Sprints represent the most athletic form of running, and they demand a significantly higher level of muscle activation than jogging. Personal trainer Hanjo Fritzsche explored some of the advantages and opportunities offered by outdoor training in his article ‘GET WILD’ that was published in the 02/2020 Issue of FUNCTIONAL TRAINING MAGAZIN. Now, in this article, he turns his attention to the foundations of proper sprinting and introduces various sprint alternatives for daily training programmes.
Fight or flight – running fast with good technique
It is only possible to reach maximum speed if you roll off the balls of your feet and immediately push off again. That is why – in contrast to when they are jogging – athletes automatically run using the balls of their feet, even if they are wearing cushioned shoes. The ability to run fast is one of the humankind’s most fundamental skills, and it has been important to us throughout our evolution (as in the ‘fight or flight’ response). Even in modern daily life, it is easy to think of various (emergency) situations in which it remains a useful skill – even if it is ‘only’ to catch the bus. It goes without saying that this skill is also a prerequisite for a wide range of sports disciplines. That is why I am continually amazed that a significant number of fitness trainers taking part in my courses have major shortcomings in this area. It is likely that one of the reasons for this situation is that normal training environments do not offer opportunities for sprinting, and people like to stick with their routines. People whose background does not include training in the relevant sports disciplines and instead have their roots in fitness studios have often never learned proper sprinting technique. That is why fitness guru Martin Rooney once accurately referred to sprints as “the forgotten exercise”. Yet just how functionally sound can our training be if we neglect this elementary athletic skill? It is a question we should not only ask ourselves, but also with regard to our clients.
Sprinting has to be learned – what is the right way to do it?
It goes without saying that extensive warm-ups with running exercises and a number of progression runs are necessary to minimise the risks of muscle strain or even torn muscles. Trainers should introduce their clients to sprints slowly, all the while paying close attention to how their technique develops. A powerful arm swing and raising knees high are two key elements of the technique (see illustrations) that are often difficult to do correctly at first. Running exercises help clients learn how to properly carry out their new training programmes. Furthermore, muscles and joints can be gradually acclimated to the very considerable strains that the musculoskeletal system is subjected to during sprinting. Depending on each client’s capabilities, it may be worthwhile to spend weeks, even months, on working gradually to achieve maximum sprinting speeds. It may be necessary to advise those who are overweight or have a history of injuries relevant to this activity not to sprint at all. As the saying goes: Don’t run to get fit, get fit to run!
Sprints – the most difficult bodyweight training in the world
Sprints are notable for their extremely high intensity. All the extremities and the stabilising torso are fully stressed and movement has to be achieved through maximum effort and will. I like to refer to sprints as “the most difficult bodyweight training in the world”. As a result, sprints are ideal for classic High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). With conventional running training, short sprints can be integrated in alternation with more relaxed trots. These sprints could be anywhere from eight to 20 seconds long (whereby at 20 seconds it will not generally be a maximum-intensity sprint) and then followed by a trot or relaxed jogging for 70 to 90 seconds for active recovery, with the whole process being repeated six to eight times. It can be a good idea to use a heart rate monitor here in order to determine how quickly the body is able to recover from full intensity while trotting. The ability to regenerate from high-intensity exertion is without a doubt one of the most important indicators of fitness, and this ability is quickly fostered by sprint interval training. Furthermore, it is amazing just how well one can train effective cardiovascular performance in a relatively short time (primary component ranging from eleven to 15 minutes). It would be necessary to spend a multiple of this period to achieve a similar effect by exercising at a constant moderate intensity (e.g. by jogging). The efficiency of sprint interval training means that it is perfectly suited to mobile lunch breaks – and therefore also for replenishing vitamin D levels when the sun is shining.
‘Hurricane Workout’ – a varied sprint alternative
Nor does training have to consist entirely of running in order for integrating sprints to be worthwhile. This is where the ‘Hurricane Workout’ developed by Martin Rooney (who used to run a centre dedicated to speed training) has established itself. This involves combining two short sprints (from point A to point B and back again along a predefined route) with two strength exercises focusing on the upper and/or lower torso. These represent the active recovery, so it is important to select exercises that are not too demanding, including the time spent doing them. For individual training, the exercises can be limited to a specific number of repetitions, while for team training, the training time allotted to the exercises is determined by the time that the sprinter requires to get from point A to point B and back again. In other words, the sprinters take over from the people performing exercise X, while these people move on to exercise Y, and the persons who had been doing exercise Y resume sprinting. And so on. Once three full cycles have been completed, a ‘Hurricane’ round is over and the exerciser can take a break of approx. two minutes. Three rounds comprise a compact and intensive workout with a total of 18 brief sprints (three sprints from A to B and back again per round). Some of the exercises that could be used are various front and side plank exercises, bridging, hollow rocks, rowing exercises, press-ups etc. More intensive leg exercises, including knee-bends and lunges, are not recommended, as these ‘conflict’ with the sprints. There should not be any break between the exercises, unless the exerciser wishes to pause briefly following the first sprint in order to regain their focus. In conclusion, I would like to note that the extreme muscle strain induced by sprint training means that it requires a longer regeneration phase than most other workouts. Particularly for those who rarely sprint otherwise, muscles might be sore for a number of days afterwards; this has to be accounted for in weekly planning. I hope that I’ve been able with this article to broaden your horizons somewhat with regard to sprint training, and that I've motivated you to try out something new. Finally, please remember that it is essential that you pay particular attention to your preparation – not only to warming up, but to your technique as well. And who knows – maybe sprinting will end up being a mainstay of your training regimen. Either way, it will make you and your clients better athletes and – I would venture to say – better functioning individuals.
Hanjo Fritzsche works as a personal trainer and health coach in Munich. He has been working for Original Bootcamp since 2012, and has been a Team Leader for more than five of these years. Fritzsche has many years of experience as an expert and speaker in the fields of nutrition and functional training. He is currently teaching the Section 20 Course ‘Functional Outdoor Circuit Training’ for the Perform Better Performance Institute. You can find more workout inspirations and fascinating facts about broccoli on his video blog ‘Healthpunk.TV’.