I’m presenting to you an exercise that’s neglected by most gym rats. Not because they don’t know it exists, but because they are not aware of the huge benefits they’re missing out on. Besides, gyms are the worst place to perform this magical exercise.
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I’m talking, of course, about sprints. They are awesome. Period. As far as the bang for your wrinkled buck is concerned, there is simply no exercise that matches this bad boy. Some of the benefits of a sprint workout are:
- Increased anabolic hormones (human growth hormone, testosterone). That means it can help you grow some muscles (provided you eat the part).
- Increased insulin sensitivity. In simple terms, this helps with burning fat, staying lean, muscle building and overall energy levels.
- Works explosiveness, coordination and conditioning.
- It’s a killer leg workout. Butt, quads, hamstrings (especially with hill sprints) and the inner thighs all get worked intesively.
- A proper sprint workout only takes about 20 minutes.
- No equipment needed. If you do them on soft sand, you don’t even need shoes.
- When sprinting up a hill or on soft sand, it’s super joint-friendly.
- It is damn functional. The whole body works in conjuction.
Who doesn’t want all that? If these aren’t killer selling points to start doing sprint workouts, I don’t know what is.
I have to admit that I was a lousy sprinter when I was in school. My 100 meter times were laughable. I hated track and field athletics. I discovered “functional” training in my early 20s and soon thereafter, stuff like sprinting and high jumps became interesting to me again. Through holistic bodyweight strength training, I got better at everything else.
But it also works the other way around. Regular sprinting makes you a better athlete. They also work tremendously when you try to build some mass, especially in your legs (the trickiest bodypart for us bodyweight trainees).
But first, let’s dig into the how.
Sprinting is more than just running a bit faster. When you sprint, you should be thinking about pulling forward, like an express train on rails. You’re not pounding your feet into the ground. Only the balls of your feet and your toes touch the ground. Think about grabbing the ground with your toes and pull yourself forward.
Your upper body should be upright during the sprint. The guys in the title picture look like they just took off. In about a second their bodies would go upright. Look straight ahead.
Sprinting demands whole body tension and dynamics. The day after my sprint workout usually presents itself with a mild soreness in my upper back muscles. So from head to toe and back to your fingertips, all your muscles should be working as if you’ve been struck by lightning.
For maximum benefits from sprints (improving hormonal cocktail, fat-burning and all that stuff), it’s crucial to go all out. Go as fast as you can. The sprint workout is over when you feel that you’re slowing down.
Actually mark a start and finish line when you sprint. Draw a line in the sand, lay out some sticks or stones. There is always something you can borrow from neature (not a typo 😉 ). 40-60 meters/yards is a good range to shoot for. You might not be able to hold up the speed for the whole distance. That’s okay. We just need to mark start and finish so that you have something to shoot for.
How to Sprint Safely
As with any exercise, if you’re not prepared for it, injuries happen. For this reason, I’m asking everybody who has never done a sprint workout to ease into it. Prerequisites for sprints are things like healthy joints and soft tissue along with at least overall average conditioning. (“Average” is a very low standard. If you’ve been actually implementing the stuff I write about even for a few weeks, you’re way beyond average.) Go 70-80% on your first sessions just to get a feel for it.
A proper warm-up is obligatory and includes:
- Dynamic stretches such as leg swings
- A few squats performed ass-to-grass
- 2 sprints at 50% and 70-80% intensity.
The warm-up shouldn’t take longer than 5 minutes and can be shorter if you’re doing sprints as a finisher for today’s workout (you beast!). If you have trouble figuring out your 50% and 80% intensity, try this picture: 50% ist just the speed at which sprinting mechanics actually kick in (try doing what I described under “Sprinting Mechanics” at jogging tempo. It feels weird). So pick a speed at which actual sprinting doesn’t feel weird. That’s 50%. 100% is this: Throw a stone as far as you can. Go after it and try to catch it before it touches the ground. Then, 70-80% is just something between 50% and 100%.
The numbers are not important. It makes sense to do one very light sprint (50%) in order to just fire up the nervous system for the movement mechanics. The second warm-up stride at 70-80% is to work up to the full, all-out sprint.
As you might have guessed from the introduction, I’m a huge fan of hill sprints and beach sprints. They’re the most safest and joint-friendly option. I’ve never gotten any injury from doing them. Sprints on flat asphalt are excellent, too (and safe if you’re smart about it), but hills and soft sand are superior.
And if someone does get injured doing them, I’ll bet my right butt cheek (that’s my favorite) that it will happen either in the acceleration or the deceleration phase. Simpler speaking, start and finish is where risky business is happening.
Some people have a false impression when it comes to sprint workouts. They’re thinking about the olympic sprinters, how they position themselves at the starting line and explode into their stride once the starting gun fires. This is not how average Joes and Janes should use sprints in a workout.
Slow acceleration and deceleration is the key. Forget that starting pose of olympic sprinters. Simply start from a standing position. Start to run lightly on the balls of your feet (springy like a ballerina) and use the first few meters to accelerate to top speed. Imagine the world works like Mario Kart and there’s an acceleration field right at the 10 meters mark from your starting position. When you’ve reached that mark, your effort level goes to 100% and you sprint at top speed.
Same goes for the deceleration: Don’t just pound your feet into the ground and stop abruptly. Rather, use an additional 10-15 meters to slowly jog it out. Ever watched a western and saw a horse abruptly slamming their hoofs into the ground to bring themselves to a halt? Of course not, because these animals are smart. They’re breaking into a trot before they gently stop.
How to Structure a Sprint Workout
The most simplest template for a sprint workout goes like this:
- Warm up (5-10 minutes).
- Sprint 6-8 times (10-15 minutes).
- Go home, feel awesome (timeless).
After every sprint, walk back to your starting position. The time you need to walk back is precisely your resting time. You’ll know when you’ve done enough sprints when you simply cannot do another sprint “fast”. You feel like you’re in The Matrix and time slows down.
Depending on your level of fitness, this can be 4 sprints in the beginning. Be honest with yourself and go home when you get that matrix feeling. Doing more slow-mo sprints won’t do any good.
Another nice gimmick is mixing up sprints with upper-body work like push-ups and pull-ups. When you’re pressed for time and you need a full body workout, do the same template as described above, but do a set of push-ups and pull-ups before every sprint (switch between pull-ups and push-ups for every other sprint). I wouldn’t do exercises that are heavy on the legs (so no squats or pistols). Sprints are intense enough. Look how Max Shank demos his sprint workout really nicely:
If you’re strong and are training with more advanced exercises like the one-arm push-up, I’d still advise you to use a regression of which you can bang out at least 10 reps. Not only are sprints highly taxing on your cardiovascular system, they also fatigue major muscle groups and, most importantly, your nervous system. Thus, pick exercises you’re really comfortable with.
So after warming up, that sprint workout would look like this:
- Set of push-ups, followed by an all-out sprint. Walk back.
- Set of pull-ups, followed by an all-out sprint. Walk back.
- Repeat 1 and 2 three to four times (that’s 6-8 sprints total).
But I recommend getting comfortable with just sprints first before getting fancy with it. Sprint once or twice per week to reap maximum benefits.
Good luck with getting swole while watching the dust settle behind you 😉