“I am not afraid. I was born to do this.” –Unknown
Were you born to run?
Regardless of your answer, you WERE born to move with force, to endure pain when the room is empty, and find out what your real limits are. You WERE born to have a lean, muscular body that is a pleasure to look at.
Sprint training will help you achieve these outcomes, improve your athletic performance, and it’s been shown to be a “shortcut” to optimal health if you’re willing to put in the effort. This article will provide three superb interval models to guide your training for the best body and life.
#1: The All-Purpose Athlete: The Best Sprint Program To Build Muscle & Lose Fat
Research done on elite soccer and handball athletes shows how a short but intense sprint interval program can produce a significant anabolic hormone response to build muscle and lose fat. This study compared the effect of doing four all-out sprints in increasing distance order (100, 200, 300, 400 meters) or the reverse order. Rest intervals were 4 minutes following the 400, 3 minutes following the 300, and 2 minutes following the 200, and 1 minute after the 100.
Results showed that the decreasing order (400, 300, 200, 100) produced the following superior results and the athletes rated the workout as easier:
• Greater increase in growth hormone (GH) and blood lactate, indicating this protocol was more metabolically taxing and could lead to more fat loss over time.
• A significant testosterone response, suggesting the protocol was effective for muscle building and creating a fat burning environment.
• A greater insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) response—a hormone that further enhances muscle adaptations—which is important because a previous study using longer intervals of 250 meters, but lower intensity didn’t elevate IGF-1.
• Greater stimulation of the GH-IGF-1 axis, highlighting that more time spent training anaerobically will produce a greater metabolic effect and more body fat loss.
This type of training is ideal for the conditioned trainee, but it’s vital to have other interval protocols to choose from. This next model applies to the recreational athlete who might not be as well conditioned, but still wants to get lean while maintaining muscle.
Researchers from Canada compared the effect of a 3-day-a-week, 6-week interval running program with an endurance protocol on body composition and time trail performance in young trainees. The interval protocol was six 30-second all-out sprints with 4 minutes rest. The endurance protocol was 30 to 60 minutes of running at 65 percent of maximal.
Results showed the following better results from the sprint program:
• The sprint group lost an impressive 12.4 percent body fat and 2 kg of fat mass. The endurance group lost 5.8 percent body fat and about half a kilo of fat. Both groups increased muscle mass by a small 1 percent.
• The sprint group spent a total of .75 of an hour actually sprinting compared to the endurance group that spent a whopping 13.5 hours running.
• Both groups improved by 5 percent on a 2,000-meter time trial.
Here you see that you can lose more fat and maintain muscle in MUCH less training time by doing sprints. You will improve conditioning, get faster, and be able to sustain a higher work rate for longer, as seen by the better performance on the middle-distance time trial.
#2: The Strength Athlete: Improve Power, Conditioning & Anabolic Response
If your primary goal is to improve peak power and anaerobic conditioning, shorter intervals with less rest are the way to go. These models are ideal for combat athletes like wrestlers, judokas, and MMA fighters, but they could also benefit the strength trainee who just wants to be more athletically awesome. With a killer anabolic response, these short but sweet workouts will help you build muscle and get cut.
Try six to ten repeats of 35-meter all-out sprints with 10-seconds rest. That’s what competitive wrestlers did twice a week for 4 weeks in order to achieve the following benefits:
• Increased maximal power by 5 percent. A similar study by judokas showed increase peak power of 16 percent.
• Higher maximal work capacity by 32 percent as seen with an increase in the ability to go all out on an exhaustive test from 356 to 471 seconds.
• Higher testosterone and a decrease in cortisol of 12.6 percent. A more favorable testosterone to cortisol ratio that indicates an environment that is beneficial for muscular adaptations.
It’s too bad that the researchers in this study did not measure changes in body fat or lean muscle mass, since the wrestlers may well have improved body composition given the enhanced anabolic response. Try this model if you already have a base level of conditioning and want to maximize power and lean muscle development.
#3: The Endurance Athlete: Lose Fat, Save Time & Improve Performance
It is in endurance athletes that we see the profound value of interval training. If your goal is endurance, but you still want to look jacked and be fast and strong, sprinting is your savior. And of course, you’ll save training time that can be devoted to other thrilling pursuits.
A recent study had endurance runners in their 40s do either a 4-day-a week interval program or an endurance program for 4 months. The interval protocol varied: Day 1 and 3 were ten 30-second all-out sprints with 90 seconds active rest; Day 2 was 6 intervals of 2 minutes at maximal speed followed by 90 seconds active rest; Day 4 was 30 minutes of tempo running at lactate threshold. The endurance protocol consisted of running at 75 to 85 percent of the lactate threshold for 45 to 75 minutes.
Results showed the following greater body composition improvements in the interval group:
• The interval group lost 2 kg of body fat and 16 percent belly fat. They also improved running speed at the lactate threshold by 20.5 percent, and increased aerobic capacity by 18.6 percent.
• The endurance group lost 1 kg of body fat and no belly fat. They improved speed at the lactate threshold by only 12.9 percent, and improved aerobic capacity by 7 percent.
• Both groups lost a small amount of lean muscle—the sprint group lost 1 kg, whereas the endurance group lost 1.5 kg—reinforcing the need for strength training to maintain muscle.
The interval workout was so much more effective because it produced a greater lactate response, which correlates with an elevation in fat-burning hormones. This combined with an increase in the amount of energy burned in the 24-hour recovery period (called EPOC) led to greater fat loss. Leaner is always better when it comes to endurance performance, particularly when muscle is spared since it means you will have greater relative strength.
To use this evidence to get your own results, consider the following energy-system principles:
• Volume and intensity are inversely related. Make sure you maintain sprint quality and avoid the critical drop-off point where you get diminishing returns.
• To develop anaerobic power with fat loss try 9 X 30 seconds, 7 X 45 seconds, and 5 X 70 seconds.
• To develop anaerobic capacity and fat loss: 6 X 70 seconds, 4 X 90 seconds, and 3 X 120 seconds.
• Plan your sprint sessions separately from your lifting workouts—don’t do them in the same session, and ideally, do them on separate days.