Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
8 May

Why We Don’t Sprint Anymore (plus a Primal Health Challenge)

sprint4Last week, I covered a glaring deficit in the lives of most modern people: the lack of walking. And it’s not just the “normal” people who aren’t walking enough; two thirds of those readers who took the poll get fewer than five hours of slow easy movement each week. Since everyone walks at least a few hundred steps a day, people are generally aware – among even the general population – that people just don’t walk anymore. They might not think that’s a true problem, but they’re definitely aware of it. Today, I want to discuss another glaring (in my eyes) deficit in our modern lives: the lack of sprinting.

At first glance, this might seem ludicrous. Sprinting? Sure, it’s a cool thing to do, and it’s good for us, but do you really expect everyone to line up at a track and sprint all out for 100 meters? Besides, is sprinting really essential, the way walking is essential? Because let’s face it: running at top speed for 10 to 15 seconds is an unrealistic expectation for most people, especially older folks. Many people just aren’t physically able to do it.

Sprinting isn’t just running really, really fast, though. When I say sprinting, I’m simply talking about intense movement at the highest speed you can safely muster. Sprinting can be running, obviously, or it can be on a bike (and in fact, many of the sprinting studies use cycling). It can even be aqua sprinting, or running in a pool. Some people push the prowler, a weight sled loaded with hundreds of pounds, as their sprinting. They aren’t moving very fast, but they’re trying to – and that’s the key. Are you moving at the fastest, safest possible speed, given your physical limitations and the demands of the environment (weights attached to you, grade of the hill you’re ascending, your bum knee, etc.)? If yes – even if that manifests as an exhausting uphill walk – then you are sprinting.

Last week, I used pedometer-derived, peer-reviewed statistics to support my claim that people don’t walk enough. This week, we’ll have to rely on the power of the anecdote to get my point across. When’s the last time you saw anyone pushing himself to his limit for an all-out sprint? Skinny jean-wearing fixie rider doing 600 meters at a breakneck pace? Early morning jogger doing 70 meter wind sprints? Weekend warrior next door busting out the prowler for some 150-pound 40 yard pushes? Exactly; this type of thing just doesn’t happen in the real world. We don’t have to chase our dinner, nor run from something or someone that has us on the menu. And anyways, being highly demanding and costly, sprinting has always been a relatively rare occurrence. Grok wasn’t sprinting after everything all day, all the time. Such foolishness would get a hominid killed, fast. We barely even walk anywhere anymore, so there’s no way we’re going to be engaging in a difficult, costly, relatively rare behavior from our past on a regular basis (however beneficial it might be). It ain’t peer-reviewed, but oh well.

You know how I like to talk about acute stressors versus chronic stressors? Sprinting is a perfect example, perhaps the single most representative encapsulation of an acute stressor. By definition, a sprint is brief, intense, and efficient. You can’t talk to your buddy when you sprint. You can’t think about the mortgage or mull over the TPS reports you’ve been lagging on at work. You may not even breathe for the duration of a sprint. No – by definition, a sprint is all-encompassing and overpowering, and it commands all of your attention. When you sprint, your musculoskeletal system, nervous system, and cardiovascular system are all “turned on” and on high alert.

Yeah, sprinting is highest-intensity training.

What’s truly remarkable about a sprint workout is that while the sprinting itself is all-consuming and extremely tiring as you’re doing it, this feeling doesn’t linger. You’re not going to feel beat up after some good sprint training. You might be sore in places you weren’t aware existed (because you’re probably working your muscles in a uniquely explosive manner), but you won’t be hobbled. You might feel a bit spent in the legs the next day, but you won’t wake up with an elevated heart rate from pushing too hard the previous day. For me, a sprint session leaves me feeling energized. I don’t exactly have a burning desire to exercise again that day, but I’m not a useless blob, dry-heaving and panting on the floor.

And yet the beneficial effects are pronounced:

Sold yet? You had better be, because we’re doing another poll and week-long Primal health challenge.

