Great Sprint Workouts That Will Burn Fat and Give You Powerful Legs
Build power and speed with these explosive sprint workouts.
For every weekend race warrior, you can find a weight room junkie who will trash steady state cardio as nothing but a drain on their hard won gains. Some experts don’t quite agree — but the fact remains: People hate running.
But “running” doesn’t just mean logging miles at a slow, steady pace. Sprinters are some of the most powerful athletes in the world, and they train their muscles to perform as intensely as the most adherent lifter. Working out like a sprinter gives you a chance to get those cardiovascular gains you’ve been skipping out on without stepping foot on the hated treadmill — while also honing the fast-twitch muscles you use in your most explosive lifts.
And if you’re short on time, serious sprint sessions are a huge bang-for-your-buck workout as they increase cardiovascular fitness, boost your strength, and burn calories like crazy.
To make the most of your time outside the gym, give one of these weekly, hard-core sprinting workouts a go.
Warm Up to Speed Up
To speed up, you need to warm up. Get ready to sprint with these dynamic prep drills, which will get your body prepared to go fast.
Do this: Pick four of the dynamic drills and two starts for your warmup. Perform each drill for 10 to 15 meters, then turn around and repeat back to the starting line. Perform each start twice at 60 percent speed through 20 meters.
- Straight Legs
- Fast Legs
- Power Skip
- High Knees
- Backward Running
Starts (performed at 60 percent speed)
- Pushup start
- Mountain climber start
- Rolling Start
10 Gassers Challenge
Just because you’re sprinting doesn’t mean you should immediately hit the ground running at a breakneck pace. Instead, build up to full-speed with some build reps. You’ll help protect your hamstrings, avoid burning out quicker, and develop more speed.
Do this: Mark off 50 and 100 yards, then perform the sprints described below. Rest 30 seconds between rounds 1 through 5, one minute between rounds 6 through 10.
- Round 1: 50 yards at half speed, backpedal to return
- Round 2: 50 yards at half speed, backpedal to return
- Round 3: 50 yards at three-quarters speed, backpedal to return
- Round 4: 50 yards at three-quarters speed, backpedal to return
- Round 5: 50 yards at full speed, backpedal to return
- Round 6: 100 yards at half speed, backpedal to return
- Round 7: 100 yards at half speed, backpedal to return
- Round 8: 100 yards at three-quarters speed, backpedal to return
- Round 9: 100 yards at three-quarters speed, backpedal to return
- Round 10: 100 yards at full speed, backpedal to return
Interval training is all about balancing high-intensity bursts of speed with recovery time. Not only will they help you improve aerobic capacity and speed, the calorie burn can’t be beat.
“When it comes to intervals, the simpler the better,” said RJ McGinnis, an elite decathlete who has coached at the University of Arizona. The goal of this sprint workout is to push you to your limit for a short period, recover, and then do it all over again.
“If you haven’t been running, don’t even focus on time the first workout,” McGinnis advised.
Do this: Warm up for 1 to 2 miles with easy running. Run 10 x 200-meter intervals somewhere between 30 to 36 seconds each, depending on your fitness level. Rest after each interval close to four times your run, so about 2 minutes.
See the example plan below that will help you increase your speed and cut your rest time each week.
- Week 1: 10 x 200 meters at 30 seconds with 2:00 minutes rest
- Week 2: 9 x 200 meters at 29 seconds with 1:56 minutes rest
- Week 3: 8 x 200 meters at 28 seconds with 1:52 minutes rest
- Week 4: 7 x 200 meters at 27 seconds with 1:48 minutes rest
Take Your Sprinting Workouts Downhill
At first blush, running downhill may sound like a piece of cake, but downward sprint workouts are one of the best ways to build muscle.
“Downhill running includes eccentric muscle contractions, during which muscle fibers lengthen under tension, which can help increase muscle power and make you faster since eccentric contractions are our strongest type of contraction,” explains Jason Karp, Ph.D., a San Diego-based coach and exercise physiologist.
Proper mechanics are critical during downhill running, so work on maintaining your form and staying under control, says Karp. With increased turnover, don’t fall into the trap of overstriding and braking on your heels.
