If you hear your trainer say, "Let's do some sprints," and are immediately terrified, you're not alone. Sprinting is a fantastic workout, but it can also be intimidating for beginners. Sometimes all it takes is a little education and a game plan to boost your confidence.
Why Should You Sprint?
Sprinting drills help improve your running performance and build your short- and long-term endurance, according to a March 2018 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.
When you sprint, you're pushing yourself hard — 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). And an April 2015 systematic meta-analysis published in Sports Medicine found that increases in VO2 max (maximal oxygen intake) were greater following HIIT that after other forms of training.
But there's more to it than that. HIIT has proven to be a very efficient way of burning more calories in about half the time of steady-state workouts, according to a December 2017 study published in Biology of Sport. That's thanks, in part, to excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC).
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 after a HIIT session, your body is still burning calories at a more efficient rate.
Sprint Workouts for Beginners
Even though intensity is the name of the game 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, you can 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 doing some basic warm-up drills like jumping jacks and lunges.
Phase 2: Vary Your Sprint Ratios
When you're first starting, try varying your work-to-rest ratio from between 1:3 to 1:5 using 30-second sprints. In other words, sprint at about 80 percent of your max effort for 30 seconds, then walk anywhere from 90 to 150 seconds. Then repeat, aiming for at least 20 minutes of this pattern.
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.
Try This 20-Minute Beginner Sprinting Workout
- 5-minute warm-up of brisk walking or easy jogging
- 30-second sprint at 80 percent (or more) of your max effort
- 90-second recovery walk
- Repeat this 2-minute circuit 5 times
- 5-minute cooldown of walking and static stretching
- American Council on Exercise: “7 Things to Know About Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption (EPOC)"
- Harvard Health Publishing: “Want Better Exercise Results in Less Time? Try Interval Training to Boost Your Workout”
- American College of Sports Medicine: “High Intensity Interval Training”
- Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: Six Sessions of Sprint Interval Training Improves Running Performance in Trained Athletes
- Sports Medicine: Effectiveness of High-Intensity Interval Training (HIT) and Continuous Endurance Training for VO2max Improvements: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Controlled Trials
- Biology of Sport: Effects of high-intensity interval training on body composition, aerobic and anaerobic performance and plasma lipids in overweight/obese and normal-weight young men