Sprint Training: Why Sprinting is Absolutely Critical

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sprint trainingHere’s your scenario for the day.

Somebody puts a gun to your head and forces you to choose to stick with only one form of training for the rest of your life.

(Kind of excessive I know)

But what would you choose?

After you stopped shitting your pants and started thinking rationally, would you be able to make a decision? You can tell me in the comments below.

But I know that my choice would be simple.

Easy answer.

I’d stick to sprint training.

No kettlebells. No skipping ropes. No weights. No bodyweight stuff. No resistance bands. None of that.

I’d just sprint.

Here’s why.

I’m often baffled at the fact that nobody sprints. And I mean NOBODY!

It’s like you’re telling me you own a stick shift and you never put it into 5th gear. C’mon man!!

There seems to be something about sprinting that intimidates people. Scares them even. I guess going balls out and running as fast as you can for a few seconds really turns people off. Nobody is willing to step outside of their comfort zone these days.

But here’s a fact: sprinting is crucial.

It’s a must. Absolutely CRITICAL to building a better body.

Here’s why.

Your body EXPECTS you to sprint

Think about this for a second.

A few pages back in the book of human existence, mankind was required to hunt down its food. There were no grocery stores or restaurants for you to stop and grab a quick bite. If you wanted to eat, you had to hunt that shit down.

Like a cheetah, you would stock your prey. Hide in the bushes. Wait for that perfect moment.

Then, when the time was right, you exploded out of the bushes and ran as hard as you could to catch that animal. Everything was riding on this run. If you didn’t succeed, you didn’t eat. Your family didn’t eat.

You were running balls out for your life.

The sprints were sporadic. Life was about chasing or being chased. Sprinting – or running as fast as you possibly could – was simply a part of life. Engraved in your genetic mix.

A genetic mix that hasn’t changed much to this day.

But the world we live in today is a little different. There is no longer a need to hunt for your food. A world that revolves around convenience has changed all of that.

But your body doesn’t know that. It hasn’t adapted just yet. It’s still expecting you to explode out of the blocks as if there was a mountain lion on your ass.

It’s expecting you to sprint every now and then.

Benefits of Sprinting

Sprinting does more for your body than one post could possibly explain. The list of benefits spans so far beyond the realm of imagination that it hurts just thinking about it. Here are some of the most important benefits of sprint training:

  • Sprinting works muscle groups in an explosive, dynamic, and balanced manner. Everything is working in unison. Your hamstrings and quadriceps are working together to propel you forward, not in isolation. Every component of your glutes is firing. Your core is activated from every angle as it works to generate and provide power to the extremities all in an act to keep you moving at the fastest manner possible;
  • Sprinting is a high-impact activity that allows for improved bone strength and density. The high-impact nature of the exercise also works to strengthen the connective tissues that ultimately support all activity;
  • Sprinting increases your body’s ability to take in and store oxygen;
  • Sprinting is a great way to build an amazing physique. Take a look at a sprinter’s physique and you’ll understand where I’m coming from. Ladies, please note that sprinting helps build amazing glutes (i.e. a great butt) – read here
  • Sprinting is an extremely efficient form of training. We’re talking absolute BEST bang for your buck here. Although I tend to have longer sprinting sessions (personal preference), you can do some great things in as little as 20 minutes;
  • Sprinting improves your focus and mental concentration. Unlike your typical gym workout where your mind is God-knows-where while you’re exercising, sprinting requires absolute concentration. In those 5-10 seconds of absolute balls-to-the-wall running, you won’t be thinking about how you have to pick up a carton of eggs on the way home. You won’t be thinking about work or that guy that cut you off. Sprinting demands your complete attention;
  • Although it’s a full-body, all-consuming, highly intense activity, that feeling does not last. Unless it’s your first time sprinting (where you’re going to use muscles you never thought you owned), you won’t wake up with an aching body. You won’t feel drained the next day. Instead, you’re going to wake up feeling fully energized;
  • Sprinting is like wonderland for your hormones. Your body will be gushing with all sorts of hormones. Your insulin sensitivity is improved. There is also a huge boost in your growth hormone levels – your natural fat burning hormone. Sprinting improves the fat burning potential of muscle and improves the efficiency of your muscle during exercise. This means you will help your body become more fat-adaptive as it will more-so rely on fat for energy than glycogen [ref];
  • You will feel absolutely amazing after your sprint session. A euphoric, high-on-life kind of feeling where you’ll want to just keep going. It’s an incredible feeling;
  • Your heart rate and EPOC levels are going to go through the roof, turning your body into a fat-burning furnace for hours after your short sprint session. Remember – best bang for your buck.

