Sprinting for Lifters: A Guide to Muscle Building Cardio

Lee Boyce
Written By: Lee Boyce
June 14th, 2017
Updated: June 13th, 2020
28.5K Reads
Sprinting for Lifters: A Guide to Muscle Building Cardio
Sprinting seems easy right? It's actually a pretty common exercise to mess up. Read this article & learn how to properly use sprinting in your own workouts.

I have a confession to make.

I’m sick of coaches misrepresenting themselves online.

Of course, in the big scheme of things this happens all the time. Just log into Instagram or other social media and you’ll see it first-hand, usually in the form of a scantily clad young man or woman claiming fitness expertise just because youth is on their side for a lean body they can flaunt.

But the truth is, there are other less obvious forms of this – like that of claiming expertise in a discipline we have no affiliation with because athleticism is “one size fits all”.

It’s the flawed reasoning that sees unqualified coaches train people in boxing, Olympic lifting, and even mixed martial arts. The result is programming that has very poor scientific roots and that neglects to pay attention to important details that only one with sport specific experience would be able to pick up on.

There’s no culprit in the strength training world bigger than sprinting.

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Where Online Sprinting Programs go Wrong

Maybe fitness experts think “it’s just a form of running – how hard could it be to coach and program this stuff?” – but they’d be wrong. 

Sprinting properly is likely one of the most technically demanding things for an athlete to learn, and it takes a skilled coach to troubleshoot and program for the discipline. 

Related: Sport-Specific Speed for Big Men - Improving Acceleration

The next time you see a “sprint workout” that looks like this:

Sprint 30 seconds + 1 minute rest

Sprint 60 seconds + 2 minute rest

Sprint 90 seconds + 3 minute rest

Repeat 3 times

I encourage you to think twice before blindly following. From a straight up physiological perspective, completing this isn’t possible. Human energy systems don’t work this way and you’re doing nothing to actually promote healthy and safe exercise.

What’s more is that there’s a brutal truth to acknowledge here: None of us are athletes. We’re just lifters.

Let that sink in for a while, and then let me explain. Hitting the weight room to get strong and muscular, and eating clean to have a lean body are great pursuits of health, but they alone don’t encapsulate fitness, and they don’t make us athletes – just rather health-conscious individuals who try to take good care of our bodies.

MP Athlete Sprinting

Athletes spend hours daily practicing their sport, which involves several more factors of health and skill related fitness that we neglect to even address 90% of the time. Factors like agility, balance, coordination, cardiorespiratory capacity, reaction time, and power.

Long story short, a competitive athlete’s training regimen is (and should be) a different world from the recreational lifter’s. Our joints and connective tissue aren’t used to extreme explosive bouts of dynamic effort from a dead stop, nor is our recovery time set to match that in days that follow – if any of that was ever conditioned or trained before.

Ground Rules for Everyman Sprinters

Feeding off of the paragraphs above, here are some points to remember:

1. You have no need sprint at 100% of your max speed: There’s a big difference between sprinting 95% and full out (like you’re racing for gold), and the difference is emphasis on relaxation. Don’t worry, you’re still going to be using the same energy systems, and you’ll be moving at virtually the same speed – you’ll just have more control over your tightness and exertion.

2. Use a rolling start (5-6 jogging strides before breaking into full sprint), or at the very least, a falling start: Starting from a dead stop using blocks or a 3 point stance can be quite the shock for muscles and connective tissue that aren’t used to doing exactly that on a very regular basis.

Having a few strides behind you to “ease” into your top end velocity can be a saver from hamstring strains or undue joint stress.  Here’s a video of a falling start:

3. You should always give yourself sufficient rest between sprints: The longer your sprint distances are, the longer your rests should be. And the lower your output should be if you intend to repeat.

4. Kill the treadmill sprints: You’re running over a moving belt that poorly simulates what it’s actually like to sprint. Moreover, most treadmills don’t exceed 12 miles per hour. If you’re in decent shape, you’re probably able to move faster over solid ground, and you’ll get a better workout for your posterior chain in the process.

5. If it’s a cold day, just give it a rest: No one’s trying to be a hero, and explosive work and cold weather never make a good combination.

Sprinting Form Check

Without making this a guide for collegiate level sprinters, it’s important to keep some pretty important things in mind when hitting the track.

  • Your arm speed dictates your leg speed. Pump your arms in a full, relaxed swing, and don’t cut their range of motion short. If you do it’ll directly affect what’s mentioned in the next point:
  • Drive the knees high, and aim for a parallel position of thigh to ground as you run. If you’re not used to this, it’ll feel strange at first. In the weight room, there’s not much we do that engages such a high knee lift, let alone at such a vigorous tempo.

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  • Avoid twisting the torso. Your ribcage should always face straight ahead, meaning your abs and obliques are doing a good job to resist rotation. To help with this, keep your eyes focused down the track at your finishing point.
  • Point your toes upward. It sounds like it goes against everything sprint-related, but dorsiflexing the toes is important to do once they leave the ground. It will assist in the proper foot strike once the foot lands on the ground. If you let your toes drop, you’ll ‘chip’ into the ground and create much more friction than ideal, and that will slow you down.
  • Most importantly, just run. This may sound like a misleading cue after all of the form tips to be focused on, but the worst thing to do is let tension and stress enter your run through mental preoccupation. Apply the form cues through practice and repetition, and have a good time.

Related: Coach Myers’ Ultimate Running Schedule to Get Shredded

The Best Sprint Workout

For simplicity’s sake, I’m going to design 2 workouts – one that focuses on shorter sprints and one that focuses on longer sprints. 

Implied with both is that the workouts begin with a proper warm up, complete with light jogging, stretching, dynamic mobility work, and running drills like bounds, A-Skips, and high knees.

Workout 1: Short Sprints
Sprint Distance Sprint Sets % of Max Speed Rest
1. 30m 3 80, 85, 90 60 sec
2. 50m 3 90, 95, 95 90 sec
3. 60m 2 95 2 min
4. 80m 2 95 2 min
5. 100m 1 90 -
Workout 2: Long Sprints
Sprint Distance Sprint Sets % of Max Speed Rest
1. 250m 1 85 3 min
2. 200m 1 85 3 min
3. 150m 2 90 3 min
4. 120m 2-3 90 3 min

These workouts may seem a bit minimalistic when written out on paper like this. But apply the right environment (an outdoor setting, and not a treadmill), and then add the form cues above with proper care for following them, and you’ll realize just how challenging a workout this turns into.

Sprinting is the most vigorous total body exercise you could possibly do. It doesn’t take much to reap the benefits.  Look forward to the next sunny day.

Oh, and don’t sprint in your lifting shoes.

1 Comment
Posted on: Thu, 04/16/2020 - 16:21

Lee Boyce never disappoints. Trying to get in to sprints for some fitness and this is so..so helpful.