The Best Sprint Workouts to Burn Calories, Build Muscle, and Get Faster

Make your cardio sessions more effective by adding a sprint workout to your routine so you can improve your athletic performance and overall fitness!

The Best Sprint Workouts to Burn Calories, Build Muscle, and Get Faster
10 min. read 2/25/2022, 5:30 PM

When it comes to cardio workouts, there are many to choose from, some being more intense than others. But if your goal is to have an intense cardio session to burn fat and strengthen your muscles, or just to improve your endurance, adding a sprint workout to your routine will do just the trick!

Sprinting is an amazing HIIT (high-intensity interval training) exercise that you can add to your routine as your staple cardio workout or combine with other effective exercises such as jump roping or burpees for a complete HIIT session. It consists of sprinting intervals with rest periods in between, allowing you to catch your breath for a moment before quickly starting again.

There are different ways to add sprinting to your routine depending on your fitness level. We’ve put together a simple sprinting guide for beginners and for those who just want to take it slow, as well as a few modifications that you can add to your routine if you want to make it more challenging!

Benefits of sprinting

Before you consider adding sprinting to your workout routine, you probably want to know why you should do it. And there are a lot of health benefits to sprinting! Here are a few of the main ones:

Improves cardiovascular health

Any kind of aerobic exercise will be great to get your blood pumping, but HIIT exercises excel at this! When sprinting, you move explosively, making you breathe faster as your body gets more oxygen from your blood. This fires up your heart rate and your lungs, enhancing your aerobic capacity and helping distribute the oxygen through your body more efficiently.

This is highly beneficial for those with heart problems because it helps regulate your blood pressure and flow, but it’s also very effective at preventing those problems and keeping good heart health. And getting your heart pumping not only helps improve oxygen distribution but also everything else that gets carried through the blood, like water and necessary nutrients, helping regulate other health aspects such as blood sugar.

Burns extra fat

Sprinting is a high-intensity cardio exercise that burns tons of fat in the process. Since it’s so explosive, it burns more calories than other less intense cardio workouts such as jogging and even running, making it a favorite among those who are looking to maintain a healthy weight.

Additionally, sprinting is a HIIT exercise, and one big benefit of any HIIT workout is that it helps you burn calories even after you’re done with your workout by increasing your metabolic rate. This happens during the two-hour period post-workout in which your EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption) is elevated while your body is slowly going back to its usual resting state. Your body uses a lot of energy during this process, burning a lot of calories, and even tapping into fat stores for more energy.

It’s the ideal workout for those who are looking to lose weight, or even if you’re strength training and need to burn some extra calories or avoid weight gain!

Strengthens your bones and muscles

Sedentarism fuels bone deterioration, which is why any kind of daily physical activity is recommended for everyone. Sprinting in particular is a very high-intensity exercise, and it’s not only beneficial to avoid bone deterioration, but it actually helps improve and strengthen bone density by putting a lot of pressure on your skeleton during the workout.

Additionally, it helps build bigger and stronger legs. You might hear cardio and think of burned calories, but building muscle is also something that sprinting is great for! It’s a very demanding exercise for your legs, helping you build new lean muscle on your lower body, as well as a stronger core that keeps your balance during your workout.

Improves your body composition

Your body composition is essentially the ratio of fat mass to lean mass in your body. In other words, it indicates how much fat is stored in your body in relation to your fat-free mass such as your muscles, bones, ligaments, and other lean body mass. This is why your body weight doesn’t dictate how healthy you are, instead, it’s your body composition that actually matters.

Since sprinting is a high-impact exercise, it can burn calories while it builds muscle, making you stronger and leaner in the process. Basically, it allows for body recomposition by reducing the amount of fat mass while you gain new lean mass, not only losing fat weight in the process but also gaining a nice physique and improving your overall fitness level.

How to get started with sprinting

A standard sprinting workout has four key elements to it: warm-up, sprints, active recovery in between, and cool-down. Depending on your fitness level, the length of both the sprints and the active recovery will vary, as well as how intense they are.

So, before you jump head-first into an advanced sprinting workout, let’s see what a beginner workout would look like:

  • Warm-up

Any workout needs a good warm-up before you begin your first set so that your muscles and ligaments can get stretched out and ready to take on any challenge. Sprinting is a very intense cardio exercise, which means that you need to prepare your muscles accordingly before you start running. A few good warm-ups for sprinting are jogging in place, high-knee marching, accelerations, and a few lunges to increase your range of motion during the sprints.

Warm-ups are necessary for everyone at any fitness level to avoid injuries and sore muscles post-workout, but this is especially true when you’re a beginner since your body isn’t used to the high-intensity movement. So never skip your warm-ups, and aim to dedicate at least 5-10 minutes to them!

  • Sprints and active recovery

When it comes to sprinting, there are many different ways in which you could structure your workout - and we’ll get into those variations in a moment! But for now, let’s stick with a consistent pace throughout the whole workout.

