If you look in your rearview mirror, you will see the still-diminishing era of steady-state cardio requirements. Gone are the days of “20 to 30 minutes of low-intensity” work on your go-nowhere treadmill.
High-speed, high-intensity work has become the norm, and for good reason. It gets you leaner in less time while preserving your hard-earned muscle mass. And yes, there are multiple ways to get your high-intensity interval training on, but for our money, sprinting provides a pretty high return on investment.
But if you’re not a sprinter by nature, where does one begin? We’ve outlined three starting points for you with a single requirement: Pack every ounce of effort you can muster into each sprint.
WORKOUT 1: EMOM (every minute on the minute)
Sprints, like lifting heavy stuff, is governed by your body’s explosive energy system. Phosphagen — creatine and adenosine triphosphate (ATP) — is the primary fuel for short-burst, high-intensity work. It has a short life span — after 10 to 20 seconds, your phosphagen stores are basically tapped. The good news is it replenishes fairly quickly, albeit not to the levels you started your workout with. As a rule of thumb, you should train using a 4:1 or 5:1 rest-to-work ratio, which is why banging out a hard sprint at the top of every minute is a perfect equation for newbie sprinters.
Sets/Time: 10 / 10 seconds
Rest 50 seconds after each sprint. Perform this workout twice a week, ideally on non-lifting days. Each week for five weeks, add one second to your sprint time and add a sprint. By week five, you’ll be doing 15, 15-second sprints with 45 seconds of rest at a lung-taxing 3:1 rest-to-work ratio.
WORKOUT 2: BY THE BOOKS
Ratios are relative and don’t take into consideration one’s present conditioning, age or skill level. The important part is that you run as fast as you can for the time prescribed. Still, if you are one for hard science, it’s worth it to consider what the lab coats have said about this type of training.
Researchers at the University of Western Ontario in Canada found that subjects who performed four to six 30-second sprints with four minutes of rest after each sprint lost twice the fat of a steady-state group. Though not high on volume, this equation provides both a longer sprint and a longer rest period. Keeping in mind that your explosive energy stores start to plummet after 20 seconds, this type of workout begins to chew into your stored blood sugars by way of anaerobic glycolysis. This can pave the way for greater fat burning — which is the idea, right?
Sets/Time: 4-6 / 30 seconds
WORKOUT 3: TAKE IT TO THE TRACK
If you have access to a track, why not take a cue from high-level sprinters? Not only will you get your conditioning in, but you’ll also build a little speed. Legs built for speed are stronger, more powerful and tend to look better than most.
This interval workout calls for you to run progressively longer sprints with the aforementioned “sweet spot” rest-to-work ratio. It will boost speed, metabolism and endurance — even if the work is more daunting.
Set 1: 50 m Set 2: 100 m Set 3: 150 m Set 4: 200 m Set 5: 150 m Set 6: 100 m Set 7: 50 m
For each sprint, your goal is to reach your top speed as quickly as possible and sustain it for the distance prescribed. Note your time and perform active rest by walking for four to five times the length of time it took you to complete the sprint.
For example, if you complete your first 50-meter sprint in eight seconds, walk for 40 seconds before beginning your next set. On the back end of the workout (sets 5-7), keep the intensity high and aim to defeat your sprint time from the front half (sets 1-3) sprints. For example, on set No. 7, try to complete your eight-second sprint in seven seconds or less.