If you hop on the elliptical or treadmill and zone out for 30 minutes, your workout strategy needs help — especially if your goal is to burn fat and lose weight. All you need is one minor tweak: interval training.
Sprinting is one of the most challenging and effective workout routines for fat loss. Short periods of all-out activity challenge your muscles and energy systems to produce intense efforts much more effectively than typical steady-state cardio. By adding it into your existing cardio routine (in addition to regular strength training), you’ll speed up fat loss and reveal all the hard work you’ve been putting in.
Once your body acclimates to an activity, you need to push it to the next level.
Steady-State Cardio Isn’t Enough
Plodding away for hours on the elliptical is both boring and incredibly inefficient for fat loss. With typical steady-state exercise you become increasingly efficient at aerobic activities, which is great for improving aerobic health and cardiovascular endurance. But the more efficient you are with a given aerobic exercise, the less metabolically demanding it becomes and the less fat you’ll burn. Once your body acclimates to an activity, you need to push it to the next level. And steady-state cardio at lower intensity takes longer, generally in bouts of 30 minutes or more, and when done in excess, is counterproductive to gaining or maintaining muscle mass. What you need is high-intensity interval training (HIIT) to maximize your time and fat loss. Sprint training specifically preserves your hard-earned muscle, shredding fat to reveal your lean physique and showcase your athleticism.
Sprinting Triggers Greater Fat Loss
Exercise post-oxygen consumption (EPOC) is the phenomenon in which your breathing rate stays elevated for hours after an intense workout to regain all the oxygen lost during the high-intensity exercise. Essentially, all the air you’re gasping for during sprinting must be repaid. As a result, your body seeks oxygen to get back to baseline, keeping your respiratory rate and metabolism elevated long after your workout ends.
In one 2013 study published in the journal Kinesiology, researchers had six physically active men repeat three 30-second cycling sprints and found they required more energy in the subsequent 24 hours than following 30 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise.
The National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) has also examined the role of EPOC and sprinting in weight loss. They concluded that when compared with continuous, lower-intensity activity, sprint intervals do indeed result in a greater increase in EPOC. This increase can occur for more than 24 hours with appropriate combinations of duration and intensity, leading to greater improvements in body composition. In other words, EPOC helps your body use more calories throughout the day to burn body fat.
Your New Cardio Routine
If you’re ready to get started with sprinting, here are two great options to get you going. On this program, you’ll sprint twice a week and strength train three days a week. The days are specifically planned to allow full recovery and optimal performance in all exercises.
Monday: Upper-Body Strength Training
Wednesday: Lower-Body Strength Training
Saturday: Total-Body Strength Training
Warm Up: A good warm-up prepares the body for activity by increasing core and muscle temperature while waking up the nervous system to increase performance and decrease the chance of injury. Here’s a sample warm-up routine to get your body ready for action:
- Lunges: 10 per leg
- Jumping jacks/jump rope: 100 reps
- Running: three to four minutes at varying intensity
For your sprinting workouts, you have two options: hill sprints or treadmill sprints.
1. Hill Sprints: Sprint at 85 percent of your top speed on a moderately inclined hill for 40 to 60 meters (about six to 12 seconds per sprint). Walk back down the hill and rest an additional 60 to 120 seconds for full recovery. Start with four sprints on the first week, adding one sprint each week (up to eight total sprints) to overload the body, forcing improvement and adaptation.
The angle of running up a hill prevents overstriding, a common flaw in sprint technique that may lead to hamstring strains, especially if you haven’t run in a while.
2. Treadmill Sprints: Start at eight to 11 mph as a beginning sprint speed and increase running speed by 0.5 mph each sprint. Use a 0.5- to two-percent incline to preserve running mechanics and prevent overstriding. Perform 15-second sprints with a 45-second rest between all sprints, starting with six sprints on week one. Add one sprint per week while increasing speed as it fits your ability levels.
Incorporating Interval Training Into Your Workout
If you’re solely concerned with burning body fat and improving conditioning, feel free to add another sprint day or after lifting weights. If you’re aiming to improve performance, sprint immediately after your warm-up and before your lift to activate your nervous system and prepare your body to lift more weight in the gym.
Sprinting before resistance training isn’t your only option, but it’s the best option to improve sprinting ability and cut injury risk while still burning body fat. According to the NSCA’s “Essentials of Strength and Conditioning,” “Compound power and core exercises require the highest level of skill and concentration of all exercises and are most affected by fatigue.” So when you become fatigued during your workout, you’re more likely to use poor technique and, consequently, are at a higher risk of injury. If you plan on maxing out during sprinting, either skip your resistance training or go lighter on the weights. Proper form and safety are always more important than pushing yourself.
Sprinting unleashes your inner athlete while revealing your ripped physique. Follow this sprinting protocol in conjunction with resistance training and a healthy, balanced diet and you’ll truly maximize your months of effort in the gym.