Most of us know the benefits of running long and incorporating tempos in workouts. But we are now understanding that there are huge benefits in including short sprints. Who would have thought that tearing along at full speeds would help you run a faster 10-kilometre or a better marathon?
No doubt your running coach or sport scientist often drops the “energy system” term into a conversation. If you are like most recreational runners, you nod your head knowingly, while trying to piece together what is actually meant. So let me give you a bit of a primer to help you bluff your way through those awkward moments.
If you are running a 10-kilometre or a marathon, almost all your energy needs are met aerobically. This means that you are using oxygen to access the carbohydrates and fats needed to meet your energy demands.
If you start to run faster and your energy demands exceed what can be provided by the oxygen that you can suck into your lungs, then you start using the anaerobic energy system. Now you start producing lactic acid and your body uses this for fuel. Of course, lactic acid also makes running much harder and typically you can’t maintain this intensity for long.
What rarely gets spoken of is the alactic energy system. Think of it as sprinting that eight to 10 seconds to catch the bus. You are running really hard, but it isn’t long enough to be anerobic. Recreational runners almost never incorporate this into their training, but elite runners do.
One of the key reasons why you ran your last personal best is that you became more efficient. You trained hard and your body adapted to use less oxygen to run at a set pace. Often runners will do hard tempo sessions at race pace or increase their running volume to become more aerobically fit. This leads to improved running economy. But what if you could sprint your way to better running economy?
Sprinting full out for short durations(alactic training) engages your muscles in ways that relatively slower running doesn’t. The intensity of these sprints forces your body to recruit more muscle fibres and your neuromuscular system to become better at sending messages between your muscles and brain resulting in more explosiveness.
Over the course of multiple alactic sprint workouts, you train your body to generate more power for each stride. This lets you get a longer stride without increased effort. Your running economy improves in a relatively short period of time.
Ready to give it a try? Here are two great sessions to include in your weekly routine for eight to 12 weeks. You will find that because the duration of the sprinting is short, that you recover quickly. Ideally, you don’t do these sessions on tired legs.
After a good warm-up jog, run four sprints up a steep hill. Each should be no more than eight seconds and should be run at 95-98 per cent effort. It should feel that you are running close to full out. It is important to get three minutes rest between each sprint. This allows you to be fully recovered so that you can be as explosive as possible for the next sprint. Add one additional hill per week until you get to 12 x eight-second uphill sprints.
Stop mid-run at a local track or flat stretch of road or pathway. Run two to three sprints lasting 10-12 seconds at 80 per cent effort to help warm up. Then run four sprints lasting six to eight seconds at 95-98 per cent effort. Take a full three-minute rest and add one sprint every week until you are doing 10 sprints.
Various studies have shown significant improvements over a variety of measures in as little as two to six weeks. But consider keeping sprinting as part of your weekly regime. The athletes I coach rotate these two sessions every two weeks year-round. The great thing about this training is that it can easily be added to your regular training regime and even be used as part of a longer workout.
Short sprints will help improve your running efficiency. They will also add a bit of variety to your training.
RUN LIKE A SPRINTER
Here’s some form tips that will help distance runners sprint faster:
• Run tall! Focus on good posture and keep your chest (centre of gravity) slightly forward of your hips.
• Sprinting requires a more aggressive arm action than longer distances. Keep your arms bent at 90 degrees and allow your hands to swing up above your chest.
• Land on your toes and not your heels.
• Sprinting requires a higher knee lift than running a 10-kilometre. Now is not the time for a shuffling stride.
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