Why and how to start sprinting (even if you are a beginner)

Every time I go out I see people jogging. Yet recent research indicates that sprinting can be just as effective for cardiovascular health.

Moreover, a review of many of the studies on endurance running vs high intensity exercise such as sprinting compared the cardiovascular, skeletal muscle, and metabolic adaptations of sprinting versus continuous endurance exercise and found that sprinting leads to similar and in some cases better improvements in shorter periods of time with some additional psychological benefits.

Sprinting develops speed, power, muscle and cardiovascular health. It also has a potent side effect of triggering massive changes in body composition, i.e. fat loss and muscle building.

In addition to the benefits listed above, sprinting requires optimal hip mobility, which forces all who perform sprints to train this essential yet often neglected fitness quality.

No other single exercise can effectively address all of these qualities in one go.

However, I understand it’s not for everyone. That said, below is a quick start guide on how you can incorporate different variations of the range of motion and effect sprinting has into your workouts whether you are a beginner or already relatively fit.

Setting up your sprint program

When setting up your sprint programme it is important to ease into it if you are not familiar to this type of training, especially if you are overweight. Sprinting requires a high amount of force and effort from the muscles and if they are not used to this type of training it is very easy to pull a hip flexor or hamstring muscle.

Therefore, you could start with exercises like high knees that mirrors the range of motion for a sprint without much risk. Moreover, you don’t have to run @100% to begin with. Start at about 60-70% and get comfortable with that first.

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Try to incorporate sprints on grass and if possible, start on a hill with a slight incline.

It’s preferable to sprint on grass to minimise impact on joints. Also, sprinting on hills is recommended for greater results and less likelihood of injuries. Start with a relatively low incline to begin with.

Technique is key when performing sprints – drive up with the legs and arms and keep the back straight so you don’t lean forward. A sprinting workout should be performed no more than 2-3 times a week and should last about 20 minutes.

Dynamic warm up

A proper warm up means you should already be sweating by the end of it so it should about 10 minutes.

  • 3 minute run
  • 20 x high knees
  • 20 x star jumps
  • 10 x high kicks
  • 10 x alternate front kicks
  • 10 x lunges with rotation
  • 10 x squats
  • 3 x 20 metre warm up sprints at about 60% intensity

Basic sprint workout

The below is a guide only. Vary the distance, nr. of rounds and intensity to what feels comfortable for you to begin with. The key thing is to always be progressing until you reach a stage where you can go @100%.

  • 50 metres – 2 rounds @80% – walk what you ran for active recovery
  • 50 meters –  4 rounds @90% – walk what you ran for active recovery
  • 50 metres – 2 rounds @100% – walk what you ran for active recovery

Sprint variations

There are many options even if you feel uncomfortable performing sprints. For example, you can replicate the range of motion sprinting requires through short power walking intervals or walk sprints. Walk as fast as you can for 10 seconds and then slow down for 30 seconds and repeat. The key is to get your heart rate up and progress to a level where you can go at 100%.

Conversely, there are many options to increase the difficulty. For example, you could complete 10 x 100 metre sprints at 100% intensity.

Summary

Ultimately, the most important thing is that you enjoy the chosen activity and can see yourself continuing with it for a long time. Whatever you do, it has to work for you.

However, sprinting is an incredibly effective strategy for many of the most common health and fitness goals people have from fat loss to muscle building. Therefore, I recommend everyone to try some form of sprinting, whether it be high knees, power walk intervals or flat out sprinting as fast as you can.

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