Sprint Workouts for Beginners

If you hear a trainer use the word "sprint" and are immediately terrified, you are not alone. Sprint workouts are a great method of exercise, but they can also be intimidating for beginners. Sometimes all it takes is a little education and a game plan to boost your confidence in sprinting.

Always warm up before sprinting. (Image: S_Chum/iStock/GettyImages)

Why Should You Sprint?

Sprint training drills work to improve your performance, build muscle tone and enhance your short-term and long-term endurance, but there's more to them than just that. When you sprint, you are exerting yourself at an increased level, typically 80 percent or more of your max effort, for a short amount of time.

This, at its core, is almost the definition of high-intensity interval training (HIIT), which has proven to be a very efficient way of burning calories. So much so, Harvard Health Publishing reports alternating between high and low-intensity exercise may spur faster fitness gains.

It’s All About the EPOC

Not to get too into the weeds, but it's important to explain why doing HIIT sessions, and particularly sprint workouts, is so effective at burning more calories. It all boils down to excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC). A common analogy to describe EPOC is to think about your body like the engine of a race car.

After you complete a race and turn off your vehicle, it takes the engine a while to cool down. It's the same after a HIIT workout. When you complete a sprint workout, it takes a while for your metabolism to cool down. So for those hours after a HIIT session, your body is still burning calories at a more efficient rate.

Sprint Workouts for Beginners

When it comes to sprinting, it's important that you never start at 80 to 100 percent of your maximum effort. In other words, never skip the warm-up because going from zero to 80 quickly on a cold body can lead to an injury. In general, think of a beginner's sprint workout in three phases.

Phase 1: Always Warm Up First

In order to prepare your heart, muscles and joints for sprinting, it's important to warm up the body gradually first. Try jogging or brisk walking for a few minutes or conducting some basic warm-up drills like jumping jacks and lunges.

Phase 2: Vary Your Sprint Ratios

When you are first starting, try varying your work-to-rest ratio from 1-to-3 to 1-to-5 using 30-second sprints. In other words, sprint at 80 percent or more of your max effort 30 seconds and then walk anywhere from one minute and 30 seconds to two minutes and 30 seconds. Then repeat, aiming for at least 20 minutes of this pattern before gradually increasing your exercise time.

Phase 3: Save Time to Cool Down

After your last sprint, be sure to walk for several minutes until your heart rate returns to normal. Take time to stretch your calves, hamstrings, quads and glutes, all of which put forth a lot of effort to complete sprint workouts.

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