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Sprint your way towards single-digit body fat percentage with high-intensity exercise

The importance of sprinting as a tool in your training arsenal to produce a god-like physique has sadly been neglected in the bodybuilding community. It really is a shame that there are so few bodybuilders that actually include sprinting in their training programs.

It has been proven to be one of the few fat-burning activities that can actually make you gain muscle size instead of wasting it and it’s easy to do, find an open field or a track and just run as fast as you can. Well, you can also read this article before you do. Next time you’re around a track and field event you will inevitably notice the relation between sprinters and bodybuilders.

You’ll notice that the relationship goes both ways, which means a lot of professional sprinters also have incredibly good-looking physiques. This is hardly surprising, considering that their training off the track is extremely similar to that of a professional bodybuilder.

So what would be the best way to increase an athlete’s performance? Is it increasing his VO2 max? Is it improving his one-arm kettlebell snatch while balancing on a Bosu ball? If you answered positively on any of the two, you’d be wrong! The truth is that the most reliable method to increase an athlete’s performance is to improve his/her strength-to-waist ratio, which is just another way of saying he should minimize the amount of body fat the athlete has while maintaining or gaining lean muscle mass.
Usually, any athlete that has higher muscle-to-fat ratio is likely to possess higher relative strength. This higher relative strength is an utmost necessity for many athletes if they are to achieve a world-class success. However, this also applies to recreational athletes or people who simply want to look good naked. Even though, there are certain exceptions for a few purely strength-oriented sports, a leaner body will always perform faster and better, not to mention it will also look a lot more aesthetically pleasing. So, when a professional athlete or a weekend warrior walks into the gym, what should he or she should do to improve their anaerobic performance, maintain or increase their maximal strength and decrease body fat?

The first thing we need to understand is what one shouldn’t do. One of the things that are most recommended for the conditioning of any athlete but actually fails to deliver results in most of them is steady-state aerobic exercise. Let’s be frank here: the only athletes that should do low-intensity aerobic exercise (cardio) such as jogging or running on the treadmill are tri-athletes, distance runners or anyone who needs to lose muscle mass. Yes, that’s right.

Unless you deliberately want to have less lean muscle tissue, the “hamster wheel” method for improving cardiovascular capacity is not for you. In order to achieve optimal body composition and improve anaerobic performance, the best approach is sprinting. A well-structured sprinting program will cause a significant loss of body fat while at the same time increase the anaerobic work capacity, as well as develop the posterior chain muscles. This means less fat, better lungs and a physique that will turn heads at the beach. What more could anyone ask for?

A sprinter’s body – nature vs nurture

By all measures, sprinters may very well be some of the leanest and strongest athletes in the world. They have the perfect mix of fast-twitch muscle fiber dominance, fast reaction time, excellent work capacity and an optimal endocrine profile, not to mention that they look pretty much like Greek statues. Now, you may think that a sprinter’s physical characteristics are all due to them having exceptional genetics, however, that’s only one aspect of the resulting physical outcome. While it’s true that having a certain body type can help one be successful in sprinting, training, diet and overall lifestyle all play an equally important role in the expression of one’s physical qualities.

To understand this point, you can attend any collegiate level track meet and you’ll notice that certain track events develop specific physical characteristics in the participants. For example, even those sprinters who will finish last in a 200 or 400-meter sprint will still usually have well-developed glutes, hamstrings, and relatively low body-fat levels. So, even though they may not have the necessary ability to win a Junior College track meet, their bodies will nonetheless look like that of a world-class professional athlete and the right type of training is the sole cause of this.

Everyone wants to look like a sprinter

One who is interested in sculpting a proportionate, aesthetically pleasing physique might wonder if a world-class sprinter’s training regimen would only be suitable for a full-time professional athlete or if he or she might reap the same benefits as well. This is a very good question and it is closely related to the “nature vs nurture” genetics debate. For people who think that having the right genetics is the main factor and that professional sprinters were born to look and run the way they do, check out the sample training program below for a world-class top sprinter:

The sprinter’s look

The program below outlines the standard pre-season training regimen of Darvis “Doc” Patton ranked as the 5th best 100-meter sprinter of 2009. The track workout was designed by Monte Tratton, coach of several Olympic sprinters.

Monday at 10am: Track work: speed-endurance (300m, 200m, 100m); 2pm: Upper-body strength training
Tuesday at 10am: Track work: block starts (2 x 10m, 2 x 20m, 2 x 30m, 1 x 50m) or some type of speed work; 2pm lower-body quadriceps-dominant strength training (squats, hip and knee flexors)
Wednesday: Soft Tissue Massage
Thursday at 10am : Track work: speed day (5 x 60m) or (4 x 90m) or (3 x 120m) with a 10-minute rest time; 2pm: Upper-body strength training
Friday at 10am: Track work: speed endurance (3 x 160m) or (4 x 130m) or (190m, 160m, 130m); 2pm: Lower-body hip-dominant strength training (deadlifts, hip flexors, split squats)

Working out twice a day, restorative sessions on the off days, and not a single moment spent on those minor nuisances in life like a job? It almost makes one want to become a professional athlete, doesn’t it? You may want to keep this regimen in mind the next time your friend who’s a know-it-all looks at a sculpted Olympian and dismisses it all to “genetics” while his chugging away his 10th beer bottle.

However, you will be pleased to know that even though professional athletes require a life devoted to training, regular people who are pressed for time can experience very noticeable results with a more modest training regimen.

