Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Sprints for Fitness, Fat-Loss, and Emergencies


At this point, it's old news: Sprints are good for you. As Men's Health sums up,  sprints are better than jogging for weight loss, heart health, and maintaining muscle.

From a practical standpoint, I would add that sprints are a more vital life skill then jogging. Think about  it... How many situations can you imagine finding yourself in that would require you to run at a moderate pace for three or more miles? Probably not many. How many situations can you imagine having to run at a high speed for a short  time? If you see a child about to walk in front of a car, my  guess is you'll sprint, not jog, into action. You may sprint to catch the bus. When possible, one of the best options for avoiding violence is to run away as fast as possible.

So sprinting is a good thing. What spring routine is best? Do a bit of research, and you'll get all sorts of answers. The Polinquin Group has a good rundown of a few options on their website.

One thing that many sprint routines inadequately address is rest periods. Sprinting is tremendously taxing. You need to have recovery time built into your workout. For shorter sprints lasting just 10 or 15 seconds, a good ratio of work to recovery is 1:3. If you sprinted for 15 seconds, you would rest for 45 seconds. And by rest I mean rest. Do nothing more difficult then walk around. No jogging, no  push-ups. Rest! If you are really going all out during the sprints, you won't be able to do much more.

For many people, I think 10 or 15 seconds sprints with a minimum of 30 to 45 seconds of recovery, repeated for 10 to 15 minutes, is a good place to start. Longer rest periods are perfectly fine.

How about the famous Tabata Protocol, i.e. 20 seconds on, 10 seconds off for four minutes? Two thoughts: 1. The original studies were done with Olympic level athletes, who don't really represent the general public; and 2. They were peddling on specially designed exercise bikes, not sprinting. Sprinting is a different beast entirely.

When you start getting into sprints of 20 or 30 seconds, things start getting trickier.  To be honest, many people cannot sprint at a sustained pace for that long. If you can, you will need to really up the recovery time. Coach Dos wrote an excellent post on this. I particularly like this part:
One of my pet peeves is when people tell me “oh, yeah I do HITT on the treadmill all the time…I jog for 30 sec. then I sprint for 30 sec. and I do this for 30 minutes“. Uh…..no you don’t. You’re doing aerobics and anyone who has ever ‘sprinted’ for 30 sec. (I would like to see that BTW) knows the only thing that you do AFTER this bout is to STOP and TRY to get your SH*T together for the next bout.
This is very true. If someone can sprint for 30 seconds (which is unlikely), they will need way more than 30 seconds of recovery.

If I do 30 second sprints, I will usually allow 3:30 minutes for recovery. I repeat this five times. But wait, you may think. That's just 2:30 minutes of work during a 20 minute workout! Correct, but you know what? It's still incredible grueling, far more so than the 15/45 routine I mentioned above. The 3:30 minute rests periods don't seem long enough, and by the fifth round of sprints, I'm lucky not to peter out before the time is up.

A key takeaway from this post should be that sprinting is hard. That's why it's effective, and that's why recovery is such an important component of sprint training.


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