How many times in the last 30 days have you run (or cycled, or swam, etc.) as hard as you could for a short period of time? In other words…

How many sprint sessions have you performed in the last month?

View Results

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Primal Health Challenge

Same drill as last week: I want you to sprint once in the next seven days, starting today.

You’ll want to warmup before launching into a sprint, of course. First, do some active dynamic stretching – leg swings, Grok squats, some high knee jumping, walking knee raises, that sort of thing – but keep it to just one or two sets per stretch, with 14 reps per set; a recent study found that while such stretching improved sprint performance, three sets were too many and actually reduced performance and induced fatigue. Then, do three to four runs (or cycling, etc.) at 60, 70, 80, and 90% intensity to prepare for the sprints.

Shoot for eight to ten sprinting efforts. If you can’t do eight do as many as you can. I’m partial to running sprints (especially hills, which are easier on the joints), but those aren’t necessary. Cycling works very well (and a lot of the studies use cycling), as does swimming. Just remember what I said earlier – what matters most is that you’re moving intensely and maximally. Actually, what matters most is that you’re moving safely. I don’t want anyone pushing themselves so far they pull a hamstring or break a hip. Be careful and know your limits.

Since we’re talking sprints – maximal, all-out efforts – you’re going to need some rest in between efforts. I like Tabata intervals, but those are a different beast altogether. This time, take one or two minutes in between sprints (or even a smidge more, if you need it) to recover. The longer your sprint, the longer your recovery time. A 100 meter runner or a 30 second cycling sprinter might need three minutes to recover enough to give it his or her all on the next one, while a 40 yard dasher or a 20 second cyclist might need just a minute or two. Take as much time as you need to compose yourself in between efforts.

Well, readers, what do you think? Does that sound reasonable? A single session of eight to ten sprints this week? I know I’m in (I manage to do so just about every week). Are you? Let me know in the comment board. And also let me know how last week’s challenge of logging at least an hour of dedicated low-level aerobic activity each day went. Grok on!

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. I am a fan of the Tabata sprints, but instead of 10 seconds, I take as much time as my heart-rate monitor takes to give me a reading (13 seconds or so).

    I also like Dr. Mercola’s Peak 8.
    3 minute warm-up (easy jog)
    30 second sprint
    90 second rest
    Repeat 7 more times.
    You pretty much sprint on the odd minutes. It’s a 17 minute, 30 second workout, and I LOVE it.

    Quick and dirty and oh, so effective!

    Nicole wrote on May 9th, 2012
    • nicole..thanks for the peak 8 suggestion! I did it this morning and added a 10-min mile cooldown run after the 8th sprint…really fun and yes, effective!

      mars wrote on May 10th, 2012
      • Mars, you are so welcome! I’ve been doing it for years and it never gets boring.

        Nicole wrote on May 10th, 2012
  2. Sprinting is great and all, but it’s usually done when one has free time and a place to go with a decent running surface. Sprinting on a bicycle, on the other hand, can be done anywhere, anytime, especially on the way to/from work if you commute by bike. Definitely one of my favorite parts of the day :-)

    TokyoJarrett wrote on May 9th, 2012
  3. Until last month when I was hospitalized for asthma, I was sprinting once a week with my 11yo DS. We sould race the length of the driveway, out to the mailbox and back to the house. We were up to 6 times when I got sick. I was not winded after, and felt that runners high. My DS laughed at me, cause he always beat me, but I was running for the first time in years! Hope to start back soon! Maybe today with this challenge!

    Raylynn wrote on May 9th, 2012
  4. My friend and I did the Run For Your Lives Zombie 5K on Sunday! It was an intense obstacle course complete with volunteers dressed up like zombies. SO MUCH MUD!!! I suck at running so I paced myself so that I was able to RUN LIKE HELL from the zombies! It was AWESOME!! I definitely felt Primal being covered in mud and sprinting away from “predators”! I highly recommend it! :)

    Primal Pants wrote on May 9th, 2012
  5. I wish I could sprint. I did two 90% all out sprints 6 mos. ago and injured my knee. still not right since. I really enjoyed the two I got to do, now am just paranoid to do them again. my squatting ability and mobility is really compromised now. sheesh!

    tcseacliff wrote on May 9th, 2012
  6. How does heavy bag training rank for sprinting? I like to do about (5) 3 minute rounds and do pushups in between. By about the 4th round I am hittin pretty hard.

