How to Use Sprints for Fat Loss and Improved Performance

Ramp up your metabolism, build a better posterior, and improve your performance by introducing sprints into your workouts with this comprehensive guide!

Sprint workouts are not flashy but they are extremely potent.

You do not need any special equipment or gimmicks to sprint, as the only requirement is your mind and body.

Sprinting saves time, builds muscle/shreds body fat, develops serious mental toughness, and builds glutes that sit high and tight like a Marine’s haircut.

Facts aside, the majority of lifters think spending an hour or two in the “cardio” section is a good idea.

Many lifters also think only training chest and biceps 3 days per week at the expense of the rest of your body is good idea too. It’s not.

There is no reason to waste your valuable time in the “cardio” section of some gym if you want to build an athletic physique. When everybody goes left, you need to go right.

Sprinter-Warm Up

The first thing we have to do before we begin to train is to perform a warm-up that is specific to sprinting.

The purpose of sprinting specific drills is to get your CNS and lower body primed to handle the sprint workout that you are about to bestow upon it.

Related: Sprinting for Lifters - A Guide to Muscle Building Cardio

The walking drills are the easiest to perform and will help you develop the coordination needed to perform the skipping drills. The skipping drills are more dynamic than the walking drills and will serve to get you moving athletically.

The running drills will be the highest intensity of the drills and will serve to excite your CNS and set you up perfectly for the sprint workout.

The drills will not feel comfortable at first, but rarely is anything you do the first time comfortable. I’m currently learning Adobe Premiere Pro and I feel like I’m learning Martian, but the key to success is to stick with it. Quitters never prosper.

The speed and coordination will come in time. There are also a few advanced drills such as bounding and long jumps that you can add in, but they are not required.

(Note: Make sure you perform a sprinter warm-up before you sprint. Pulled hamstrings do not feel good and I'm not coming to see you in the ER.)

Hill Sprints

Hill sprints are more strenuous than flat sprints, but they are actually the safest version of sprinting that you can perform.

The hill acts as an automatic governor switch as the incline will not allow you to hit full speed and dramatically lower the chances that you pull that precious hamstring. This is a key for beginners who want to try to emulate Usain Bolt.

If you are training primarily for speed you will take a full rest to allow for higher quality sprints. For shorter sprints (30-60 yards) you would rest 3-5 minutes between sets. For longer sprints (80-200 yards) you would rest 5-8 minutes.

If you are training primarily for fat loss, your rest is a slow walk back to where you started.

As a general rule of thumb, your short hills will be performed around 90 percent of your maximum speed. Your longer hills will be performed between 75-90 percent of your maximum speed. We will address this in the next section but you can check out your options for hill workouts below:

  • 6 x 30-50 yards
  • 5 x 80-100 yards
  • 3 x 120-200 yards

When you are performing sprinting specifically for fat loss, you can finish your workout significantly faster than someone who is wasting 1-2 hours in the "cardio" section of a commercial gym going nowhere fast. Get warm, sprint for 15-25 minutes, and go home.

Short Sprints (Speed Work)

Note: The options below are best performed on a track for maximum performance. If you have joint issues or injuries, use a turf field, as it will provide a softer surface for your body.

In the track game, speed work for above average to elite male sprinters is classified as sprinting that generally takes 7 seconds or less. This puts the ideal speed work ratio around 20-60 meters.

Speed work requires you to sprint at near maximum speed because the distance is short. Speed work is similar to maximum strength work, in that you need longer recoveries and less training volume to maximize performance.

Lifting heavy weights at a brisk pace, like in my RP-21 Training System, is a fantastic way to build an impressive physique and get strong but because it is a hybrid program, I would not use that protocol with a lifter whose only goal is pure strength or speed. You simply need more rest to build maximal strength or speed.

Neither method is wrong. You just have to know that the rest periods dictate the overall training effect.

Fly Eagle Fly

With shorter sprints, you can also perform flying reps at selected distances.

To set up a flying rep, set a cone at your starting point and set another cone 30 meters behind your starting point. The area between this cone and the starting cone is the acceleration zone.

After this, place a cone 30 meters in front of your starting line. This is your finish line.

To do a flying rep, start at the first cone and begin to build up speed so that by the time you are at the starting cone, you are at full speed. Continue to accelerate with passion until you cross the final cone 30 meters away. Flying reps are the best way to build maximum velocity.

To perform speed work, you should run at near max speed (90-95 percent) for about 3-6 reps.

For more of a focus on speed development, rest about 4-6 minutes between sets. If you are just training to shred body fat, the rest is the walk back. Check out your options for speed workouts below:

  • 30 meters x 3-6
  • 30 meter flys x 3-6
  • 30 meters x 3 followed by 30 meter flys x 3

Short speed work is the most important component for building top end linear speed in athletes who compete in sports like football, track, and baseball. Performing true speed work will ensure that you get faster in 40-yard dash, the 60-yard dash, and the 100-meter dash.

