In Defense of Sprinting

By: Brock Jones

You hear it all the time: Sprint training makes you a better runner.  It’s true.  Adding spring training to your running will improve your speed and endurance.  I’ve written on this topic many times before, just as many other authors and bloggers have.  But a lot of people still have questions regarding this type of training.  One question I get asked quite often is “How in the world is sprinting going to make me a better distance runner?”  This is a very valid question, and one that I hope to clear up a little bit with this article. 


Sprint training will help you build muscle strength in your core and lower body, particularly in fast-twitch muscle fibers.  The basic theory is that the harder (or faster in this case) you train your muscles, the more strength you will gain.  Sprinting is a great way to gain lean muscle in the lower body without spending huge amounts of time in the gym.

Effect on Running: Think of those hills on the Run the Bluegrass course, or the last 200m before the finish line.  You’ve got to suck it up to get to the top or to the finish.  Having bigger, stronger muscle fibers (fast-twitch) will allow you to keep a steady pace up that hill.  They will allow you to pick up your pace in order to finish the race strong. 


This plays hand in hand with muscle building.  Sprinting not only builds muscle, which raises your metabolism by itself, but it also burns a huge amount of calories in a short amount of time.  Through a bunch of scientific pathways that I won’t get into here, the combination of increased lean muscle and caloric burn from sprint training, you will shed fat at a higher rate than with low intensity training.

Effect on Running: Will having less fat make you a better runner?  Maybe, but it’s not a given.  Think here in terms of stress on the body.  It doesn't take a genius to realize that the lighter you are, the less stress you place on your joints, particularly your hips, knees, and ankles.  This will keep you on the road longer, which will then make you a better runner.  Fat loss is an indirect, but still very important aspect in becoming a faster, stronger runner.


Work capacity is a fancy term that simply refers to maximal effort (How hard can you work?).  Sprinting does many things metabolically inside the body: Increases maximal oxygen uptake, increases ability to remove waste products, improves cardiac output, trains the body to use fuel sources more efficiently (saves glycogen), and also improves brain and neural activity.

Effect on running: In layman’s terms, all this information means that the body can do its job better, faster, and more efficient as a result of sprinting.  Your body’s maximal work level gets pushed further and further.  Because of this, your perceived “limit” isn’t as difficult.  You can push a little harder, and a little further.


Sprint training is simply more efficient than distance training.  Don’t get me wrong, you need to build that time on your feet to get accustomed to longer distances.  But, if you’re crunched for time, sprinting is a great way to still get a lot accomplished.  Many sprint workouts can be done in less than 30 minutes.

Effect on Running: This is more of a health issue.  It’s a simple theory in that the less time you spend on your feet, the less time you have to get injured.  Two 25-minute workouts give you much lower odds of hurting yourself than two 90-minute training runs.  Sprint workouts are a great way to get your training in during the week when time is limited for most people.


Sprints are hard.  There’s no getting around it.  Pushing yourself to the limit during a workout is no easy task.  There will come a time during a sprint workout that you want to quit and go home.  You will think you can’t finish the workout.  I’ve been there before, and so have many other people.

Effect on Running:  Races sometimes suck (running the third leg of the Bourbon Chase in the pouring rain).  Not every training run is going to go your way.  Pushing through not only makes you a better runner physically, but it trains you mentally as well.  You build confidence in knowing that you’ve done something not everybody can do.  The mental side of running is just as important as anything, and sprint training builds it up like nothing else.

As you can see, sprinting does indeed make you a better overall runner.  So the next time you're thinking that you don't need to add speed intervals into your marathon training, remember all of the benefits it brings.  Now go find a track or a treadmill and turn up the speed!!!

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