“People who know I’m a sprinter will still say to me, “Hey, let’s go for a run.” I reply, “I don’t run. I sprint.””
-Steven Sashen, All-American masters sprinter
I started sprinting when I still weighed over 300 pounds. It was not a pretty sight, and it was definitely not fast. However, it helped me drop the weight much faster. Still to this day, no one is mistaking me for Usain Bolt, but sprinting has become an integral part of my personal strength and conditioning program, as well as the athletes I train.
There is one thing about sprinting though: it’s really hard. I used to think I was the only one that thought like this, but then I started to notice that the sprint day workouts were the easiest ones for everyone to talk themselves out of. And, once you miss a sprint workout, it becomes much easier to skip the next. Now, I have seen people talking themselves out of strength training as well, but there is just something different about sprints. I’m not sure I can even fully explain it.
And, there is something unique about sprinting. I have tried a number of interval training options (mostly to try and avoid the Oregon rain), sleds, Airdynes, and circuits, but none of them give me the same training effect I get from sprinting. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying sprints are the best conditioning workout, and everything else sucks. Far from it. I’m just saying there seems to be something hardwired in our genetics that is designed to run as fast as we can. And, before I get too far ahead of myself, it’s important to say that a conditioning program that only incorporates sprinting is missing key components for injury prevention. Sprinting is only acceleration. A good conditioning program should have the athlete, accelerate, decelerate, and change directions. But, that is for another post. For today, I want to break down some guidelines I use when training myself and athletes I work with.
For a sprint work out, there are 3 variables you can adjust: work time, rest time, and number of reps. A general guideline we use is to start with 6 sprints of 12 seconds each with a 1 minute rest period. I took this from Mark Sisson, and had success with it. As I started progressing and training other people, I started adding some of Mike Boyle’s stuff into our training as well. As a general rule, I don’t really get above 8 sprints of 14 seconds. When we can reach that comfortably (and that’s a relative term when we’re talking about sprinting), we start to reduce the rest time. We cut it to 50 seconds, and then 45. This will make your sprint session drastically more difficult. Also, when we get to this level, we start adding shuttle runs, which I will explain in a later post. But we work to 4 sprints of 14 seconds and 4 shuttles. Here are a few tips about sprint workouts.
1. Find a few sprinting partners. This is the workout we talk the most trash about. No one is talking about who’s finishing first or last. That doesn’t matter. We’re talking about who’s “too soft” to sprint, and who’s not showing up to the toughest workout. This peer pressure can be the added motivation you need when you’re talking yourself out of going to the workout. I find that I don’t look forward to sprints, I always make them way worse in my mind than they really are, and 10 minutes after I’m done I feel great.
2. Start slowly. If you haven’t been sprinting in awhile, it’s best to start out well below your 100% speed. I have a friend who is a college sprinter, and he never gets to 100% when he’s training. I do get to top speed for the most part, and haven’t had any injury problems, but even at 85% of top speed, you will be getting a great workout. The problem with going too hard too early is that you’re going to get hurt. No question about it. You’re going to get a hamstring injury and be hobbling around for a few weeks. It’s a much better idea to run below top speed for awhile and gradually work up. Trust me on this.
3. If you miss a sprint session or two, regress. If you have been working your way up and progressing in your sprint workouts, when you miss a workout or two, you think about how hard it’s going to be to jump back into that progression. This can lead you to talking yourself out of missing more sprint workouts. It’s much better to go back a little bit and get out there and train then it is to stay where you are and not sprint at all.
If you consistently hit at least one sprint session a week, it will only take a few weeks before you start to notice your conditioning improving. My jiu jitsu athletes and basketball guys all come back in the gym after a few weeks of sprint training and talk about how they never get tired any more during practice/training. Feel free to contact me with any questions or feedback you have!