Begin by sprinting for 30 seconds at around 70-80% of your maximum effort. Stop your sprint to rest, but instead of completely stopping your movement, perform some active recovery for a minute or two. This could be a brisk walk or a light jog to keep your muscles engaged and your blood flowing. Always aim to make your active recovery at least twice as long as your sprint time, to give your muscles and lungs some time to prepare for the next sprint without exhausting them too quickly.

Then, sprint for another 30 seconds at the same intensity, pause again for some active recovery, and keep this pattern going for 20 minutes - or less if you feel like you’ve reached your limit. After this, you’ll have completed your sprinting workout!

  • Cool-down

After your workout, don’t just stop and lay down to rest. Your muscles are fired up due to the intensity of the routine, and you need to properly cool down to avoid having any tense muscles after.

End your workout by walking for a couple of minutes, so your heart rate can slow down, and then perform a few total-body static stretches to help your muscles relax and go back to their usual resting state. Foam rolling is also an effective way to reduce muscle tightness after a sprinting workout!

Let’s recap:

  1. Warm-up
  2. Sprint (30 seconds at around 70-80% of your max effort)
  3. Active recovery (1-2 minutes)
  4. Repeat
  5. Cool-down after 20 minutes

Remember, this is a basic sprint training routine and it’s meant to help you get started with sprinting when you’re still a beginner. After you’ve built enough endurance from doing this routine, you’ll be ready to take it one step further and begin adding some modifications to make it more challenging!

Sprint workout variations

In general, sprint workouts are highly modifiable, so you can keep making progress according to your current fitness level without hitting a plateau. Here are some of the best sprint workouts for those who need a more intense workout:

Longer sprinting intervals

Instead of sprinting for 30 seconds, increase the intensity by sprinting for 60 seconds at 80% of your max effort. This will make the routine significantly more demanding, allowing you to have a more effective cardio session.

  1. Warm-up
  2. Sprint (60 seconds at 80% of your max effort)
  3. Active recovery (1-2 minutes)
  4. Repeat
  5. Cool-down after 20 minutes

Shorter active recovery

This is also a simple modification of the basic routine where you’ll be doing active recovery for a shorter period of time. Instead of 1-2 minutes, keep it at just 60 seconds so your muscles stay fired up throughout your routine.

  1. Warm-up
  2. Sprint (30 seconds at 80% of your max effort)
  3. Active recovery (60 seconds)
  4. Repeat
  5. Cool-down after 20 minutes

Increasing intensity

This sprinting routine starts with a lower intensity, increasing at every interval. Start at 60% of your maximum effort, then 70%, then 80%, and repeat. Essentially, you’re pushing your muscles and endurance to the max and then resetting it.

  1. Warm-up
  2. Sprint (60 seconds at 60% of your max effort)
  3. Active recovery (90 seconds)
  4. Sprint (60 seconds at 70% of your max effort)
  5. Active recovery (90 seconds)
  6. Sprint (60 seconds at 80% of your max effort)
  7. Active recovery (90 seconds)
  8. Repeat
  9. Cool-down after 20 minutes

Ladder routine

Similar to the increasing intensity routine, the ladder will have you increasing the intensity of the sprints, but then gradually decreasing it. So, after you reach 80% of your max effort, you go back to 70%, then 60%, and repeat.

  1. Warm-up
  2. Sprint (45 seconds at 60% of your max effort)
  3. Active recovery (90 seconds)
  4. Sprint (45 seconds at 70% of your max effort)
  5. Active recovery (90 seconds)
  6. Sprint (45 seconds at 80% of your max effort)
  7. Active recovery (90 seconds)
  8. Sprint (45 seconds at 70% of your max effort)
  9. Active recovery (90 seconds)
  10. Sprint (45 seconds at 60% of your max effort)
  11. Active recovery (90 seconds)
  12. Repeat
  13. Cool-down after 20 minutes

Hill sprinting

As the name suggests, this variation involves sprinting up a hill - or, if you’re using a treadmill, sprinting on an incline. In doing so, you’ll hit your muscles from a different angle and really push them to the max!

  1. Warm-up
  2. Sprint (uphill, 60 seconds at 80% of your max effort)
  3. Active recovery (downhill, 90 seconds)
  4. Repeat
  5. Cool-down after 20 minutes

These are all different variations of the standard sprint routine, but there are many more that you can try! Feel free to play with the duration of the intervals, the intensity at which you’re sprinting, or even the total workout duration. The rules are very loose when it comes to the specifics, so you can customize it according to your current fitness level and how you’re feeling on that specific day.

And remember, sprinting is a demanding and high-intensity cardio exercise, so if you have any heart, respiratory, or other health conditions, make sure you consult with a doctor first. Additionally, you could have a running coach for your sprints if you want to get serious with it and take it to the next level!

Need some help adding a sprint session to your cardio workouts?

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