    \m/(-_-)\m/

    Brett wrote on May 9th, 2012
    • I’m with you, Brett. I love to run but am transitioning slowly to minimal shoes and don’t always feel confident sprinting on pavement. But I do 6 20- 30 second sprints of kick boxing / karate on a bag and it’s very taxing. 3 minutes is pretty long for a sprint though. To me, that would be more like endurance.

      Michelle wrote on May 10th, 2012
  7. I’m inspired!! used to sprint weekly( Gym as in-lander) but hurt my feet from training too hard in my new vibrams (running before i could walk) Back on it and forgotten how much i loved it – it lets me feel free!! Never posted before so just wanted to say a big thankyou for your daily blogging. Most, no all the people i know think i’m a vitamin-deficient weirdo so it’s great to be able to log on and be among like-minded souls.

    Shelley O'Neill wrote on May 9th, 2012
  8. I do incline treadmill sprinting once week.

    Cindy Gomez wrote on May 9th, 2012
  9. Sprinted today…didn’t know I could go that fast!!

    Amy P wrote on May 9th, 2012
  10. Make sure to warm up kids! Spent the day yesterday and did some sprints on the beach (made more interesting by trying to chase down the ever elusive frisbee) and the achilles is pretty sore today ….

    Chance Bunger wrote on May 9th, 2012
  11. I just discovered a new sprint workout- “The Modified Intensive Bruce Protocol” yesterday I did a stress-echo on the tread mill to check my heart after coughing up pink froth (blood) last week. The lab modified the standard Bruce Protocol with 2 minute intervals instead of 3 minute intervals. It was crazy intense! NO REST! JUST MORE INTENSITY!

    Modified High Stress Bruce Protocol
    Stage Minutes % grade MPH
    1 2 10 1.7
    2 4 12 2.5
    3 6 14 3.4
    4 8 16 4.2
    5 10 18 5.0
    6 12 20 5.5
    7 14 22 6.0

    I was about 30 seconds away from level 6 when the doctor talked me into stopping. I am 45 and my heart rate was 190 BPM! I felt like I could go further but I was close enough to max. Great News- no problems with my heart. But I found a new super intense sprint workout- almost 10 minutes of pure pleasure! 14 minutes for those folks who are conditioned like a Navy Seal (that’s what the doctor said). All I know is that it made my Tabata look like a walk in the park. I have been doing Tabata on the stationary bike at the gym- since I am not much of a runner. I like this 10 minute workout- I am going to do it again. Give it a try and see how high you can make it.

    Eric F wrote on May 9th, 2012
    • After having thought about it a little bit. Grok did not “RUN FOR HIS LIFE” for 20 seconds then rest, then 20 seconds again…He ran hard…then as the predator got closer…he ran harder…then harder…then harder and finally harder…until he was eaten or got back to safety…The first 2 stages are just a warm up…then the last 5 stages kick your butt!

      Eric F wrote on May 10th, 2012
  12. I had such a depressing year in 2011 (4 pets dying) that I completely lost all motivation to do any exercise at all. That quickly became a habit and I still haven’t picked myself up and gotten back into regular walking. However I ride my bike to work and to my horseriding training, so I have still been getting 3-4 sprints in a week on most weeks. I just REALLY need to get back into my walking and bodyweight exercises.. and yoga!

