Q | My trainer wants me to include sprints in my workouts. Are they worth the effort?
A | There are lots of good reasons to sprint, chief among them being to mix up your workout routine and challenge your body.
You can sprint on a track, on a bike, in the pool, on a rowing machine, and by doing fast-paced squats. Even chasing your kids in a game of tag can count. The key is to go as fast as you can, without sacrificing form, and to take ample rest.
Here are seven more reasons to add sprints to your regimen:
- Build muscle. In a 2012 study by researchers at Sweden’s Karolinska Institutet, men and women did three 30-second sprint intervals on stationary bikes, with 20 seconds of rest between each effort. Muscle biopsies from the participants’ quads, taken just prior to the first sprint and about two hours after the third sprint, showed increased activation of an enzyme responsible for muscle growth — especially among women. Running sprints has also been shown to help build ankle strength and improve bone density.
- Improve your hormone profile. Sprinting is one way to naturally boost levels of human growth hormone (HGH), which plays a role in bone density, immunity, and maintaining a youthful appearance. Studies also show sprints can help increase testosterone levels in men.
- Balance blood sugar. Insulin resistance (a risk factor for and symptom of type 2 diabetes) signals the body’s inability to metabolize glucose. Researchers have found that sprinting is effective at improving insulin sensitivity among healthy, active individuals, as well as people who are overweight or obese and sedentary. According to a 2012 study published in the Archives of Physiology and Biochemistry, sprint interval training beats continuous, moderate-intensity running at improving insulin sensitivity.
- Decrease high blood pressure. Another 2012 study showed that high-intensity interval training — such as sprinting — may be an effective tool in preventing and controlling hypertension.
- Burn fat. Minute for minute, speed training burns more fat calories than lower-intensity steady-state cardio, and trains your system to torch more fat calories during other lower-intensity activities. It’s also been shown to burn fat at an increased rate for up to 48 hours after your dash.
- Get better at endurance sports. Research shows that sprints can help increase efficiency and aerobic capacity for longer, slower efforts.
- Work out efficiently. Sprint workouts are, by definition, short and sweet. Or, at least, short and sweaty. Try this quickie: Sprint 100 meters. Walk back to where you started; this is your rest. Repeat until you can’t take any more, working up to 10 total sprints. For more sprint workouts, see “Three-Speed Cardio“.