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The Art of Movement Edition 60: Why Regular Sprinting Is The Answer To Many Of Your Problems

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Edition 60: Why Regular Sprinting Is The Answer To Many Of Your Problems

What would you say if I told you there was a way you could skyrocket your fitness levels, reduce body fat percentage, and increase lean muscle mass, Vo2 max and fast twitch muscle fibres by only training for 20 minutes per week? You would rip my hand off wouldn’t you? Well my friend, you don’t need to rip my hand off - it’s right there for you. You can reach out and touch it any time you like. You just need to be prepared to go somewhere your brain is screaming at you not to go, as it equips you with every creative excuse under the sun.

Of course I am talking about ‘the dark place’ of sprinting and high intensity exercise. Where the exercise is extremely brief, but extremely difficult and intense, mentally and physically. Where excuses don’t fly, and ‘I can’t do another interval’ just isn’t going to cut it. This game isn’t for everyone, but trust me - the people who can go there, are the people who get what they’re after. Almost always 10 times quicker than those I am lovingly telling to ‘just move your body, even if it means going slow and steady’ (because yes, that is the first priority for many).

All those dreamy physical attributes most people dream of achieving for their body, whilst spending hundreds of hours in the gym, plodding away on treadmills and cross-trainers at a slow, non-threatening pace, could never be further away. Not until ‘that’ threshold is prepared to be crossed. Do you know what it feels like to run like your life depends on it? To pedal the bike or pull the rower so hard and aggressively people around you give you that weird look, like they think you’re trying to break the machine? And then go again despite the fact you can barely breathe?

It’s a shame activities like this usually look out of place in the gym - it should be the norm (even though you don’t need to touch this level of intensity often). But the reality is that most people simply. Never. Sprint.

Why is this?

Well that’s pretty obvious isn’t it? It’s HARD.

Of course, if it was easy everyone would do it. Our ridiculously smart human brain knows how to protect us. It sends us messages telling us to avoid that thing that was really stressful last month when you had to sprint for a bus and put your heart rate up to 150 bpm. Those crafty machines in our head are focused on one thing - self preservation. And you know what? Sometimes (especially when it comes to exercise) we need to tell our brain to f**k off.

So, we naturally have this low motivation / lack of inclination to train at an extremely high intensity - why else don’t we sprint?

Perhaps a lack of trust in your body? Think about:

  • Injury history

  • Carrying excess bodyweight

  • Low confidence

Limited experience or understanding of what to expect?

  • The feeling of going to the dark place scares you

  • No knowledge of your true limit

  • Unfamiliar with discomfort and not knowing which aspects of sprint fatigue are normal

Whatever our reasons for not sprinting, we should sack them off and get in the habit. This isn’t an overhaul. It’s a 10-15 minute interruption to your week (plus warm up/cool down). At least once per week - no more than 3 times is necessary. The rewards are there for us to go and collect, and despite not being required to cover ANY long distances or long durations - fantastic improvements in fitness (which we’ll refer to today as Vo2 max) are included in that treasure chest.

What is Vo2 max?

You’ve heard of the saying ‘running on an empty tank’ - well, your Vo2 max is the tank. Think of it as your cardiovascular ceiling. The maximum level of breathing intensity (oxygen/Co2 exchange) your lungs can tolerate before you are on the verge of collapse. There are various types of training that allow us to ‘expand the tank’. The greater the size of the tank, the greater your tolerance for higher speeds and longer durations of endurance work. Interval training in short bursts ie. Sprinting is one way of achieving this, and we are focused on sprinting today, but Vo2 max can also be elevated by longer duration intervals, as well as steady state cardio.

So how should you start implementing sprint training into your life?

Exercise type:

  • Running

  • Bike

  • Ski-Erg / Rowing Machine

  • Swimming

Number of sprints:

A meta-analysis (Yang et al 2021) of 12 studies observed the methods which yielded the most benefits in terms of improving Vo2 Max, and determined that anything between 8-12 repetitions is the best number of sprints to carry out in any given interval session.

Sprint duration:

Recommended sprint duration was 20-30s. This is related to the maximum length of time that we are able to maintain work at our absolute max capacity. As soon as you start drifting beyond that 30s barrier, there is not much you can do to prevent your intensity dropping and an approach towards threshold training (rather than max intensity).

Interval duration:

According to the literature, recovery time for a 20-30 sec sprint should not be longer than 3 min. Any longer than this and you risk recovery to the point you are not really testing your ability to repeat-sprint under increasing fatigue. So work:rest ratio might be anywhere from 1:2 to 1:6

1:2 ratio: 20 sec work : 40 sec recovery 30 sec work : 60 sec recovery

1:3 ratio: 20 sec work : 60 sec recovery 30 sec work : 90 sec recovery

1:6 ratio: 20 sec work : 120 sec recovery 30 sec work : 180 sec recovery

You get the idea I’m sure.

Training period:

The studies have shown that improvements in Vo2 max can occur in as little as 3-4 weeks. For example, this is what happened to mine in April 2020 when the world locked down and there was not much else to do outside except RUN.

Fitness levels can spike rapidly with a bit of application to your training. Sprint work isn’t time consuming - your session should not last longer than 10-15 minutes - and activity type can be negotiated to minimise injury risk, so really we have no excuse for not doing regular sprint stuff other than ‘it’s hard’. Use my fitness testing newsletter to carry out a Vo2 max test and see where your fitness levels currently are, then carry out 4-6 weeks of consistent work on sprint intervals (let’s call it twice per week), then re-test your Vo2 max at the end of this period and let me know what changes you saw.

“Train like a Lion - Sprint, Recover, Sprint, Recover”

Movement of the Week: Kettlebell Hip Shift

2 sets of 5 x 5 sec holds per side

That’s all for this week! Check out my Patreon channel for video episodes, on-demand workouts, training programmes, training guidance/advice and more!

Thank you, Gabriel


Effects of sprint interval training on maximal oxygen uptake in athletes: a meta-analysis. Authors: Qun Yang, D. Li, Hezhi Xie, Hongshen Ji, Junbing Lu, Jianming He, Ziqing Qin, Jian Sun. 2021.

HIGH-INTENSITY INTERVAL TRAINING, FARTLEK TRAINING & OREGON CIRCUIT TRAINING: WHAT ARE THE BEST EXERCISES TO INCREASE VO2 MAX? Authors: Rifqi Festiawan, Lim Boon Hoi, Siswantoyo, Ngadiman, I. J. Kusuma, Fuad Noor Heza, B. Wahono, Adi Wijayanto, Sri Sumartiningsih. 2021.

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