Over the last few decades, running has become one of the most popular forms of exercise in North America. One-quarter of all Americans between the ages of 18-29 have jogged or went for a run within the last year. These days it seems as though every time you turn around another friend or family member is announcing their plans of running a 5K, 10K, or marathon, even.
Everyone is getting in on the secret. It's no surprise that running is so popular - it's a fantastic way to build up strength, burn serious calories, and get your heart pumping all while taking in some fresh air, vitamin D, and nature.
If you've been running for a while you may have already hit a dreaded plateau with running performance or weight loss. Enter sprint training. Sprint conditioning workouts are very different from your typical run. Using these sprint exercises for speed, you will improve your running speed and break the plateau or prevent the one that is on the horizon.
Why Sprint Training?
During a jog, you typically run at the same pace throughout the entire workout. This is called steady-state exercise, and it's helpful to improve endurance but not particularly good at improving pace or fat loss. Your body eventually becomes accustomed to the repetitive nature of the exercise and you will burn fewer calories. This is why if you want to take your long-distance running speeds higher and burn more calories, it's important to learn how to sprint fast too.
Why do we need sprint training workouts to improve speed?
Muscle fibers are usually the culprit when we hit a speed or strength plateau. Steady-state running mostly utilizes slow-twitch muscle fibers (Type 1). These fibers have strong mitochondrial and blood supply and that blood flow makes them excellent for building endurance and aerobic fitness.
Fast-twitch (Type 2) muscle fibers get used during good sprinter workouts. They are anaerobic which means they have lesser blood and mitochondrial supply. These fibers fatigue more quickly, but produce way more force than slow-twitch fibers.
It's important to work both of these fiber types in order to strengthen muscles and improve speed and endurance. By implementing a sprint training program into your running regime, you'll reap the rewards and build strength faster.
Basic Sprint Workout for Speed
Here is a simple guideline to get started on your sprint drills to increase speed.
Warm up: Start with 5-10 minutes of light jogging, or about 20% of your maximum speed.
1.Sprint: Sprint for 30 seconds at 60% of your maximum effort.
2.Recovery: Jog at 20-30% of your max effort for 1-2 minutes.
3.Sprint: Sprint for 30 seconds at 70% of your maximum effort.
4.Recovery: Jog at 30% of your maximum effort for 1-2 minutes.
5.Sprint: Sprint for 30 seconds at 80% of your maximum effort.
6.Recovery: Jog at 30% of your max effort for 1-2 minutes.
*Repeat Steps 5 and 6 for a total workout time of 20 minutes. Increase to 30 minutes as your endurance improves.
You can adjust this routine as you see performance improvements and your fast-twitch fibers become stronger.
- The ratio of sprint burst interval: recovery for this beginner workout is 1:2-4.
- For intermediate sprint workouts, you can increase to 1:1, sprinting and recovering for equal amounts of time.
- For advanced sprint intervals, you can increase the ratio to 2:1, in which you sprint twice the amount of time that you recover.
How many times a week should you sprint?
Sprint workouts are seriously hard on your cardiovascular system and your leg muscles. One of the worst ways to slow down results and get injured more easily is by training too hard and too often.
- You will want to begin your sprint training just 1-2x a week as you get used to the movements and your body adjusts to the huge workload.
- You can increase to 3x a week as you improve your skills but you should try to avoid doing sprint training on back to back days - alternating days is ideal and gives your muscles adequate rest and recovery time.
- Don't increase the sprinting intervals and the frequency of the workout at the same time.
- ALWAYS listen to your body - if you're feeling tired and rundown, take an extra day to rest. It may seem counter-intuitive, but adequate rest will get your desired gains in the fastest and safest way.
Resisted Sprint Drills
Once you've begun your sprint workouts for speed, it may be time to take them to the next level with some sprint resistance training equipment.
By using a resistance bungee band you can perform sprinting drills to increase the workload put onto those fast-twitch muscle fibers and see big results even faster.
Why use resistance bands for sprinting drills?
If you have some sprint training equipment it can be very convenient - you can perform your sprint exercise at home, in your backyard, at the gym, or in a park.
The extra resistance you get from band sprints allows you to create an extra challenging environment for your muscles. If you run while using resistance sprint bands, you will see lifting gains in your leg muscles, better speed and jump height, and reaction time.
Not only is it helpful to use sprint bungee cords for sprint workouts, but you can also use a traditional resistance band to do other weight training exercises to increase results.
Basic Resisted Sprints for Speed
Grab your bungee resistance bands and find a place where you have ample space for these sprint drills.
Harness Post Drill
- Attach the belt of the resistance band around your waist.
- Get a partner to hold the handled end of the band, or attach it to a stationary object.
- Turn away from your partner and walk until there is a little slack left in the band.
- For the first part of the drill, you will practice your start off some imaginary starting blocks and hold in this 'wind-up' position. Your body should be tilted to a 45-degree angle, with one knee up at 90 degrees and both arms raised into the air. This will help to increase the strength behind this explosive movement and improve reaction time. Repeat 10 times and hold for 5 seconds each time.
- In the second half of the drill, you will practice starting from the blocks and build up to an upright run. Liftoff of the blocks and start running while your partner provides resistance on the band. They should be walking forward with you slightly, but also resisting your movement. Repeat 10 times for 5 seconds each time.
- Practice both drills 3 times through, taking adequate rest between sets.
- Repeat exercise 3x / week.
Weighted Sled Pulls.
You can also use your sprint training resistance bands to perform sled pulls for speed improvement.
- Attach your resistance bungee belt to yourself and the other end to a weighted sled. Start with no added weight on your sled until you get used to the movement.
- Sprint for 45 seconds at your maximum speed.
- Rest for 6-8 minutes.
- Repeat 4 times.
Add weight to the sled as this becomes easier. Start with 10% of your body weight and increase as needed.
- Perform this exercise 1x to 2x / week.
- Increase the number of sets (4 initial sets) by 1x as your resistance sprinting performance improves.
Should you combine sprints with other resistance exercises and weight training?
Yes. Weight training and resistance exercise are another piece of the puzzle for building up your running performance. Cross-training is also a fantastic way to avoid injury as it allows your muscles to strengthen in more than one way.
You can practice weight training or resistance band exercises on alternate days from your sprinting schedule, or you can perform them on the same day if you feel up to the challenge.
- Perform sprints first, before weight lifting exercises IF you are looking to improve running speed and acceleration. This ensures you'll be able to give your all on the sprinting section, before your body gets tired.
- Perform sprints second, after weight lifting exercises IF you are looking to build strength in your legs. This way you will prioritize and give your best performance to the strength training section of the workout.
We highly recommend using traditional resistance bands for other exercises as they are an easy way to build strength and put less pressure on your joints than traditional weight lifting.