It might be tempting to think that only runners sprint — but you can enjoy the benefits of sprinting with almost any type of cardiovascular exercise, from cycling to rowing, inline skating, swimming, stair steppers and even, in a fashion, dancing.
The benefits of sprinting include all the normal health benefits of cardiovascular activity — but in less time. Sprint training is also excellent for building cardiovascular capacity, physical power and endurance, and can help you reduce visceral abdominal fat. Depending on your mindset, you might also find conquering the challenge of sprint workouts to be very mentally and emotionally satisfying.
Sprint Intervals Burn Fat
In a small study published in a 2018 issue of Frontiers in Physiology, researchers randomly assigned 49 young, active female volunteers to participate in either high-intensity interval training (HIIT) or sprint interval training (SIT). The difference between the two is that the sprint intervals were an all-out effort, while the HIIT efforts were (slightly) moderated to between 90 and 95 percent of peak heart rate.
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After eight weeks of training, both groups showed improvements in cardiorespiratory fitness and reductions in skin-fold measurements (a way of gauging body fat). However, only the SIT group showed significant reductions in body weight and BMI.
Another study, published in a 2017 issue of the Journal of Hepatology, found that sprint interval training can reduce subcutaneous abdominal fat and visceral fat, even when the subjects' overall body weight didn't change.
As noted by Harvard Health Publishing, visceral fat — which lies deep between your internal organs, as opposed to the "pinch an inch" subcutaneous fat that lies just beneath your skin — is of particular health concern. It's been linked to metabolic disturbances, increased risk for cardiovascular disease, breast cancer, type 2 diabetes and gallbladder problems.
In short, any type of exercise that reduces visceral fat can help you take control of your health — and slim down your waistline while you're at it.
Read more: How to Increase Cardio Stamina
More Benefits of Sprinting: Speed
You don't have to be an elite runner to enjoy the speed benefits of sprinting. Keep in mind that your body adapts to meet the challenges you present it with, so doing sprints gives your body another way of optimizing its performance.
Consider this: In a study published in the March 2018 issue of the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, researchers recruited a small group of 16 trained trail runners (both male and female) and asked them to participate in six sprint interval workouts spaced out over two weeks. At the end of that training period, the clinicians noted that the sprints had already produced a significant improvement in both endurance and power performance.
Read more: 5 Ways to Supercharge Your HIIT Routine
If you're new to running sprints, it's often well worth your time and money to consult a running coach for tips on proper form. You might be shocked by how much you can learn in a quick coaching session, and how much it can affect your sprint times.
Make Workouts Go By Quickly
The last couple advantages of sprinting mentioned hinged on the technical definition of the term — an all-out effort. But used more casually, sprinting can refer to any high-intensity spurt of effort. If you're a distance runner you've probably encountered a slightly different type of sprint training on your speed days, when you push yourself to run fast repeats of 200, 400, 800 or even 1,600 meters to develop your overall speed.
And as Harvard Health Publishing explains, mixing high-intensity intervals into your workouts is a great way to reach your fitness goals faster. They also make the important observation that intensity is always relative to the exerciser. What's easy for you might be considered an all-out effort for someone else, or vice versa. So don't worry too much about comparing your sprint times to someone else's. Anything that gets you out of breath to the point you can't speak in full sentences will count as a high- or vigorous-intensity effort — and when it comes to qualifying something as a maximal effort, your body will tell you.
To incorporate interval training into your workouts, alternate periods of high intensity with recovery periods of lower intensity. So you might run hard, then jog the "recovery interval" to catch your breath; or pedal a bike as fast as you can, then dial yourself back to a slower pace for the recovery interval. Harvard Health Publishing recommends starting with high-intensity intervals as short as 30 seconds — although you can do even shorter intervals if you need to — and gradually increasing those sprint intervals over time to two minutes or more.
And as the Department of Health and Human Services notes, higher-intensity efforts help you attain similar health benefits to a moderate-intensity workout — but in less time. Case in point, their minimum recommendations for keeping healthy are to do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio per week, or get the same benefits by doing 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise.
Some Hazards of Sprinting
Although there can be real advantages to sprinting workouts, this high-intensity exercise isn't for everybody. If you're new to exercising, jumping right into that sort of all-out effort is a good way to get injured and actually set yourself back instead of moving closer to your fitness goals.
Focus on starting with whatever level of exercise you're capable of and then gradually increasing the duration and intensity of your workouts to build a solid base of cardiovascular fitness. Once you've accomplished that, you can consider working up to sprints.
Remember the standard advice to consult a physician before you start a new exercise program too. A health-care professional can help you determine when it's appropriate to tackle maximal efforts like sprinting.
Here's another hazard to keep in mind: While any exercise program comes with some risk of injury, all-out efforts like sprinting can increase that risk simply because they put more stress on every part of your body. That's not always a bad thing — that level of intensity is what makes sprinting such an effective and beneficial workout.
But if you're already at increased risk of injury because of other issues — whether those be medical conditions, injuries or simply being unfamiliar with the exercise modality you're using — take the time to evaluate whether sprints are appropriate for you at the moment. Even if they're not something you should do right now, you could select working up to sprints as a fitness or health goal to work toward.
Read more: 5 Times HIIT Could Be Dangerous for You
- Frontiers in Physiology: "Effects of High-Intensity Interval Training vs. Sprint Interval Training on Anthropometric Measures and Cardiorespiratory Fitness in Healthy Young Women"
- Journal of Hepatology: "Sprint Interval Exercise Training Reduces Intrahepatic, Visceral and Subcutaneous Abdominal Fat Despite No Change in Body Weight, But Has Variable Effects on Whole-Body Insulin Sensitivity"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Abdominal Fat and What to Do About It"
- Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: "Six Sessions of Sprint Interval Training Improves Running Performance in Trained Athletes"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Want Better Exercise Results in Less Time? Try Interval Training to Boost Your Workout"
- Health.gov: "Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans"