effort in one session but can vary in distance from one session to the next.
Hill Repeats: Hill repeats are sprints done up a hill followed by walking or lightly jogging back down the hill. The distance and steepness of the hill may differ but should be relative to your goal race course.
Tempo: This is a run that pushes you to your anaerobic threshold, where lactic acid is produced faster than it can be cleared from the blood, and when fatigue sets in. By pushing to this limit, the body can adapt to faster speeds. This can be done for a whole run or determined intervals during the run with recoveries. For example, can be pushed for 20 minutes or broken up into 2x10 minute bouts with a 1-2 minute recovery.
Race Pace: This is a predetermined distance time trial run that is performed at the desired race pace at which you hope to finish a goal race in the future. These runs allow you to measure your current fitness level.
How to do Sprint Training?
Sprint training doesn’t require much additional equipment compared to that of going out for an endurance run. Running shoes, athletic wear, a form of a stopwatch from either a phone, handheld stopwatch, or smartwatch, and some water will typically get you through your speed session.
Before putting in the work, you may want to do a 5-20 minute warm-up and some dynamic stretching. Once adequately warmed up, the sprints can begin. Depending on your running goals and distances, the times and distance of the intervals will vary. Most speedwork will range anywhere from 30 seconds to 5 minutes or 100 meters to 1600 meters (or 1 mile). Most programs will start slower and progress over the training period as your form and fitness gradually improve. Additionally, following the sprint will be a recovery (walk or light jog) to help recover and bring the heart rate down before repeating the next burst. The repeats will vary again, depending on where you are in your training program and fitness level with early on having fewer repeats and gradually increasing over time.
Where to do Sprint Training?
Sprint training can be done anywhere. A treadmill, local track, or sports field can give you specific measurements in distance without having to venture very far. An easier option may be also just outside your front door by using a sidewalk or jogging path. Incline sprints or hill repeats will typically require, well, a hill. So, being slightly more complicated, these types of speed work sessions may require a short drive to a local hilly street, park, or landscape. For your safety, remember to always consider traffic, path conditions, and lighting.
Some cities may offer club or group training or even personalized running studios. For example, Mystryde out of Boston, Massachusetts offers interval running classes with the option to do so outside or on a treadmill. Mystryde provides a team of instructors and running coaches while supplying upbeat workout music, as they guide and motivate you through an interval run. And during these Covid times, they have optional live or on-demand virtual classes where all you need is to run with a phone and headphones while you get faster during one of their classes from 20 to 90 minutes in length.
When to do Sprint Training?
Ideally, sprint training only needs to be performed 1 to 2 times per week. Due to the nature of its high intensity, you will need to give your body a couple of days of recovery. More is not better as you risk your body for overtraining and injury. Consider the 80/20 rule. 80% of your weekly workouts should be done at a relatively easy pace while 20% should be performed close to maximal effort to gain the best long-term fitness progress.
Hopefully, you are excited about incorporating sprint training into your training programs. Since they are shorter workouts that can be done almost anywhere, they may seem less intimidating. While the discomfort is temporary, the benefits are worth the hard work.