Do you sprint?
If you haven’t added a sprint workout to your exercise routine, quite frankly, you haven’t lived. It wasn’t until I made a weekly sprint workout a part of my life around late 2011/early 2012 that I began to see real permanent changes in my physique: I felt more masculine and started to become built more like a rugby player.
You might think of sprinting as running as fast as you can for a relatively short period of time. This is one definition. However, sprint workouts need not be confined to running alone.
You can “sprint” on an exercise bike, elliptical, rowing machine, stairclimber, etc., by engaging in brief, all-out efforts and then allowing yourself time for recovery.
The beautiful thing about sprint workouts is that they can be done in a variety of locations and do not take a lot of time to complete. A sprint workout can be over in just a matter of minutes, so I really don’t want to hear any excuses.
Short bouts of high-intensity exercise have a myriad positive effect on men’s health and hormonal response.
Studies have shown that sprints can naturally boost free testosterone and human growth hormone levels in men.
They are also an excellent exercise for accelerating fat-burning. A study published in 2010 found that just six sprint sessions of six 30 second all-out sprints with 4 minutes of rest time reduced waist size by 3cm in participants and led to a higher level of fat metabolism during workouts.
Sprinting has also been shown to improve insulin sensitivity, blood lipids, and circulatory health.
If you are working to lose excess body fat and find yourself stuck at a plateau or can’t drop those extra five pounds you know you should drop, sprinting can help to get you there. Speaking from personal experience, I feel energized in the days following an intense sprint workout. I notice those feel-good chemicals produced by the sprint coursing through my veins.
“Nothing cuts you up like sprints.” – Mark Sisson, The Primal Blueprint
I have written before about why it is of critical importance to keep most of your cardio efforts at a low-level aerobic pace. However, today I will expound on why the opposite, short bouts of intense sprints, are so beneficial to men’s health overall.
Our Shared Evolutionary Heritage
The key to understanding the health benefits of sprints (along with most other aspects of our health) is to understand our shared evolutionary heritage.
Human evolution lasted so long (approximately 2.6 million years) that our genes still expect the inputs of a hunter-gatherer existence. This existence included necessary physical responses to the dangers that lurked around every corner.
In a life that was eat or be eaten, the occasional all-out sprint at maximum effort was required to outrun a predator that was trying to make you their dinner.
Related: Why the Paleo Diet Makes Sense
These short bursts of intense life-saving energy would have resulted in positive hormonal release gene expression to build strong, powerful muscles. This would ensure that our caveman ancestors could escape from danger during the next event and survive to perpetuate their DNA into future generations.
And since our DNA is essentially the same as it was in our Stone Age ancestors, it benefits our health and fitness to periodically engage in these all-out bouts of intense sprinting.
Effects on Growth Hormone
Among the positive hormonal releases triggered by sprinting, I just mentioned is the release of human growth hormone.
Growth hormone improves men’s health by helping to maintain, build, and repair healthy tissue in the brain and other organs. HGH can help speed up the healing after an injury and repair muscle tissue after exercise. It also helps to build muscle mass, boost metabolism, and burn fat.
When I am coaching clients who want to build muscle and strength, I try to find ways of boosting HGH naturally through dietary and exercise interventions. Sprints are a great way to accomplish this.
But what does the science say?
This study, published in 2003 shows the reproducibility of growth hormone responses to sprinting exercises.
In another sprinting study that looked at growth hormone responses to treadmill sprinting in athletes found that “the exercise-induced increase in GH could have important physiological effects in this group of athletes (participants in the study), including increased protein synthesis and sparing of protein degradation leading to maintained or increased muscle mass.”
Effects on Testosterone
Healthy testosterone levels are extremely important for a man’s overall health and vitality.
Testosterone is a steroid hormone that stimulates the development of male secondary characteristics. It is vital for the development of muscle, bones, hair growth, energy levels, and production of sperm (among other things).