Like I said, the list of benefits are endless.

How to Start Sprinting

The beautiful thing about sprinting is that it’s relatively easy to do and it requires nothing but a large open space to run (fast) on.

However, there are a few things I need to point out.

If you’ve never sprinted before, you need to PREPARE your body for what it’s about to endure. More than likely, your body has muscular imbalances that could result in injuries if you suddenly started running like a mad man (this is more pronounced with age).

The high-intensity nature of this exercise makes it efficient, but also extremely strenuous.

You need to prepare your body with a good dynamic stretching routine. And I mean a REALLY good dynamic stretching routine.

This is what I do before I start my sprinting session:

  • 500-800 light jog
  • 40 yards of high knees
  • 40 yards of short stutter steps
  • 40 yards of butt kicks
  • 40 yards of body twists
  • 20 yards of bodyweight lunges forward
  • 20 yards of bodyweight lunges backwards
  • A short series of mobility exercises (shoulder, elbow, hip, neck, and ankle rotations)

This usually lasts about 10-15 minutes, but it’s absolutely critical to incorporate a dynamic stretching routine before you start sprinting.

Very important note: as much as sprinting involves balls-to-the-wall intensity, it’s important to understand that to get the maximum benefits of sprinting you need to run at the highest speed possible that you can endure safely. This means you need to listen to your body. It will tell if you if it can handle the speed you’re trying to take it at.

Once you’ve finished up with the dynamic warm up, you can move on to the actual sprinting stage.

There are a few things you need to keep in mind.

Basic Sprinting Technique

I’m not a sprinting coach. And I’m not going to pretend to be one.

But I know the basics. I’ve spoken to some track and field coaches and strength and conditioning coaches on football teams about the technique of sprinting, just so I make sure I’m doing things right.

Becoming a good sprinter takes a lot of time and practice. But your aim isn’t to go up against Usain Bolt in the next Olympics. Your goal is to master the basics of sprinting so you can safely and effectively get the most out of your sprinting sessions.

Here are some of the most basic guidelines to keep in mind when you’re sprinting:

  • Start low at the starting line
  • Take a quick breath and hold it throughout the sprint (this is for short sprints; for longer ones, you’ll probably end up taking one or two breaths throughout)
  • For the first few strides your head should be down, knees should come up high and your body should be angled forward almost 30-45 degrees to the ground
  • There should be a forward lean of the whole body with a straight line through the head, spine and extended rear leg
  • Sprint on the balls of your feet
  • Keep your arms close to your body and elbows at 90 degree at all times
  • Bring your knees high and step long on every stride
  • Use your feet to dig into the ground and pull (as if you’re trying to pull the ground towards you)
  • Keep your shoulders retracted, chin down and the muscles in your upper body relaxed as much as you can (there shouldn’t be any tension)
  • As you get through the first few strides, stand taller, look straight ahead and lengthen your strides

If you’re interested in a more in-depth description of proper sprinting technique, check out this article.

There are a lot of things to keep in mind here and it’s hard to remember all of them when you’re actually in the act of sprinting. It takes time and practice to master.

Note: I like to watch videos of sprinters like Usain Bolt and Michael Johnson. You can pick up a lot of interesting technique tips just by watching what they do. Youtube is a great resource.

Once you have the technique down, it’s time to get into your sprinting workouts.

Simple Sprinting Workouts

I posted a few of my sprinting workouts in an old sprint training post.

But I wanted to give you two more that you can add to your routine.

These are some of the sprinting workouts I use today:

Workout 1 – Yard Dashes

This workout is fairly straight forward. Start off with short distance dashes and slowly progress to longer ones. Sprint in one direction and then walk back to the starting line (the walk is your rest).

  • Sprint 10 yards X 5
  • Sprint 20 yards X 5
  • Sprint 30 yards X 5
  • Sprint 40 yards X 5

Workout 2 – Competition Workout

This sprinting workout is designed to be done with a partner, but it’s not completely necessary (I do it alone often).

This workout is all about reaction and explosion. You’re going to be starting from different ‘starting positions’.

If you’re working with a partner: both of you get into starting position. One person initiates, the other reacts (switch up every sprint). So let’s say your starting position is from a sitting position. One person is going to explode out of a sprinting position and sprint. The other person has to watch and react accordingly. This can get super competitive.

