Sprinting workouts for fitness

Sprinting is something we were born to do. It was a way to either obtain food or avoid becoming so. Most of us sprinted when we were kids, not because our parents signed us up for track and field but because it was part of playing. Growing older conditioned (pun intended) us to play less, take up more serious pursuits and forget how to sprint.

Forgetting how to play led to less activity which led to weight gain. Framing our problem into our serious plans for the future led us to search the internet for weight loss. We will solve the problem with the grown-up toolset we have learned to master.

We take a trivial problem and make it into an intellectual one. We hear a lot of praise about sprinting. We may even have seen sprinters on television – especially if our search is amidst the screening of Olympic games – and we imagine ourselves having that body. That would solve our problems. So how do you start sprinting?

We all know that the most important part of any sport no matter the nature is to look for gear. We need to know what shoes Usain Bolt wears. We need the best equipment otherwise it is a lost cause!

Second problem; how to run? We need to read about running. That will make us experts.

Finally, we are getting somewhere. We have only spent 3 months and we are already edging very close to the goal of starting. Only 5 kilos heavier than when we wanted to start – but that will come off quickly we have the right equipment – remember!?

Of course, all of that is partially written in fun. And as much as I can sit and point fingers at others I find myself in parts of that every time I think of changing something in my workout routine.  

Going full exposure on my own double-standards I recently wanted to get back into doing more sprinting. Full disclosure is that I have actually done competitive sprinting for several years myself. So, I have for years on end done every part of workouts and should have a huge back-catalogue of workouts and exercises to pick from. But now that I want to start again for myself what do I end up doing – search the internet for sprinting workouts…..

Oh well. It did actually bring me one thing and that is the fact that there seems to be very little information targeted at the regular fit individual that wants to supplement their training with some sprinting. The advice that is given to people who want to start is often well-meaning and correct advice if only just directed at the wrong audience.

People who wants to do sprinting for general conditioning should not follow the same program as people who compete in sprinting. Or at least not the in-season part of the program.

If you absolutely insist on following a sprinters program, then at least follow the off-season/general conditioning part of the program.

The problem with following the in-season part if that you will end up with too little volume and too many injuries – it is sport specific so keep away if you are not a competitive sprinter – and if you are then get a professional coach.

What I will present here are some general-purpose sprint-related workouts which can act as conditioning for people who are already in good shape and can easily run 5 kilometres without stopping. The 5k is not a scientific number but more a rule of thumb to say that if you cannot run then you cannot sprint.

Before you even start any of these workouts please make sure that you are properly warmed up. You can look up lots of these online or you can ask me to provide one at a later state if you want.

Let us start with the ideal scenario of having a real 400m track at your disposal.

The least used distance here is probably the most notorious – the 100 meters. It is too specific and requires too high intensity for our purposes, so it will only be used as part of “ladders”.

Ladders

Ladders are workouts that vary in distance from each set. They usually start long and shorten with each repetition. This can for instance be:

300 meters

250 meters

200 meters

150 meters

100 meters

Having distances set you can work with rest intervals as well. A good workout would be to keep 60 seconds between sets. You can also have them vary for added intensity. Starting with 120 seconds between the first, 105 between the next, then 90 and 75 for the last set.

If you plan on doing the workout again the allow for at least 5 minutes rest before doing it again. In sprint workouts you should sprint. So be rested enough that you actually start each workout rested enough to put in a good effort.

Another option instead of doing the workout twice is to have the ladder being revolving:

300 meters

250 meters

200 meters

150 meters

200 meters

250 meters

300 meters

In this version you go back up after having come down to the shortest distance. In this case 150 meters. Again, you can wither keep the same rest between sets of 60-120 seconds or you can have the rest vary in the same way as a “normal” ladder and have it go down in conjunction with length of sprints and back up when they lengthen.

Fixed length sprints

Lastly there is of course fixed length sprints for sets.

These can be:

3-4×300 meters 90-120 sec rest and then another set.

They can then go all the way down to sets of 150 meters which in my opinion would be around the minimal distance you would run in a workout and I would never run that short a distance before several weeks of sprinting under my belt.

The problems is that the shorter the distance the higher the intensity. You can run faster and hence probably will. This brings up the risk of injuries and as your main goal is conditioning then you won’t even be better off that having run longer distances.

If you do work up to 150 meters sprints, then make sure that you rest properly between sets so closer to 3-4 minutes of rest between sets.

Another option is also to go the other way and look at 400- or 800-meters workouts. I am less knowledgeable in these areas, but I have run 4×400 meters during off-season and that is hell on earth!

Outside – no track

Having covered the option where you have a 400 meters track at your disposal, let us look at other options. What you would generally be looking for in prioritized order of surface is the following:

  1. Artificial grass – because it is soft and generally fully flat
  2. Normal well-cut grass – again soft but not always as flat – can have creases etc. that increases the risk of spraining an ankle
  3. Flat plain dirt road – softer than tarmac – but watch out for slipping both for the risk of falling but also the extra strain it can cause with slipping feet
  4. Tarmac – the least optimal surface for sprinting – it is hard as hell and puts a lot of stress on your joints

On any surface that is not a dedicated 400 meters track I would avoid running bends for the risk of slipping.

An option is of course as I have written about before Intensity Build Up Running (IBUR)

But apart from that you could quite easily re-use the exact same workouts as posted under 400 meters track. And remember that the lengths does not need to be anywhere near accurate. You can just measure long steps, distance between trees or whatever.

I will however provide a workout that can be used if you have access to a normal soccer/European football pitch.

The first one is running diagonals. Meaning that you sprint from one corner diagonally to the opposite one, then you jog as slowly as possible behind the goal to the other corner and sprint across the opposite diagonal. That is 1 repetition. Then you do that 4 times and rest for 5-8 minutes and then do it again.

It is as easy as that. No need to overthink anything. Please do start out gently and work your way up to more intensity. The decision to have “longer” distances is to keep it safer and more appropriate for general conditioning. But of course, it is still possible to get injuries. So, ensure that you are properly warm and listen to your body. As with anything getting injured is a lot worse than ending a workout early because your body tells you to.

But caution aside do not be afraid to give sprinting a go once you have built up the base for it. It is very efficient and can give the best feeling of high. In my own subjective experience, I even walk higher and more confidently when I am sprinting. There is something about the muscles worked that corrects bad habits of slouching. So go do those workouts and enjoy the benefits.

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