I often promote the benefits of sprint training. I really think it is something that everyone should incorporate into their workout regimen. Here's why...
Aside from the obvious benefits, sprints are fun, simple and time efficient. Of course I don't expect everyone to hit the track and smash out 11 second 100m sprints! As always be smart - work to your limitations and ability level.
Sprints can be done across many different modules and environments - on the beach (soft sand/hard sand/sanddunes), in the water (pool, lake or ocean), in the gym (treadmill, eliptical, stationary bike, ergo rower) etc. The only thing that matters is that you really push yourself for a few sets of brief but maximum efforts.
Mum, if you're reading, that means sprinting for you may entail just eight hard strokes on the rowing machine, repeated 5 times, with 90 seconds rest in between... After a good warm-up of course!
During all out anaerobic (high-intensity) efforts, your mitochondria (cell engines) burn fuel far less efficiently than during aerobic exercise - up to eighteen times faster by some accounts. This is part of the reason why sprints are such an effective training method.
Additionally, the so called 'afterburn effect' of high intensity training suggests that energy expenditure post-workout is what counts. One study showed that up to 95 percent of the calorie cost of anaerobic exercise occurred after the workout.
Put simply, doing cardio may burn more calories during any given session, but the effect stops there. And if you do compensatory (over)eating afterwards, or are fatigued post-workout and therefore less active for the rest of the day you may even find yourself in a caloric surplus on workout days. This explains how people can ramp up cardio and still see a worsening in body composition.
Doing sprints on the other hand may not burn so many calories during the session, but the cumulative effect of this 'afterburn' will enable sustained fat-burning given proper nutrition, especially when you also consider the resulting increase in lean muscle mass from hypertrophy.
Short, punctuated, intense stressors to the body (such as a quick sprint workout) can stimulate muscle growth, increase strength, performance and power output without over-taxing the system. Given you don't pull a muscle sprinting is one of the best, safest and most effective forms of exercise out there.
Contrast this to "chronic cardio" - for example, slugging it out on the bike or pavement for an hour or more. While this may improve cardiovascular fitness and endurance up to a point, the high volume, moderate intensity and often high-impact nature of prolonged aerobic activity tends to leave the body taxed and prone to low-level inflammation, overtraining, injuries and potentially adrenal fatigue and illness.
Aside from the acute versus chronic stress argument, which I elaborate on in this article, here are five other points that suggest that sprint/high-intensity-interval-training is far superior to steady state aerobic exercise, in my opinion. NB: I am not citing any specific research here and some of these points are purely observational/empirical and not in anyway scietific so don't get your panties in a twist!
1. Professional endurance athletes such as triathletes and road cyclists (like thoroughbred racehorses) often have supressed - or at least more sensitive - immune systems and are therefore more susceptible to common colds and flu.
2. Sprint and power athletes have far more muscle tone and are more ripped than endurance athletes. Excess muscle is detrimental to endurance performance, which is why road cyclists and marathon runners appear so skinny and often un-toned.
3. Strength and lean muscles mass are perhaps the two best indicators of health and longevity as we age. The more lean muscle mass and the stronger you are, the longer and healthier your life will be, ceteris paribus ("other things being equal"). Yes I studied Latin... Don't roll your eyes at me!
4. Sprint training promotes hypertrophy (muscle growth) while endurance training tends to promote atrophy (muscle wastage).
5. Ussain Bolt is a sprinter, and he is cool. Ipso facto, if you sprint you will also be cool.^
Three Sprint Workouts for the Track (For relatively fit people):
1. THE STRAIGHT
- After a thorough warm-up, do an all out 50-80m sprint along the straight
- Walk back to the start line for recovery (60-120 seconds)
- Repeat 5-8 times
2. THE CONTINUOUS LOOP
- After a thorough warm-up start jogging around the track
- On a straight ramp up the pace until you reach an all out sprint and maintain for 6-10 seconds
- Back off to a walk (recovery) for 30-90 seconds
- Slowly ramp up the pace until you reach your sprint again
- Continue in this walk, jog, sprint fashion around the track until you have completed 5-10 sprints
3. WALKING LUNGE "RECOVERY"
- After a thorough warm-up sprint the straight (60-100m)
- Do a walking lunge across the width of the field (i.e. from finish line to 200m line). If this is too difficult you can do a walking lunge for part of the width of the field, say 20m and walk the rest
- [Feel the deep burn in your thighs... it's so deep]
- Sprint the back straight (60-100m)
- Do a walking lunge back across the other end of the field (i.e. from the 300m to the start line)
- Repeat until you have completed 4-8 sprints
If you are just starting out, are overweight, out of condition or have injuries that prevent a running workout then don't despair. There are many ways to achieve a level of intensity that will bring results to you, no matter how basic it sounds.
Try a low impact form of sprinting such as on the rowing machine or stationary bike. The concept is the same. 1. Warm-up (jog laps, do some dynamic stretching). 2. Sprint as fast as you can for a short but intense burst. 3. Rest to recover (30-120 seconds). 4. Repeat.
Incorporating a short, simple sprint training session such as this even once a week will reap huge benefits for your health and body composition.
Just remember: Cardio = not cool. Sprinting = cool.
^Bolt-like coolness not guaranteed.