I talk quite a lot about sprinting in my articles, and that’s because I want you all to sprint more! Sprinting is an incredible much-neglected form of high-intensity exercise. Simply put, it’s the most fantastic workout you can perform, which will yield the best results — melting away excess fat, and building lean, solid muscle!
Besides, sprinting makes you feel fantastic — your legs will be tingling (that’s the fast-twitch muscles rebuilding), and you’ll feel energized and roaring to go all day long!
If that’s what you want?
But who doesn’t want that? I’d much rather spend 15 minutes (including warm-up) pumping out a sprint session than one hour or more in a gym, lifting weights! Especially knowing that weight lifting doesn’t build lean, defined muscle or burn fat much; instead, you’re more likely to develop bulky undefined muscles, that is, if you lift a lot.
So what’s Hill Sprinting all about?
Any type of resistance makes things harder to do, right? Just as with weight lifting — lift the bar alone, not much of a problem; as soon as you stack weights, it gets hard. Sprinting is the same; your body weight is the only resistance holding you, and if you run on a flat surface or track, that’s kind of easy (relatively speaking).
If you add a steep hill (I mean steep) or steps for that matter and sprint up those bad boys for 20 seconds, what’s happening? You’ve got a whole lot of resistance going against you, and it’s way harder to run fast up a hill or steps. Makes sense?
I remember clearly back in my teens when I was a professional ski racer; the ONLY type of sprinting our coaches made us do in the dry season was sprint up the super steep steps of the Olympic Ski Jump Hill Innsbruck, Austria. And that wasn’t twenty seconds; that was more like one minute!
Let me tell you how that felt; halfway up, you’re spent and thinking, “how the f… will I make it up”?
Aha, but you have your teammates, i.e., your competition watching you gauging your fitness levels, and you have coaches yelling at you on the way up, so you simply cannot give up. Two-thirds up, your legs are breaking down and feel like jelly; you can barely scale the next step, then you come to a plodding walk-run type of movement, dragging yourself mercilessly to the top. You finally arrive, can hardly breathe, and then throw up! Yep, that was the way we trained hill or step sprints as professional athletes — to the extreme.
Now, I’m not asking you to do that, please don’t, as that certainly wasn’t a healthy thing to do!
The best way to Hill Sprint.
The best is to integrate your sprints into part of your morning walking routine if you have one — if you don’t, I advise you to start one! Find a steep hill in a park, trail, or forest — that’s your new sprinting hill. Your fast-paced walk will warm you up nicely, so when you arrive at your sprinting hill, you’re almost ready to go. Almost?
First, please incorporate a 3-minute dynamic stretching session. Dynamic means you’re not keeping the stretch in one position; you’re moving or bouncing back and forth. This motion helps warm the muscles and joints further and doesn’t stretch out your muscles, which you want to do with the static stretch after your workout.
Ready, set, go! Let’s sprint.
First, you want to measure your distance — take 30 to 40 large steps up the hill, which will measure around 35 meters or yards in length. That’s an ideal distance to start your hill sprints, as you want to aim for maximum speed in a short burst and not run out of steam, as I described before with my step sprints.
Then go to the starting line, on three, go for it and push yourself to go flat out, all the way, taking small but rapid steps as you propel yourself forward. Warning: it’s going to be hard, and you’ll feel like giving up halfway into the distance, but do not stop, push through the pain!
Once at the top, take deep breaths and then measure your heart rate for 10-seconds. Count the beats as accurately as possible, multiply the number by 60, and you have your BPM heart rate. If you sprint right, your BPM should be between 175 and 185 (being our maximum); if you reach those numbers — well done! You ran the right way.
Then, walk down to the starting line, nice and slowly, gathering your breath and letting your heart rate settle to around 125.
After around another 1-minute of rest and re-focus time at the starting line, repeat the sprint and these instructions four to six times, aiming for six sets. If you feel spent, dizzy, or nauseous, please pack it in and walk back home. You’ll soon feel much better as any such feeling passes quickly, but you do not want to continue the training if you feel those sensations. You have to build your capacity step by step and session by session.