Humor me for a moment and take a look at the two gentlemen below. The one on the left is a sprinter, and the one on the right is a marathon runner. Which do you think has higher levels of testosterone? I’ll give you a minute to mull it over…
By the sheer looks of it, the guy on the left has higher levels of testosterone, as evidenced by the broad shoulders, barrel chest, and powerhouse physique.
But what does the science have to say about this?
This study, published in 2010, appears to show a significant increase in plasma total testosterone levels immediately following a sprint and during recovery for young men who participated in a six-month sprint training program.
In another study, published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research in 2009, twelve elite junior handball players participated in four sets of 250m sprints on a treadmill at 80% of their max speed. The exercised led to “significant increases in GH, testosterone, and testosterone/cortisol ratio.”
Sometimes referred to as “The Golden Ratio”, the testosterone/cortisol ratio is of extreme importance to men’s health, because a high testosterone to cortisol ratio is a good indicator that we are getting sufficient rest after high-intensity exercise. A low testosterone to cortisol ratio may imply that the body is not recovering well, thus the elevated levels of cortisol.
It seems, from the scientific research, that there is a positive correlation between sprint workouts and testosterone levels in men.
Sprinting is a demanding physical activity that requires an existing fitness base before getting started. I will slowly ease my clients into the world of sprint workouts, and only after an eight-week period of muscular stabilization and muscular endurance (if they have come to see me in a deconditioned state.)
You’ll want to start your first few sprint sessions at an easier pace, and gradually turn up the intensity as you progress through your workouts.
Take some time to actively stretch and loosen up, and make sure you are not tight and rigid before starting. As far as locations, you can be creative when it comes to sprinting. You can do it on a high school track, a baseball field, up a hill, or my personal favorite: barefoot on the beach (you might want to work your way up to this as well, as you don’t want to aggravate the plantar fascia or cause an injury.)
I like to do my sprints either in a fasted state or after some Bulletproof Coffee.
According to Mark Sisson, author of the Primal Blueprint, you should only be engaging in a full-on sprint workout once every 7-10 days, and when energy levels are not depleted.
The main point is: try not to overdo it. It will lose the benefit.
Try to follow the workouts below as a progression over the course of several weeks. Only move on to the next level of intensity when you feel you have the ability. (Cut any workout short if you experience any leg pain or tightness).
4 sets of 15-second sprints at 75% of max speed. Rest time: 60-90 seconds in between sets
4 sets of 17-second sprints at 90% of max speed. Rest time: 90-120 seconds in between sets.
Wide-Out Fly Pattern Sprints
This is a fun sprint workout I made up that uses your imagination. Imagine you are a wide receiver lining up on the line of scrimmage one-on-one with the corner. Your job is to run a straight fly pattern and outrun the coverage.
5 sets of 20-second sprints at 100% maximum speed. Rest-time: 90-120 seconds in between sets.
Exercise Bike Tabata Sprints
Tabata Sprints were invented by Japanese physician and researcher Izumi Tabata to find whether an interval-based training model would benefit athletes. What he discovered was four minutes that will totally kick your ass. I have modified it here to take place on an exercise bike:
8 sets of “sprints” at 100% maximum effort for 20 seconds: Rest time: 10 seconds only in between sets. The whole workout should take no more than four minutes.
Six to eight times uphill at 8-20 seconds at maximum speed. Rest time: Recover by walking easily down the hill and return to baseline breathing before attempting next set.
Overall, sprint workouts are a great addition to any workout program, provided they are performed progressively and once every 7-10 days for the maximum hormonal benefit.
Our Paleolithic ancestors were no strangers to short bursts of intense effort to escape the dangers of every-day life. In our modern day lifestyles, we must pencil-in the time to run for our lives, but we must do it nonetheless.
Sprinting can lead to increased growth hormone, testosterone levels, and overall body composition. So what are you waiting for? Do it!
If you have any questions about the sprint workouts I’ve described, feel free to contact me by clicking here.
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