    PixieKitten wrote on May 10th, 2012
  13. As a morbidly obese, mobility-challenged individual, I have special concerns when it comes to sprinting (let alone just getting out and walking!). I have Achilles tendinitis and a bone spur, and some days I can barely walk around the hallways of my building on a break. But I CAN (very slowly) go up the stairs. Down is painful, but up I can do. My building is square, so I do one round, then go up a flight, then walk that floor, then go up a flight. It’s my baby-steps version of a sprint. It definitely gets my heart going faster than the walking, and it’s very limited in time because it’s just one flight. So don’t despair if you feel like you can’t do an all-out running sprint. Anything that pushes you just that bit more for a short time during regular exercise can be helpful.

    synger wrote on May 10th, 2012
  14. I recently gave up long distance running in favor of sprints, bike sprints, HIIT, and heavy lifting. I am sooo happy about that decision! My old running buddies gasp when I say I really don’t like running that much!

    I just encorpourated 3 tabata sprints into my spin class. Although the class is 45 min. Everything else was a low intensity “filler.” I do this 1x/week, a HIIT class and 50/10 for 12 min on the Jacobs ladder (holy pain!)

    Primalmontana wrote on May 10th, 2012
  15. Excellent post! I play softball once a week, so I do get SOME sprinting in. I need to incorporate it more often into my workout schedule though.

    Chris wrote on May 10th, 2012
  16. I injured my hip about 3 months ago doing a side plank (sad, really). So I can’t run. I decided I’d do 60 seconds of jumping jacks ten times. Hip doesn’t hurt with jumping jacks and my heart rate goes up. Looking forward to the benefits!

    Meg wrote on May 10th, 2012
  17. As far as sprinting and organized sports, I think people should be careful to not mistake activity for exercise. I love soccer, and basketball, but those are activity, not trict exercise that is measurable and quantifiable. For my HIIT, I prefer kettlebell swings. Low impact, high output, no gym needed.

    Ali wrote on May 10th, 2012
  18. Hi
    I just walk – then sprint to the car parked up the road, or the lampost or the tree or whatever – then I walk again – then I sprint again.

    Easy – and fun

    Paul wrote on May 10th, 2012
  19. My favorite sprint workout is 1 mile jog for a warmup. I have a road that is 1 mile straight. Then turn around. Telephone poles are spaced approx. 50 meters apart. I sprint from one pole to the next, then jog the next one. I alternate that for the mile. That gets me 10 sprints. I do the first 4 or 5 at 80% effort and the last 5 all out.

    Mitch wrote on May 11th, 2012
  20. Ack…started Primal 3 weeks ago and am now casted for 4 weeks for tendonitis…only sprinting I will be doing is in my dreams…other options? Upper body “sprinting” exercises?

    Susie wrote on May 12th, 2012
  21. Ack…started Primal 3 weeks ago and am now casted for 4 weeks for tendonitis…only sprinting I will be doing is in my dreams…other options? Any upper body “sprinting” exercises?

    Susie wrote on May 12th, 2012
  22. Great article! Many people underestimate the importance of maximum strength training (what sprinting definately is). I even would go so far to say that explosive strength is what makes you athletic. Even for old people, maximum strength training is beneficial, since it helps prevent them from injuries.

    Great site! I started a training site for myself a few months ago. I just utilize natural training tools like ropes, etc. I would love it if you could check it out and tell me your thoughts!

    Michael Braun wrote on May 15th, 2012
  23. Did a half dozen 30 sec sprints while walking the beach barefoot Sunday. First time in 20 years, and it felt great.

    As you can see by my typing this, I didn’t die! Good advice, thanks!

    marcsfl wrote on May 15th, 2012
  24. I sprinted yesterday after about three weeks of not doing it. 4 sets of 30 seconds and the last one being all out. About an hour afterwards my lower back was screaming at me and is still bothered today. Happens every time. What can I do besides stretching afterwards that I can avoid this?

    Leea wrote on May 15th, 2012
  25. I just finished a challenge where I committed to sprinting three times a week for eight weeks. I was pretty done by the end of it, but man did my sprinting improve. I mixed it up between Tabata bike sprints and hill sprints.

    About a week after I finished the challenge, a trainer at my parkour gym had me do a half hour session of sprints. While I didn’t like it one bit, I couldn’t help feeling that I did really well.

    But I think another week or two of off time is in order. They sure do take it out of you.