After you have recovered from your sprints, please lie down and give yourself a good static stretch.
How often should I sprint?
I recommend a maximum of two sprinting sessions per week, which should take no longer than 12 minutes for you to complete all 6 sets.
Some trainers recommend one session, others 3 to 4 per week. For folks of slightly advanced age (like myself), say between 40 to 60 years of age, two sessions per week are ideal and will work magic!
Plus, as sprinting is a high-intensity exercise, it stresses our heart, and we pump cortisol (our stress hormone) into our hearts. Thus, we want to keep this activity short and sweet and not repeat it too often — protecting our hearts rather than compromising our heart health by overexercising.
Let’s take a look at the benefits of sprinting and scientific studies:
- Builds Strength — Sprints are an anaerobic exercise; they will trigger muscle building, increasing the size and strength of the powerful, fast-twitch fibers. A study conducted in 2012 showed sprinting can enhance protein synthesis pathways by as much as 230 percent! The proper nutrition and recovery will lead to muscle building, allowing your body to become leaner and enabling you to run (sprint) faster, longer, and more efficiently.
- Lose Fat — Sprint training is one of the most efficient conditioning exercises to create significant and notable fat loss. Sprinting enables you to lose body fat faster than long and steady aerobic training, like running or jogging. In contrast, in aerobic exercise, you are more likely to lose body mass, which includes fat and water weight. When wanting to lose weight and become healthier, you should aim to lose fat. A Nutrition Journal study conducted in 2004 showed that fat metabolism is most effective during running at intensities between 47 and 64%, depending on athletic ability, while another study by Exercise and Sport Sciences Reviews showed that high-intensity interval training could improve skeletal muscle oxidative capacity and endurance performance.
- Expand Endurance — Sprinting will improve your general stamina. Sprinting is one of the most efficient ways to build your endurance. Going at max speeds on a sprint will improve your endurance capacity, amplifying your maximal oxygen uptake and increasing the time it takes for fatigue to set in. Since sprints train the body to burn fat for fuel, they preserve muscle glycogen and prolonging work capacity.
- Improves Heart Health — Sprinting comes with cardiovascular benefits. It can help lower your blood pressure. The fast-twitch muscles that you are building with sprints strengthen your heart function. Doing all those explosions and putting all that extra effort into your muscles makes your heart work and pump harder, which will improve your heart.
- Builds Mental Toughness — Sprints are a challenging workout. There may be moments of uncertainty in the middle of your workout that challenge your ability to finish. However, it is essential not to give in. Pushing through the discomfort will enable you to break records and build confidence in your emotional and physical abilities.
- Reduce Stress — Sprinting, like other forms of exercise, produces endorphins, chemicals in the brain that act as natural painkillers and provide you with a “feel good” sensation. The release of endorphins stimulates confidence and relief, especially after having completed a workout.
- Saves Time — Sprints are quick bursts of movements, and as such, they are just as and often more time effective than jogging for an hour. Sprints are a great way to maximize your workout with half the time!
- Improves Glucose Control/Insulin –A 2009 study by BMCEndocrine Disorders found high-intensity workouts substantially improved insulin levels and could reduce metabolic syndrome risk factors, including high cholesterol, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and abdominal body fat. Sprints work so well for glucose control because they deplete the body of supply of glycogen, the sugar stored inside of our muscles. The only way our body can get rid of excess sugar in our blood is first to make it run down its glycogen inventories in our muscles. The only way to squeeze glycogen out of the inventories is through exercises with intense contractions, such as sprints.
The finish line.
Sprinting may sound daunting or just too strenuous to do, especially if you are a bit out of shape, lacking confidence, or maybe feel too old for the task. But please don’t think that way. Like anything else, sprinting can be learned by practicing regularly and building your ability just by pushing yourself that little bit harder and faster each time.
No other exercise has as bang for the buck as sprinting does. Follow my instructions in this article, find yourself a nice spot (as described) for the challenge, take 10 deep breathes, get your mind in the right space, ready set, go!
Thanks for reading.