Do this: Start by warming up with 15 to 20 minutes of easy running.
Find a 100-meter long hill with a slight 2 to 3 percent downhill grade. Begin running around 70 percent your max effort and let gravity increase your stride rate and speed as you progress down the hill. Lean slightly forward and land on your midfoot to stay balanced and in control of your body.
For recovery, slowly jog back up the hill. As you gain speed and fitness, bump up the number of hills you’re completing each week.
- Week 1: 6 to 8 downhill sprints, 2:00 jogging recovery
- Week 2: 8 to 10 downhill sprints, 2:00 jogging recovery
- Week 3: 10 to 12 downhill sprints, 2:00 jogging recovery
Climb the Ladder
Ladder workouts involve running intervals of increasing distance and then retracing your steps and working your way back down. When done in short bursts of speed in distances ranging from 30 to 90 meters, this is a lung-busting endeavor that’ll pay off in a fraction of the time a steady state run will.
“The key here is decreasing the recovery time, which allows for you to work the high-powered anaerobic system,” explains Ryan Warrenburg, who coaches elite and adult runners for ZAP Fitness based in Blowing Rock, North Carolina. “Because the recovery is so short and you are not fully bouncing back between intervals, you’re working the aerobic system during the recovery portions as well.”
The distance of each sprint and rest interval you do here will always add up to 100 meters. As you gain fitness, you’ll be logging faster intervals, thereby increasing fitness gains over time.
Do this: Warm up for 20 minutes with easy running. On the backstretch or homestretch of a track, start with an all-out 30-meter sprint, then walk or jog for 70 meters.
For the next 100 meters, run all-out for 40 meters, then walk or jog for 60 meters. Keep building up until you reach a 90-meter sprint with a 10-meter recovery, and then work back down the pyramid. See the workout below.
- Interval 1: sprint 30 meters, walk/jog 70 meters
- Interval 2: sprint 40 meters, walk/jog 60 meters
- Interval 3: sprint 50 meters, walk/jog 50 meters
- Interval 4: sprint 60 meters, walk/jog 40 meters
- Interval 5: sprint 70 meters, walk/jog 30 meters
- Interval 6: sprint 80 meters, walk/jog 20 meters
- Interval 7: sprint 90 meters, walk/jog 10 meters
- Interval 8: sprint 80 meters, walk/jog 20 meters
- Interval 9: sprint 70 meters, walk/jog 30 meters
- Interval 10: sprint 60 meters, walk/jog 40 meters
- Interval 11: sprint 50 meters, walk/jog 50 meters
- Interval 12: sprint 40 meters, walk/jog 60 meters
- Interval 13: sprint 30 meters, walk/jog 70 meters
Hill sprints are one of the oldest tricks when it comes to getting and staying in shape.
“This type of workout can be about fat loss or building general work capacity, equipping you to handle a heavier load in training,” said Andrew Zomberg, a strength and conditioning coach at Cressey Performance training center just outside of Boston. “Over time, you’ll adapt to the new training stimuli and can increase reps, distance, and intensity.”
Once you’ve mastered this sprint workout twice a week, you’re ready to bump up the difficulty. For the greatest fat loss, this should be a continuous workout, requiring you to walk back down the hill after each sprint and immediately starting the next interval again.
Do this: Begin with a 15-minute jog and perform any drills that will help you warm up your muscles and get loose. Find a steep hill somewhere between 8 to 12 percent grade and sprint up it for 20 yards at 70 percent effort. Walk back down the hill to recover. That’s 1 round. Do 6 to 8 rounds.
- Workout 1: 6 to 8 hills, 20 yards at 70 percent intensity
- Workout 2: 8 to 10 hills, 20 yards at 70 percent intensity
- Workout 3: 10 to 12 hills, 20 yards at 70 percent intensity
- Workout 4: 6 to 8 hills, 30 to 40 yards at 80 percent intensity
- Workout 5: 8 to 10 hills, 30 to 40 yards at 80 percent intensity
- Workout 6: 10 to 12 hills, 30 to 40 yards at 80 percent intensity