You do not develop top end speed by doing high volume running at 70 percent. After 10 years out of the competitive track game, I began to seriously train and compete as a masters’ sprinter in 2016 at age 32. I was able to drop my official 100-meter dash time from 12.64 in June 2016 to 11.57 in July 2017 at age 33.

Our second Division 1 athlete, Demetrius Deramus, also dropped his 60-yard dash time for baseball from 7.2 in December 2016 to 6.58 in November 2017.

Medium Sprints (Speed Endurance Work)

Speed work rarely gasses you to the point where you want to quit, but speed endurance training is a completely different story.

The training distances for speed endurance work usually take place in a range from 80 meters up to 150 meters for sprinters.

Speed endurance work is also technique-based, because you cannot just line up and go at maximum speed for 150 meters. No one, including world-class sprinters, can hold their top speed for that long. At 60-80 meters an unprepared trainee will be locked up like they were in Oz.

Sprinting strategies have to be applied here to avoid that. In track, we call these strategies race plans, as they allow sprinters to maximize their performance during a given race.

A general rule of thumb for speed endurance work is to sprint hard at 90 percent speed for the first 30-50 meters, followed by a floating sprint. Floating is when you no longer try to accelerate but you settle into the speed that you have attained over the first 30-50 meters.

When you begin to float, you are no longer sprinting at 90 percent speed. You should be relaxed and able to feel the downshift in speed. 80-85 percent speed is a good number to aim for. Check out options for speed endurance workouts below:

  • 80 meters x 5
  • 120 meters x 4
  • 80m, 100m, 120m, 150m x1

To maximize speed and performance, rest 5-10 minutes between reps. If you are training purely for physique development and fat loss without much of a concern for top speed, your rest period would be a walk back to the starting line.

Long Sprints (Special Endurance Work)

The most dastardly and unbearable training modality in the sprint game is special endurance training. It will ensure that you get ripped, but you will also get a terrible case of bootylock.

Bootylock is a unique but horrendous pumped up feeling you get in your glutes after a few short reps of special endurance training. The longer distance combined with high speed makes your posterior chain work much harder.

Related: How to Improve Sport-Specific Acceleration & Speed for Big Men

Only special endurance workouts and high volume, banded barbell hip thrusts can create this pump, but the special endurance workouts put you much closer to death's door.

The fear that these special endurance workouts induce is sickening. When we used to see these workouts at practice on the training board, we would get shook up, like the residents of Gotham City when Bane was taking over.

Special endurance training typically has two variations:

  • Special Endurance 1 will put you in the 150-300 meter range
  • Special Endurance 2 will put you in the 300-500 meter range

Similar sprinting strategies (sprint, float) to the speed endurance training will also apply here. A sample special endurance workout involving the 300-meter dash would look like this:

  • Sprint 50 meters
  • Float 150 meters
  • Try to re-accelerate for 100 meters

The final acceleration is not you actually speeding up into another faster gear. The effort you are putting into your sprint is actually you trying to prevent your body from slowing down.

The bad news is that there is no stopping the deceleration as the person who wins the race just slows down slower. Combine that fact with fatigue and lactic acid, and you will see why some 400-meter sprinters have hideous faces coming down the stretch.

When I ran the 400-meter hurdles in college, my face coming down the stretch could have doubled as a Halloween mask!

Check out your options for special endurance workouts below:

  • 200 meters x 4
  • 300 meters x 3
  • 400m, 300m, 200m x 1

To maximize sprint performance, rest 8-10 minutes between repetitions to fully recover. If your goal is fat loss then your rest would be a walk back to the starting line. Keep in mind you will not be able to maintain elite speed throughout a sprint workout if you are only walking back to the start line to recover.

Adding Sprints to Your Workout Plan

It is critical to note that you will lose fat and get conditioned with either methodology, but it is equally important to know that your rest periods dictate the quality and primary training effect of your workout.

You can add these workouts into your lifting program two ways:

The lifter who wants to use sprinting for fat loss:

  • Sunday: OFF
  • Monday: Lower Body
  • Tuesday: Upper Body and Short Sprints
  • Wednesday: OFF
  • Thursday: Lower Body
  • Friday: OFF
  • Saturday: Upper Body and Medium Sprints

Lifter who wants to prioritize sprint performance:

  • Sunday: OFF
  • Monday: Short Sprints (Speed)
  • Tuesday: OFF
  • Wednesday: Lower Body
  • Thursday: OFF
  • Friday: Medium or Long Sprints (Speed or Special Endurance)
  • Saturday: Upper Body

For the lifter looking to prioritize lifting, his or her sprinting sessions would be used as post-workout conditioning. For the lifter looking to prioritize sprint performance there is less lifting volume because the priority is sprinting.

Sprinting is not easy, but nothing worth anything in life is. Add sprints into your program and start to unleash your inner greatness today.