Now that we’ve seen a small glimpse of how a professional sprinter trains, let’s look at a shortened version that will work for the average Joe with normal family and work commitments. This version may not turn you into a world-class sprinter in 6 weeks, but it will surely make you lose a serious amount of body fat, increase anaerobic performance and significantly increase lean muscle mass which in the end will result in a chiseled physique.

Simplified training program:

You will sprint twice a week and train with weight 3 days a week. You will also do a heavy “maintenance” session for legs once a week for this 6-week training cycle.

Monday: Upper body training: Horizontal push and pull split
Tuesday: Sprints
Wednesday: Rest day
Thursday: Legs (alternate quadriceps and hamstring dominant days)
Friday: Upper Body training: Vertical push/pull split
Saturday: Sprints
Sunday: Rest day

Stretch and warm-up descriptions

High knee march
Move for about 20-30 steps, lifting your knees as high as you can with each step. Pump the arms. Stay on the toes throughout the movement.

Butt kicks
Kick the heels up and touch the bum. Stay on your toes and pump the arms. This works the hams and stretches the quads.

Lateral shuffle
Squat down until the thighs are parallel to the floor while keeping the chest up. While you maintain this position, shuffle sideways for 10 steps and return immediately with the same number of steps.

Move sideways, crossing the trailing leg in the front. Uncross your legs and then move the training leg behind. Increase the speed as you gradually learn the foot movement.

Very similar to the high-knee march but done explosively, like doing a skipping motion in an explosive manner. Raise the knees and pump the arms and dorsiflex the foot (lift the toe). Drive the ball of the landing foot into the floor.

Active-assisted ham stretch

Lie on your back with a rolled-up towel placed under the lower back. Actively flex the hips; once you reach the limit of the active range of motion use a strap to further deepen the stretch by pulling your leg a couple of inches farther. Try to hold this position for 2 seconds and repeat until you do a total of 6 reps. You might feel a mild pain in your hamstring on each rep. The non-working leg should be placed flat on the floor and completely straight the toes pointing at the ceiling. Do 3 sets of 6 reps per leg,

Notes on the sprinting sessions

You may have noticed that we don’t recommend running any distance that’s over 200 meters. That’s because the main intention here is to focus on working within the range of the short-term and intermediate energy system, which is the anaerobic alactic and the anaerobic lactic system. All the sprints should not take you more than 30 seconds to complete. If you have less than ten percent of body fat and can’t run 200 meters in less than 30 seconds, than the sad truth is that you’re in poor shape.

Definitions of intensity

When you’re running at 80% of your total capacity you shouldn’t feel strained. When running at 90% you’re running at full speed whilst maintaining control. This means you’re running as fast as possible while maintaining proper body position (you’re not flailing your arms, face and neck are relaxed). Your arms are positioned at a 90-degree angle and the hands should pass the pants pockets during each stride.


Q:    Why should I perform a sprint-based workout program?

A:    Here’s a list of reasons:
Increased work capacity.
Increased glute and ham development.
Increased maximal strength on all the lower-body movements.
Reduction in body fat levels.

You may find yourself in a life-or-death situation one day that will require you to sprint really fast. This is not something anyone wishes for, but dangerous situations occur in life so you had better be prepared for such a thing beforehand. You may save your own life, or someone else’s.

Q:    Can this sprinting program be replicated on a treadmill in case I don’t have the necessary weather conditions to train outdoors?

A:    This is highly doubtful. The majority of treadmills, even the more cutting-edge commercial ones found at the gym next door, simply won’t cut it, that is unless you are awfully out of shape. A notable exception would be the high-speed Woodway treadmills. If your gym doesn’t have these, then you need access to an indoor facility that has a track, or you can change the gym.

Q:    I haven’t done any sprinting since the time I played football in high school. What should I do? Just start running?

A:    Perfecting your sprinting style from constant training is much more in-depth than a lot of people would think and requires many years of practice and correct coaching. Even though most of this would be irrelevant to the average gym-goer, just striving to sprint his way to a better shape, here are a few crucial points to focus on while sprinting:

Keep the shoulders down and relaxed, with the eyes on the track and the chin slightly tucked in. Keep the torso rigid and erect, don’t lean forward pretending to be a professional sprinter competing at the Olympics. Keep the hands relaxed and open, like you’re holding an egg. The arms shouldn’t cross in front of the body; their motion should be from front to back and vice versa with the hands passing the pants pockets on each stride.

Q:    The last time I sprinted without stretching first I pulled my hamstring. Why do you only do hamstring stretches after sprinting?

A:    Doing passive stretching will not prevent hamstring pulls. Increasing the active range of motion and increasing strength on the eccentric part of the movement prevents hamstring pulls.

Q:    Should I run faster on each consecutive sprinting session? Should I try to beast my best distance or best time?

A:    You should do neither. You’ll get faster in any case because you haven’t sprinted in the past. Those who sprint for aesthetic purposes such as fat loss or glute or hamstring hypertrophy should focus more on effect than on time. A sprinting program designed to improve sprint performance or time would be significantly different, including start work and longer rest intervals.

To the track

Getting off a stationary bike and onto the track might seem a bit intimidating to some bodybuilders, but you should not be afraid. Some of the best built physiques of the past and today deem sprinting an essential tool of their training arsenal. The only thing you have to lose is stubborn body fat and rock-hard, hamstrings, glutes and quads to gain.