    Emerald wrote on May 15th, 2012
  26. I finally “sprinted.” Kind of sad how slow that is for someone my age – 34! I like to do a very slow jog on my treadmill and tried sprinting during the commercial breaks. I was surprised by how scared and hesitant I was!

    wuki wrote on May 16th, 2012
  27. Don’t always run in a straight line. Although I regularly sprint, I did some indoor sprints recently that required me to do a 180-degree turn midway. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary until I woke the next morning with very sore knees, the right knee being much more sore than the left. After some thought, I figured out it was related to the turns. I never turn abruptly while running so it makes sense. I was also “leading” with my right foot as I slowed and turned so the right knee was taking more force, which was consistent with the additional pain in my right knee. I’ll now make a point to turn mid-sprint (probably on the first couple of sprints when I’m fresh and less likely to fall).

    SteveD wrote on May 16th, 2012
  28. I’m 45, have had years of ongoing weight workouts and cardio. I became sedentary about 5 years ago and did only occasional jogging.

    I joined a bootcamp in July 2010 (1hr/3 X weekly) and within 3 weeks, had injured my lower back. Overwork is what I diagnosed it as. Not enough rest time.

    I remained sedentary until 5-6 months of gaining weight, listlessness and feeling of depression.

    I’m now training HIIT with a personal trainer at Blitz Conditioning in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. I have been running and just began incorporating regular sprints on my own.

    I just began feeling the lower back sensitivity and am worried I may have a re-occurance of my back injury.

    Do you think my running/sprinting is adding too much to the HIIT I put in 3 days a week? (I know you’re not a doctor, but what are your thoughts about sprinting engaging too many body components and I should maybe step back a bit.

    I’m currently taking a few days off from training.

    Nathan wrote on May 16th, 2012
  29. welp, tried my first set of sprints the morning. Only got two sets in before my asthma kicked my ass :( It was disappointing but I will keep at it.

    Andrea wrote on May 20th, 2012
  30. Just did my first sprints this morning. 5 sets of 40yd. slight slope into steeper hill. walked back down. Did not go all out so as not to be blown out for days. You learn after years of working out to ease into stuff like this. Later.

    Dave wrote on June 20th, 2012
  31. hi. thanks for such an awesome pro-sprint blog. i myself have been training with intervals for two years now, on and off, but only recently took to every other day sprinting for 30 minutes straight on the treadmill in my gym.i feel amazing. i love that feeling. i crank up my speed and totally let go of control over my feet. they just go nuts.i forget where i am what’s around me, what my name is. i just do it. it’s a painful 40 seconds but i feel like a rockstar when i complete my workout. and yes, soaking wet. personal trainers at the gym line up and stare at me as i rock that treadmill (literally).i used to be an elliptical junkie. i’ll tell you, nothing ticks me off as much as steady state cardio now. i know you can’t sprint every day you’ll overtrain, so i have to take it easy the next day, but every time i feel like i’m about to embark on steady state boredom, i go back to my high intensity.

    JerkmeetsClean wrote on June 25th, 2012
  32. I’ve been eating primally for three months, feeling better every week and have a very active livestyle, though sprinting wasn’t part of it. Yesterday I finally felt ready to do it and – wow – it turned out great. I didn’t know I could be that fast, at some point I felt I was taking off :-) After every sprint I felt completely exhausted, had to lean forward to catch my breath. Afterwards I felt so highly awake and adrenalized like I haven’t felt before. I thought my muscles would be completetly sore, but today they aren’t, just a little stiff. Pre-Paleo I wouldn’t be able to move anymore, but this eating style makes my muscles recover much faster, I noticed this before from long hiking tours with my horse (me walking, not riding). I’ll surely continue doing this. Thank you Mark for all the advice and insights!

    Margit wrote on February 25th, 2013
  33. Excellent article.

    At the kettlebell gym I went to, before it closed, we ran sprints alot.
    I hadnt ran hard literally in 35 or more years. So I pulled 4 hamstrings.
    It took about 6 months of half speed runs and really stretching the hip
    flexors and hamstrings before I could run all out.

