What is a better body?? Leaner? More muscular? Moves faster? In most instances, all of these descriptions would be true. Whether trying to look good naked or being able to outrun the slowest person in the group to avoid being eaten by a bear, sprints and specifically short interval sprint training can help you achieve both.
Note: this article will not touch on training for max speed but more for aesthetics and overall function. But I will add that “train fast to be fast” does ring true to a certain extent.
Sprint interval training works in a couple different ways to make a better body. Below are four benefits to implementing sprints into your training.
Sprints help you build strong, powerful muscle. Let’s look at the type of muscle that sprinting will train. There are two types of skeletal muscle fibers in the bod; Type I (Slow-twitch) and Type II (fast-twitch). Type I muscle fibers can be found in your posture musculature or they are trained by endurance style training as they produce their energy through the aerobic process. Sprinting will have the greatest physiological effect on type II muscle fibers. Type II muscle fibers can be broken down further into type IIa or type IIb with the distinction being their function as well as their ability to maintain intensity based on how they produce ATP(energy). Type IIb is the more powerful but Type IIa is considered a bit of a hybrid as they can produce power but do not fatigue as easily. Type IIb muscle fibers are used in powerful and fast activities like the 40 yard dash or a single rep of an Olympic lift. Type IIa help in activities like repeated sprint intervals and Metcon style workouts.
We all know the physique comparison between the skinny distance runner and the muscular sprinter. Why is it that sprinters have so much more muscle hypertrophy?? One of the many factors is the specific muscle types ability to hypertrophy. Type II muscle fibers have a much greater ability to hypertrophy, or muscle growth, than Type I muscle fibers do. It is a well known fact that a muscle with greater cross-sectional area is stronger than a smaller muscle. Most people’s goals in the gym are for bigger, stronger muscles and sprints can be a tool to move you towards those goals.
After all that talk about muscle fiber types and aerobic/anaerobic you will probably think I am crazy when I tell you that sprint intervals can help your endurance. A study at McMaster University in the Journal of Applied Physiology found that short sprint intervals can have an effect on your endurance. It has been shown that sprint intervals can actually double your endurance capacity but that is enough about the boring stuff…back to the cool stuff
Sprints are a great addition to your training when your goal is to maintain muscle mass while losing fat mass. Type II muscle fibers require more energy therefore burn more calories within a specific time period. Interval sprint training also puts you into oxygen debt or excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC). People will often call it the “afterburn” because your body must play “catchup” after the workout. This creates higher metabolic rate even after the workout has completed, something that does not occur with low-intensity, steady-state cardio. A higher metabolic rate creates a greater chance for fat loss.
Some people spend upwards of 2 hours a day in the gym in hopes of the “dream physique”. Interval sprint training allows you to cut your workouts in half. With sprints, you get a lot of work done in a short period of time. If you work hard enough you won’t be able to maintain the intensity for vary long due to fatigue. I had a Facebook post the other day and part of it rings true here, “lift heavy, run fast…..and watch what will happen.”
Now don’t just go full force into sprints or you may be quickly slowed down. Due to the high speed it is important to prevent injury or you won’t be sprinting for long. Hill sprints put the body in a safer position than running on flat ground. The likelihood of injury is much lower, especially with the always painful hamstring strain. Hill sprints even though safer also add a little resistance making it feel harder. You can slowly make the transition if you so desire to flat ground, but hill sprints were apart of Walter Payton’s training program so why not yours??
Sprint workouts can vary greatly depending on a number of aspects, space and conditioning just to name a couple. For fitness and weight management purposes, I prefer to keep my workouts to 10-15 reps of sprints ranging from 20-50 yards. A good way to manage rest between reps is to make your rest period be based on how long it takes you to walk back to the start. As your conditioning increases you can progress in one of 3 ways; number of sprint reps, distance of sprint, or shortening rest periods. Your primary goal with interval sprint training is to keep an elevated heart rate but don’t want fatigue to hurt form.
Sprint Intervals should be limited to two or three times a week to help in recovery from the high impact nature. I prefer to use sprints on non-lifting days or after an upper body day. Sometimes I will also add a short rowing session or some metabolic conditioning style workouts on at the end of a stand-alone sprint workout.
Tips and Cues
1. WARM-UP! You are asking to hurt yourself if you go sprinting cold.
2. Drive knees high
3. Don’t let arm swing cross your midline
4. When ball of foot hits ground, imagine gripping the ground with your toes and pulling the ground behind you.
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