We know that there are some major benefits to incorporating strength training into a running program. But when it comes to crafting that perfect running plan ahead of race day, you may want to consider taking it up a notch. Studies are now supporting the long-held trainer belief that sprint training is just as important as endurance training. Yup, that includes long-distance runners, too.
Don’t worry. There’s no need to cut your long weekend runs short. But those fartleks and intervals you keep promising you’ll try tomorrow might be just as valuable as endurance runs come race time. Here, we explore a few ways sprint training benefits runners of all levels.
Sprints help with speed.
This might sound like a no-brainer, but incorporating sprint work into an endurance-based routine is ideal for those runners looking to shave off some time on their next race.
According to Aaptiv trainer Rochelle Moncourtois, sprints require quick energy and can lead to more efficient running by increasing the amount the glycogen that can be stored in the muscles. Because sprints target fast-twitch fibers, there’s an increase in power and long-term speed gains, which can lead to faster overall running, she explains.
Basically, think of it as muscle memory. Because sprinting is an anaerobic exercise, each time you push your muscle to the max, you’re training it to process that lactic acid build up faster and faster each time. This repetitive work gives you a higher threshold for the pain and soreness that comes along with sprinting and makes it easier to go faster each time. “Try to build a schedule where you have at least one day that is only based on speed work,” she says. “This will help you aim for the PR in a half or full marathon!”
Sprint training = endurance gaining.
If the above sounds like questionable math to you, hear us out. Sprinting naturally builds up a runner’s endurance because it trains the body to utilize more energy faster.
“When you sprint, you are using maximum power and muscle endurance,” says Aaptiv trainer Jaime McFaden. She adds that because sprints push the body to its max efforts, it can actually build up a higher VO2 max and increase overall endurance.
And studies show that sprinting actually has the same long-term fitness benefits as distance running. In a 2016 study, researchers studied two groups of adult males in their 20s. One group practiced SIT (sprint interval training) and the other group practiced continuous, normal training. (The SIT group practiced one minute of intense exercise within a 10-minute time commitment, whereas other group practiced 50 minutes of continuous exercise per session.) At the end of the 12-week study, both sets improved and had comparable fitness measures across the board, even though one group had a fifth of the exercise and time commitment.
Sprints increase calorie burn.
Burn more calories in less time? Sign us up! “Our bodies are very adaptable and sprinting is a great way to drastically increase heart rate,” explains McFaden. This increase of heart rate allows for more calories burned even after you’ve stopped working out.
Longer distance running is more likely to keep your calorie burn relatively stable. This could lead to a plateau-like effect. Sprinting, on the other hand, keeps your body on its toes–literally. The quick changes and pushes of max effort require your body to keep up with the energy needed to complete each sprint. So, it needs to burn calories faster.
Sprints help build muscle.
That quick calorie burn won’t keep you from growing stronger guns and buns either. “Sprints will increase the size and strength of muscles,” says Moncourtois. “When you sprint, you increase protein synthesis pathways and, with proper nutrition, this will build muscle.”
Sprints work with any fitness routine.
Thankfully, adding in a few sprint sessions is relatively easy for runners. The key is to start small, especially if you’re a newbie sprinter, says Moncourtois. For example, try a 30-second sprint followed by a one-minute rest (walk or jog). Repeat that ten times.
“If you have access to a track, try three 400-meter sprints with a 400 rest in between each one,” she says. Aaptiv has a number of indoor and outdoor sprint-based workouts you can try if you need a little guidance or don’t have access to a track.
Lastly, there’s no need to push it too much. “Sprints can be hard on the body so you should start by incorporating a couple of sprints,” explains McFaden. “And be sure to stretch!”
And Moncourtois recommends sprint training one to two times per week for most. “This way you are only focusing on speed work on those two given days and you can give it your max performance,” she says. Just be cautious that you’re not over doing it with the sprint training to avoid muscle fatigue or injury.