If you take one thing from this article, it's that you should be performing sprints in 2019.
Earlier this year, we published an article entitled "Why Every Human Being Should Run Sprints."
Although many Americans log endless hours a week plodding along on treadmills or stationary bikes at a slow-to-moderate pace, a simple sprint interval can offer bigger benefits in a much shorter time. When you look at the research, it seems like a no-brainer that every able-bodied person should be performing some type of sprint on a regular basis.
I'm partial to sprints in the traditional sense, which entails running on foot as fast as possible on an open field or track. I think it beats a treadmill any day, and it also helps me get more vitamin D in my life (something the majority of Americans are sorely lacking). But sprints can also be performed via a bike, stationary bike or treadmill, if you choose. Traditional sprints may not work for everyone due to things like equipment availability, space availability, injury issues, etc. In that sense, sprints can be more loosely defined in this article as "a short burst of maximum effort running or cycling."
Everyone has two general types of muscle—slow-twitch muscle fibers (also known as type 1 fibers) and fast-twitch muscle fibers (type 2 fibers). Although slow-twitch muscle fibers do the majority of the work during slow and moderate aerobic workouts, fast-twitch muscle fibers are used for shorter, more explosive movements—like sprinting.
On a second-by-second basis, fast-twitch movements burn significantly more calories than slow-twitch movements. This shouldn't come as a surprise, as an activity like sprinting is much more tiresome than an activity like jogging. But the thing about sprinting is that it also helps you burn calories long after your workout has concluded via a process known as "excess post-oxygen consumption," or EPOC.
During very intense exercise like sprinting, your body actually uses more oxygen than it takes in. When your workout concludes, your body has to re-oxygenate and recover from that stress. This process burns calories, largely in the form of fat. It's how four 30-second sprints can ultimately produce the same number of calories burned as 30 minutes of non-stop moderate aerobic exercise, which was exactly the case in this 2012 study.
Moreover, sprint intervals also seem to burn visceral fat—a type of fat stored in your abdomen which is particularly dangerous to accumulate—much better than moderate aerobic exercise. A study from the University of New South Wales found that a 20-minute cycling sprint interval program performed three times a week for 12 weeks led participants to burn 17 percent of their visceral fat. Researchers estimated that it would take seven hours of jogging a week for 14 straights weeks to produce a similar result, which equates to over eight times as many total minutes spent exercising. These studies are just a small part of a mountain of existing research which has found sprint intervals to be a more efficient method of burning calories and fat than moderate aerobic exercise.
Sprint intervals have also been found to build muscle, increase your chance of a longer life, improve brain function, reduce your risk of depression, and more.
While athletes who are required to sprint multiple times per competition need training to mimic such rigors, the average Joe simply looking to get in better shape can see results from performing a small number of short sprints (even as little as two or three sprints, each lasting 10-20 seconds) during their routine.
If you're serious about feeling or looking better—or both—you'd be wise to include some sort of sprint interval in your routine. Not only are they very effective for achieving a variety of common health and fitness-related goals, but they're perhaps the most efficient form of exercise out there.
And notice that no where did we mention you have to reach a certain speed to reap these benefits. You don't need to be Usain Bolt to sprint your way to better health—you just need to run or pedal hard. If you're concerned you may not be healthy enough for intense exercise, check with your doctor first.
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