Sprinting is a fundamental skill. Like swimming, being able to build a fire, and make a shelter, it’s a skill that could save your life. Sprinting is also a kick-ass workout!
However, before you head to the track to work on your sprint, it’s important to make sure you go about your workout the right way. Sprinting is surprisingly intense, and a lot of wannabe Usain Bolts end up pulling a hammy or tearing a groin the moment they pick up the pace.
Here are seven tips for making your sprint workouts as safe and productive as possible.
1) WARM UP
Warming up is crucial for successful, injury-free sprinting. It will ensure your muscles are warm and pliable, and more resistant to stress and strain. Do not skimp on your warm up! To prepare your body for sprinting, raise your general body temperature with 5-15 minutes of light cardio and then perform dynamic stretches and foam rolling to restore elasticity to your muscles.
Next, do some sprinting-specific warm-up drills such as high knee running, butt kickers, and high knee skips for height and distance. Finally, statically stretch any muscles that still feel tight to reduce your chance of injury further.
2) USE ROLLING STARTS
Going from stationary to top speed is potentially the best way to injure yourself when sprinting. Instead, use rolling starts and increase your speed gradually over 20-30 meters before maxing out. This allows you to ease into your workout, testing the waters, and making sure you don’t do too much too soon.
As your workout progresses, and you get warmer, you can accelerate harder and faster, sooner.
3) PRACTICE RELAXED SPEED
Sprinting is not like lifting heavy weights; you don't need to grit your teeth and tense up to maximize your performance. In fact, you'll sprint faster if you stay relaxed. As you sprint, mentally scan your body, monitoring for tension. If your fists, arms, shoulders, face, neck, or upper back are tense, make a point of relaxing them as much as you can. Try to "flow" over the ground, rather than stomp it into dust!
4) GET UP ON YOUR TOES
There is a massive difference between running fast and sprinting. With fast running, it's quite acceptable for your feet to land heels-first. In sprinting, your heels should not even touch the ground. If your heels hit the floor when you are sprinting, you are effectively putting the brakes on each and every stride you take. In contrast, running on your toes tends to push you forward.
This is a tricky transition for some people and one that takes practice. However, if you feel your heels are hitting the ground first, you are slowing yourself down and need to try and get up onto your toes more.
5) BUILD SPEED, DURATION AND VOLUME GRADUALLY OVER WEEKS, OR EVEN MONTHS
Doing too much sprinting too soon could result in injury – either during your workouts or as a result of them. To avoid this, rein in your enthusiasm and increase speed, duration and volume gradually.
For example, for your first few workouts limit yourself to 6-10 reps over 50 meters, and only work up to around 80% maximum speed. Then, as you become more accustomed to sprinting, you can go faster, do more reps, or sprint over a greater distance. Increase these variables gradually to avoid unnecessary aches and pains.
6) ALLOW FOR ADEQUATE RECOVERY BETWEEN WORKOUTS
Sprinting is fun and exhilarating. It's rewarding to feel your speed increasing as you get fitter and more proficient. However, it IS a maximal effort activity and, in the same way you wouldn't squat to the max for several days in a row, nor should you sprint too often either.
Make sure you have a couple of rest days between sprint workouts, and also consider how your gym workouts could affect your sprint workouts and vice versa. If possible, precede and follow your sprint workouts with an upper body training session or a rest day, rather than a leg workout.
7) Know why you are sprinting
Knowing why you are sprinting will help determine the right kind of sprinting workout for you. For example, if you want to lose fat and increase conditioning, longer, sub-maximal sprints combined with incomplete rests will get the job done.
In contrast, if you want to increase your speed, your sprints should be closer to your top speed, and longer rests are more appropriate. Design your sprint workout to reflect your needs and goals.
Sprinting has the potential to be a very productive form of training, but it can also lead to injury. Use these guidelines to make sure you get the most from what can be a very arduous form of exercise, especially if you aren’t used to it.
Our free 6-week running guide incorporates different types of sprints to get your overall run types down. If you are looking for help in this area of your training then I definitely recommend downloading the free guide and adding it to your training.