Just like most fitness minded folks out there, I do tend to get into a routine with my workouts. I do an intense, whole body strength training program a couple of times a week. It is very efficient and effective as far as maintaining a high level of strength, low body fat levels and a high reserve capacity without incurring injury…and it will be the cornerstone of my exercise routine the rest of my life.
Earlier this summer, I decided to go to the park on my workout day to run sprints. I would do about a 30 yard sprint, resting just long enough to be able to sprint again. I did this for about 20 minutes. All told, I did about 30 sprints during that bout. I am glad I did, for it was a very good workout…and a good change of pace.
With new enthusiasm about sprint training, I decided to do some research on the benefits of sprint training, and I found some gems I would like to share with you.
Benefit #1: It builds strength.
Everybody who has been reading my articles know I am a big fan of working the fast twitch muscle fibers. They are the fibers that produce high levels of force, and they are the ones that reshape the body, improve injury prevention, and have the body functioning at a high level of fitness. Most people simply do not train hard enough to challenge the fast twitch fibers, thus missing out on the main benefit of exercising in the first place. Intense muscular contractions are necessary to achieve this end. We accomplish this with a slow and controlled tempo and a load heavy enough to fatigue the muscle within 45 to 90 seconds. It is a very effective way to get the job done while minimizing potential injury to the joints. Sprint training works the fast twitch fibers too. It does so by forcing the muscles to produce as much force as fast as possible to move as fast as possible . This will get the fast twitch fibers firing, thus building new muscle.
Benefit # 2: It better than cardio training for fat loss.
The aerobic fitness craze got into full swing in the nineteen eighties, and it is still pervasive today. The reason for its popularity? It is supposed to be the best way to lose fat. This is a fallacy. Brief, intense muscular work does a much better job of making the body burn fat than a cardio program, of which our Hystrength (sm) exercise program does…and so does sprint training. Charles Poliquin, a strength and conditioning coach to elite athletes, cites three different studies on the remarkable effects of sprint training on fat loss. One study he cites had participants do either a 20 week steady state cardio program, or 15 weeks of interval sprint training. The researchers found that, on average, participants on the sprint training program lost more than nine times the amount of fat and 12% more visceral fat than the aerobic group did.
Steady state cardio exercise just does not compare.
Benefit #3: It improves insulin sensitivity.
This is a big deal. Metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes are crippling the health care system. Muscles become insensitive to insulin, leading to excess glucose in the bloodstream which causes chronic high blood sugar and encourages fat storage. The reason muscles become insensitive is because there is plenty of glucose/glycogen in the muscle already. It does not need more…it cannot handle more. The glycogen stores need to be drained regularly, especially if one eats a high carbohydrate diet. Intense muscular contractions will drain not only the glycogen stores of the slow twitch fibers, but the fast twitch fibers as well. The muscles will then be more responsive to insulin. Research is showing that metabolic syndrome and even type 2 diabetes can be reversed with proper diet and exercise. Sprint training can be a very useful tool in that regard.
Benefit # 4: It builds new mitochondria.
Mitochondria produces energy for the body. It creates ATP, the fuel that powers our body, and research shows that degenerative diseases are largely caused by malfunctioning mitochondria. The mitochondria decrease in number with age, or they get damaged and cannot function properly. The good news is that mitochondria can be stimulated to make more. The process is called mitochondrial biogenesis, and sprinting has been shown to do just that. According to Mark Sisson, a single bout of four 30 seconds sprints did trigger mitochondrial biogenesis. Moreover, new mitochondria can slow down the aging process and most certainly leads to a healthier outlook. We want more of this.
Benefit # 5: It builds endurance.
That’s right. Anaerobic training, in this case sprint training, has been shown to build endurance just as good as, well, endurance training. You can increase your anaerobic threshold higher from intense work, making lower level endurance activities easier to perform. The cool thing about this is that it takes a fraction of the time to get the same benefit. Instead of spending several hours a week to improve endurance, a couple of sprint training sessions a week for a total of twenty to thirty minutes is all you need.
I could go on, but you get the idea. The main benefits I like from sprinting is that it helps build muscle, burn fat, increase reverse capacity (increased endurance and daily activities get easier), and improve insulin sensitivity. These are great benefits indeed. I highly encourage you to add sprint training to your exercise regimen.