When people talk about sprinting, they typically discuss their glory days – being part of a high school team or how fast they ran the 40-yard sprint when trying out for college football.
It’s unfortunate because sprinting is rarely discussed as it should: an incredible tool that can act as the perfect addition to your strength training workouts.
Sprinting can be manipulated to stimulate fat loss through alterations in both distance and intensity.
First up, sprinting is brutally demanding.
It’s a highly complex movement that requires the coordination of nearly every muscle in your entire body. When working close to your max sprint speed, each of these muscles fire at an extremely rapid rate which leads to an extremely high-energy expenditure over the duration of a session.
But wait, there’s more.
Due to its demanding nature, it creates an absurd amount of fatigue and places an extremely large recovery demand on your body.
The direct result of this is an increase in your metabolism for approximately 24-48 hours (known as excess post-exercise oxygen consumption or EPOC for short). This can lead to some serious energy expenditure and is the key to why sprinting is such an awesome tool for flat loss.
To achieve all of this, you must manipulate distance, intensity, and the duration of your rest periods. You’ll need to create an extremely high metabolic demand on the body without completely destroying the quality of your sprint.
Each sprint effort will create fatigue, but you’ll recover from that fatigue during your rest periods, allowing you to burn the maximal amount of energy during each individual sprint.
Consequently, by ensuring that each individual sprint is performed at near maximal intensity, the elevated energy expenditure after the exercise will also be higher.
So, considering these factors, a sprint workout aimed towards fat loss looks something like this:
Rest for 60s and repeat two more times (for total of three rounds).
It’s important to note that these workouts should be performed on upper body days or cardio specific days, and should NOT be performed before a lower body session.
Now while I’ve just said that sprinting is arguably on the most effective tools you can use to promote fat loss, there are some important considerations that need to be mentioned.
First up, if you haven’t done a single sprint since your last high school sports carnival 7 years ago…TAKE IT SLOW.
By taking it slow, I mean that you shouldn’t exceed 90% of your maximal sprint speed for the first 4 weeks.
While this may seem somewhat excessive, it’s very important. Sprinting at speeds between 90-100% of your maximum sprint speed is extremely demanding on the body, which vastly increases injury risk.
If you haven’t sprinted for a couple of years, your risk of injury is a whole lot higher.
And now that I’ve said that, I’ll also say this: there are still HUGE benefits from working within the 75-90% range.
In all honesty, I like to keep most of my clients working within this range, with occasional increases to 95% and 100% maximal speed, as this limits accumulated fatigue and associated injury risk while still providing all the fat loss benefits of sprint training.
In a similar line of thought, hill sprints should be performed early in the program, before flat ground sprints.
If we take a second to think about the mechanics of running, most people who get injured sprinting, get injured as they over-stride: this is when the front leg extends too far in front of the body, leading to a potential hamstring injury.
Pretty simply, by running uphill, we avoid this over stride, as the foot can’t actually get beyond the body without touching the ground.
As an added bonus, the ground reaction forces are much lower when sprinting uphill. This, in turn, reduces the amount of stress placed on both the knee and ankle joints, which can lead to a reduced risk of joint injury.
As much as possible, the bulk of your sprint work should be on grass or turf. Concrete and pavement create a high load through the joints, which leads to an increased risk of injury to those joints.
Maintaining a high level of movement quality during sprinting is important as it reduces the risk of sustaining both soft tissue and overuse injuries.
Keep your chest up tall, shoulders back and head in a neutral position: this ensures that you are not flexing excessively at the hips (which places unnecessary stress on the hamstrings).
The movement should be fluid: smooth arm movements and a smooth rotation of the ribcage. Your elbows should be bent to 90 degrees and the arms shouldn’t cross the mid-line of the body (they should move forward and backward along the side of your body).
Your knees should be kept high, and the foot should strike directly under the hips, NOT out in front of you.
The last consideration that cannot be emphasized enough relates to the proper preparation for exercise.
Make sure you warm-up effectively.
This means creating an emphasis on both hip and thoracic mobility, and ensuring correct muscle activation AND blood flow to the extremities.
This should be followed by gradual build-ups of your speed as you work your way up.
Sprinting is a fantastic tool that can lead to an increased rate of fat loss.
By smartly implementing sprinting into your program you can increase fat loss, improve athleticism, and transform your body into an athletic machine.