    Now I work out at home. Its kind of a crossfit workout with kettlebells
    every day, one day a week heavy lifing and one day very hard sprints.
    Its easy to mix up the sprints to make them interesting. There is a steep
    hill behind my house that I run perhaps once a month and a track at a
    school nearby. I often super set sprints with pullups, snatches or
    pushups. Oh and I always run barefoot even on concrete. My best 100 yd
    dash was 11 sec. No world record but felt good about it. I run any combo
    of 50 to 200 yd runs. The varaiations are infinate. Tabata sprints are
    killers. One i do occasionally is max 50 yd sprints in 5 minutes. Both
    short and sweet.

    I never ever see anyone else running sprints in town. Lots of joggers.
    Some stop and ask me what or why. Most joggers are way over weight
    and usually dont even break a sweat. Looks boring.

    I am sold on sprints. If on a vacation and away from any equipment, I
    can always find somewhere to run sprints for 15 to 20 minutes and have
    a pretty good workout.

    By the way I am 62 years old. 6 ft tall, 180 lbs, 10% body fat, can do
    45 pullups, 10 hspu and still do the 5 minute kettlebell snatch test
    (on a good day).

    thanks

    john altman wrote on April 12th, 2013
  34. Let’s see… 2 children x 2 visits to the park = Dozens of “Catch me Daddy!”
    Yep, did my sprints.
    -J

    Joe Kenow wrote on May 6th, 2013
  35. I have a eleven year old son that boxes.. Apart from his long runs which equal 12 miles a week what type of sprinting program would you suggest for him?

    kevin wrote on July 15th, 2013
  36. I enjoyed reading this article. I sprint very often. I have been a 100-400 meter run all of my life and now I solely play football. So sometimes after practice is over I find myself feeling like I need more. And so I will stay after and either perform 8 10 12 ; or 10 12 16 of 60′s, 50′s , and 40′s. I dont know about requirements that other peoples’ body’s have, but my engine stays running so I have to do quite a bit of running to maintain my sanity! I will even perform this on my days off, just because if I don’t I do not feel my best! I appreciated the article

    C.J. wrote on October 1st, 2013
  37. For anyone worried about joint impact:

    Kettlebells swings! They’re immense.

    You can pick a weight and interval scheme to resemble a sprint workout. Not 100% identical – swings will be a little lower intensity than “all-out” sprinting, but still intense.

    You can do them in your bedroom, too – 5mins 2x a week. I like 5-6 sets, starting with 30 secs on / 30 secs off, and “working into rest” – i.e. adding more work time, reducing rest time. Then switching to a heavier bell every few months.

    Beast, done!

    Rich wrote on April 1st, 2014
  38. I love sprints because they are quick and you get so much benefits from them!

    Lindsay wrote on May 17th, 2014
  39. What is recommended for soccer conditioning training? When I sprint all out during a game (just started again after many years of not playing) I wind up winded and tired within the first 15 minutes. Do I just need to keep practicing? Would long distance running during the week help me not get so winded?

    Right now we practice twice a week, but almost never scrimmage using the whole field. We always do sprinting exercises, but… so far I’m still faaaar from fit enough to play at peak and I’d like to get there as fast as possible so I can start really having FUN with the game again! :)

    Chloe wrote on July 5th, 2014
  40. From past experience there is absolutely no doubt that doing interval sprints with an aerobic workout will make get you in significantly better shape very quickly…you will feel better within a day or two.

    But there’s a practical side that is not so great. Doing wind sprints can make an otherwise enjoyable aerobic routine into pure misery. As a result you may find yourself not exercising at all because you’ve made the endeavor so horrible.

    First step for most people is to stick with a relatively easy aerobic routine for an extended period of time….as it is hard to get people to do this. Only after you get beyond that point should you consider wind sprints. Then if you find yourself avoiding your routine because of the wind sprints give them up. Because exercising at a moderate and consistent pace is far better than not exercising at all.

    Joe wrote on July 30th, 2014

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