Whether you’re a cyclist, a swimmer, a distance runner or a track athlete, adding sprints into your training plan will boost your sports performance. Sprinting is all about mental toughness, speed and power – things that will keep you moving forwards when the going gets tough on longer rides and runs.
The best bit about sprinting is that it’s over quickly, making it a fantastic way to increase your performance if you’re short on time.
The main benefit of sprinting is mental toughness. It’s about pushing yourself to your limit and staying there. When you sprint, your legs will burn and your head will scream at you to stop. But you won’t – you’ll draw upon every ounce of grit and determination and you’ll keep going until you’ve reached your finish. Then you’ll repeat it. Gradually you’ll get used to shutting off the voice telling you to slow down or stop.
It’s this practice of sheer bloody-mindedness that will make you better at your sport. Think about the last few miles of your usual training rides or runs and how hard it is to focus when you’re aching top to toe. Once you get used to pushing yourself through a pain barrier, your distance training and races will feel easier. Aching legs? Shh now! You’ve got a goal to reach!
Overall increase in speed
Sprinting will also get you used to a faster cadence or stride rate. You’ll probably end up going faster during your regular training sessions, simply because you’ll increase your leg turnover rate without even thinking about it.
Finally, sprinting will helps you to build power. Sprinting requires you to push a huge amount of force through your legs. This recruits the glute and hamstring muscles - or more bluntly, the ones that run down the backs of your thighs and your bottom! These are your powerhouse muscles when you’re trying to ride or run up inclines. Sprinting will strengthen these muscles, making hills feel easier.
Working harder in a short amount of time has been proven to increase EPOC (Excess Post-exercise Oxygen Consumption) or “after burn”. Basically, your body runs out of oxygen during the exertion and it has to work harder to replenish its stores. Your body is therefore still working overtime and burning tonnes of calories, even after you’ve finished your sprint training. It’s therefore a great way to keep your weight in check – something that’s key to maintaining a speed advantage in endurance sports.
- Always warm up properly before starting any of these drills.
- Perform one session a week or two as an absolute maximum.
- Make sure that you perform a cool down once you’ve finished.
Find a short hill: One where you can see the top as this will help with motivation! Run or ride up it as fast as you can. Ride or walk slowly back down. This is one rep. Repeat. Start with 3 reps. Try to complete one extra rep each session.
Ride or run fartleks: Find a route that’s got plenty of street furniture or lamp posts, spread out at regular intervals. Sprint between points, then back off, then spring, then back off… Keep going until you’ve finished the route.
Ride or run intervals: Set up a watch or timer to give you work periods and rest periods. Start with a 1:4 work to rest ratio, then decrease the rest period as you get fitter until you reach 1:1.
Head to the spin bikes in the gym: Set the resistance to a level where if standing, you can run on the pedals. Put on a playlist that really gets you going, where the songs have real energy in the choruses. Quite simply, sprint the choruses and back off to about 75% for the other bits. Mix it up with seated and standing sprints. Or if you’re really looking to fire up your glutes, stand but hover over the saddle.
Do make sure that you follow up with adequate rest and restorative nutrition. This means foam rolling, stretching, plenty of sleep and a meal/ supplement that gives you protein and carbohydrates within 30 minutes of finishing your session.
- Use a GPS watch for timed intervals – the TomTom Cardio watch is easy to use.
- High5 Zero – hydration is paramount in any training session but adding Zero will give you a flavour boost without extra calories, something that’s key if you’re interested in using sprinting as a weight-management tool.
- Race running footwear – these are super lightweight and specially crafted to help you to reach maximum speed.
- Foam roller – a foam roller will be your weapon for a faster recovery. You’ll be able to knead out knots and keep your legs fresh and ready for your normal training sessions.
- Recovery nutrition – products within this range are perfectly balanced to provide your body with exactly what it needs post-training. It gobbles up anything that you throw at it during this period so make sure that you’re giving it top quality nutrients! If you don’t want to use a supplement then chocolate milk is another good option. Opt for liquids as they tend to be more convenient than solids, plus the body also digests them faster which is crucial during this period. Do make sure that you also eat a good balance of carbohydrates, protein and fats throughout the rest of the day as well.