If you’re working along: get into starting position. If available, use some sort of timer or beeping device to trigger your reaction. If you don’t have anything, then simply work on the exploding part.

Here are some starting positions you can use: sitting down facing forward, sitting down facing backward, laying down on your stomach, laying down on your back. Feel free to get creative.

Note: exploding from the blocks engages the core like crazy.

There you have it guys.

I hope this post has inspired you to get out there and pretend like you got a mountain lion chasing your ass.

Feel free to share any of your sprinting workouts in the comments below.

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Comments

  1. Wicked post! I will definitely give sprinting a try. The closest I’ve come is interval runs, where I try to run as fast as possible for a few minutes. This seems much more intense.

    PS. What’s a yard? About one sidewalk square-length?

  2. great article. thanks for sharing. i will do this this week. and by the way, what is a yard iqual to?

    Thanks.

    Srdjan.

  3. Hey! :)
    Thanks for this post, it’s refreshing and motivating!
    Although I hate interval runs, I have to include them into my program.

    If somebody puts a gun to my head.. I would probably choose LSD trainings… I know I wouldn’t run from the lion, but I would really enjoy the view trough my runs..

    • Ivana, sprinting is definitely something you want to throw into your training mix. It gets really fun once you do it a few times. Now it’s something I really look forward to.

      I guess it’s a good thing lions aren’t a problem anymore. :)

  4. Super post.sprinting is something I really need to incorporate in to my sessions.I do interval training regularly and find it of great benefit.I will keep you updated on my progress.
    A quick question.
    After what distance/time are you going from anaerobic to aerobic zone?
    Cheers
    Anto

    • That’s a great question anto. I’m actually working on a new post to explain exactly how your energy systems change as your training changes. It all has to do with intensity. No point in going into detail here. I’ll let you know when the post is up!

  5. This looks intense and fun! Thanks for the great info.

  6. Hello, does indoor group cycling match up to sprinting? is it not similar? from a cardio point of view,

    • Des, not necessarily. The reason I say that is because cycling involves mostly leg use whereas sprinting engages the entire body. From a cardio perspective, you have to understand that sprinting is an anaerobic exercise (as long as you keep it to short distance sprints) while cycling is an aerobic exercise so the cardiovascular effects are different. Once you try it out you’ll understand what I mean.

      • I’d have to question you on this (although I think you meant to write ‘cycling is an AEROBIC exercise).

        Have you tried the wingate test on a bike?

        It’s basically a calibrated 30 sec all out sprint. And it’s evil, in the same way that an all out 30 running sprint is evil!

        One thing I can say for sure is that it truly is an anaerobic test, the extended recovery period testifies to that. The problem is that most people simply have no idea how to push themselves hard enough to make it a true max test. When you know how to push yourself on a bike it really does involve a lot of the upper body. Not as much as running sprints, but still a lot. The upper bodies of the track cycling sprinters testify to how important they feel it is…

        I think that the whole idea of a ‘sprint’ is a great one though, see my comments below.

        Cheers
        George

        • Ooops I definitely meant to write that cycling is an aerobic exercise (fixed now, thanks).

          I think the ‘sprinting element’ (performing an activity at a high intensity for a short duration) can be transferred to many areas, including cycling. But, from my experience, I know most indoor cycling groups focus on longer duration rides (with varying intensities), which pushes it to an aerobic training zone (that’s why I mentioned that).

          But you’re definitely right – the elements of sprinting can be applied to almost any form of cardio.

  7. How often would you recommend sprint training 1/week? 2/week?
    I used to HATE running of any kind, but this year decided that I was going to change my mind about it. I downloaded a couch to 10K app (14 wks, running 3x/wk) and just completed the last day on the app and ran 10K this morning! I no longer hate running (although to say I love it wouldn’t be completely truthful either). But now that I’ve attained that goal, I thought I would start working on improving my time. I also want to vary the training on my cardio days … incorporating sprint training seems like the perfect way to do both! This post couldn’t have come at a more perfect time–THANKS!
    PS – I’ve also used some of your circuit training and women specific routines on my lifting days … thanks for those too!!

  8. Thanks Srdjan:-) I think this is really cool and I m def going to try it in my outdoor workout routine.

  9. I’ve been working on sprinting for the last few months, following your stuff, Srdjan. It is really awesome for burning through the “rings of Saturn” around my midsection. Every time I do it, I fell pretty great and I’m now a lot faster than I used to be, even up hills!

  10. Love your posts Srdjan. I did the 1st sprint workout today and let me tell you…I loved it! Im a 42 year old former college basketball player aiming to lose weight and get into the best shape of my life. Sprinting will be my greatest weapon of choice. Also, my wife is inching towards that killer kettleball workout. Great stuuf Bro…keep it up. I have been spreding the word!

  11. Srdjan,

    I agree sprinting is one of the best exercises you can do. I like to do a 3-4 minute warm up jog and then 10-12 100m sprints at the park near my house. Awesome cardio workout in about 20 minutes!

    Alykhan

  12. This is awesome.. now i got it.. its so true that we are afraid of sprinting. But from now on i will not avoid it after knowing the importance

  13. Sprinting is very good, but this analogy that our ancestors had to sprint to catch the prey… tell me what animal can we outspint? I read somewhere, that the exact opposite was true, we chased the prey to death with long endurance run…

    I stick with the weights by the way..

    • Wood, the analogy I was trying to make is that there were moments in time that required us to run at our fastest pace, whether it be to hunt down prey or run away from immediate danger. I’m not saying we didn’t go through long periods of (low intensity) tracking of prey, but when the moment came to make the catch, a fast sprint would decide whether you would put food in the cave or not.

      And I work with weights as well. Sprinting is only one part of my overall training routine.

      • Hey Wood and Srdjan,

        I had the very same thougts as Wood when I was reading the details above; persistance hunting seems to be what we’ve evolved to do, and the reports don’t show sprinting to be an important part of this, even right at the death, as the animal has basically collapsed and given up, so it’s at a point where you can simply walk over and kill it.

        On the other hand, I’m fairly sure that there were animals we really did have to sprint away from, so I’m not doubting the validity of being able to sprint well being an absolute need for us, and indeed I get every person I train to learn how to sprint well, and once we’ve got the crap about personal history and the negative learnings from school and the like out of the way EVERYONE I have trained has ended up enjoying it!

        So I second your call for us all to sprint, but perhaps not ‘why’ we need to sprint. Which is hardly an important point, the big one is that we just do it and feel good:)

        Cheers
        George

        • Fair points. Although we spent the majority of our time walking around and gathering berries, nuts, and plants for survival, I still believe there were moments in time that we were required to sprint to either escape a predator or pounce on unsuspecting prey. If a primal man walking around the forest gathering berries suddenly spotted a fawn 12 feet away, you don’t think he would make an attempt to make an all-out run to catch it? Just a thought.

  14. I know. Just every theory has its analogy.. :-)

    You asked what would we choose if there was only one thing.

  15. This is a cool idea, I am going to throw this in twice a week instead of jogging 5 times a week!

  16. For the last couple of months I’ve been doing hiit 3 times a week. Once during the week and 2 consecutive days on the weekend. Remaining days jump rope as much as I can. My weekend routine is done in the parking lot of a high school up the road from where I live. The parking lot consists of 40 consecutive parking spaces @ 8 feet wide each = 320 feet or 97.5 meters. I sprint the 40 spaces and walk back a total of 8 times (took a while to get to 8). I sprint full out. After the sprints I jump rope each parking space tabata style (I don’t like timers so I averaged out the amount of revolutions I could jump in 20 seconds as fast as I could with a cheap speed rope and that is 58 for me, I can go much faster with a crossfit rope but asphalt eats it up). I take a 10 second rest between parking spots until I jump the entire 40 spots as fast as I possibly can. I use a cheap rope for this because its expendable. During the sprints I kick off my Brooks Beast running shoes and do at least 3 intervals barefoot on the grass next to the parking spots. It feels like my running speed increases by a 1/3rd. I feel great. I love it. One day during the week I do lunch time sprints tabata style 7 times (total torture) and jump rope. I NEVER thought I would see the day when I could workout like this and see the results I am getting. Keep this web site going man. This stuff works, and no gym required.

    • Hey Aaron, thanks so much for that awesome comment! That looks like an amazing combination. It’s perhaps hard to imagine at first, but once you do it yourself you begin to realize just how powerful the simplest (and cheapest) form of training can be. Sprinting, jump rope training and simple bodyweight HIIT workouts can do wonders.

      I would recommend trying to stay off the asphalt as much as you can just to protect your joints (and your rope) and if you enjoy doing the barefoot stuff, perhaps look into getting a pair of Vibrams. I’m absolutely in love with mine!

  17. Thanks for the advice. Sprinting has made a significant impact on my fitness. It seems to much less taxing to my joints than jogging for an hour. I have no leg pain at all. A first for me. Will give the Vibrams a try. My next endeavor will be hill sprinting. Thanks!

  18. Vikramjit says:

    hey…this is a great workout that you have mentioned. I actually had been doing these sprints including hill sprinting…and it was pure exhiliration. I had been doing the sprinting thing with my brother and doing it with someone unleashes ure competitive spirit and you end up pushing yourself to the limit. Now i have to do it alone but it ain’t the same thing and i can’t find myself pushing. Although u have provided with ways to sprint solo but i really find it akward sprinting with nobody to challenge me. Is there any other suggestion u could add here for riding solo. Thanks!!!

    • Hey Vikramjit, I used to go sprinting with a good friend of mine and I agree that you push yourself harder when you have someone to run with. It’s a little different when you go solo. If you’re lacking the push, try running for time (this works better for longer sprints). Or set a goal for yourself to complete a certain number of sprints every session in a set time. I think it’s all personal and different things work for different people. For me, just knowing that each sprinting session is getting me closer to a better body is enough motivation for me to get out there and go hard.

  19. Great post Srdjan!
    I’ve been already sprinting, but not as often as I’d liked. I was doing hill sprinting with 2 Kg weight in each hand. I was doing 7 reps of 50 metres hill sprinting with weights and then 3 without weights. After leaving the weights my legs seemed to fly. I completely agree with you about the feeling of full satisfaction after the training that you described.
    Lately I’ve spent my free time on other physic activities, but after reading this post I will definitely give it a try and sprint whenever I’ve got 30 free-minutes.
    Thank you for sharing!!

  20. Great article. I throw in a good sprinting workout at least once a week. I was not built for distance running, lack the slow-twitch muscle fibers. Thank God, since I don’t see running a marathon to be much fun. I love sprint intervals. I usually go over to a steep hill in a park by my house and do sets of sprints up the hill, and walk down, repeat. Amazing for your legs and just an amazing total body workout. Sprints are what you should do if you want the ripped/lean look, will make your abs really start to pop.

  21. I’ve always been a skipping kind of guy because it keeps me more occupied and it’s (fun).
    But I think I’ll give sprint training a try, Your post has definitely motivated me!

  22. Personally, I’m a skinny guy (6,1 140 lbs.0 and I don’t believe I’m in a position to eat high calorie diets for pounds. Still, I would like to keep my body toned. Sprinting looks like a good idea but with the intense calorie burning afterwards, I would imagine that it would take huge amounts of carbs and calories to recover. What would you recommend to help skinny people like myself recover from the experience in terms of post-workout meals.
    Btw , I’m learning to rope from your manifesto book. Nice stuff.

    • Hey Michael, I believe anyone can benefit from a good sprinting session. There’s a huge growth hormone release after a sprinting session that, paired with a solid post-sprinting meal, could help you develop some solid lean muscle mass and definitely help you stay toned. Your recovery meal should contain a good, lean source of protein and non-starchy or grainy carbs (something like sweet potatoes work really well).

      Glad you’re enjoying the manifesto :)

  23. I’m by no means a paleontologist but the sprint to hunt thing sounds a bit concocted.
    You’d expect the self-proclaimed crown of creation to be able to make some plain traps and weapons for easy hunting. Of course, they would sprint to get their prey (or don’t become it, rather) but for the most part that can’t be the primary approach for the early humans as they were already weaker than most (delicious) animals :)
    Just wanted to point that out, good article nonetheless :D

    • Good points Oli. Since I’ve written this article I’ve read a book called Born to Run (by Christopher McDougall) which gives a much better description of how ancestral humans actually did their hunting. It was mostly with long distance running. They would track their prey for days and force the animal into the blistering sun until it finally collapsed from exhaustion. If that was the case, then the sprinting was probably more useful when running away from predators (like a saber tooth tiger). Thanks for the comment!

  24. Pip O'Meara says:

    Question; how do I measure my sprint distance when I’m exercising on a football field in the middle of the outback in Australia where there are no marked track lane lines? Is there a way to convert the distance into time intervals? I really want to do sprint training but this obstacle is holding me back, help me Srdjan!

    • Hey Pip, sorry for the late response.
      I sometimes do my sprint training on an open field (no markings) as well. I use sticks or clothing as a marker. I measure my yards using really long steps. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but it’s an easy way to estimate. So if I want to set up 40 yards, I’ll put one marker at the start and then take 40 really long steps and put a marker where I finish. That’s my running distance.

      Using time intervals wouldn’t be efficient because we’re only talking about 5-10 seconds max of effort. It’s hard to time that when you’re running full speed.

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