How to Do Sprints: Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

man sprinting while running in the woods

Verywell

Also Known As: Sprint interval training, speed drills

Targets: Cardiovascular endurance

Level: Beginner to advanced

Although many exercise guidelines recommend up to 60 minutes of moderate exercise three times a week, most people fail to get that much exercise for many reasons, including lack of time.

Evidence shows that short, high-intensity sprint workouts improve aerobic capacity and endurance in about half the time of traditional endurance exercise.

If you want to achieve fitness goals faster, consider adding sprint training to your schedule. Adding intervals of faster sprints intermixed with slower intervals can give you impressive results. Sprint workouts are great for people who don't have time for long, steady, endurance exercise but want the same (or better) cardiovascular benefits.

How to Do Sprints

While many think of running when they hear sprinting, the truth is that it's possible to sprint in any aerobic activity, whether it's swimming, cycling, roller skating, or exercising on an elliptical machine. In this context, sprinting means varying the intensity of the activity. The key to sprinting is doing an activity at a certain percentage of all-out effort in order to increase your heart rate.

Perform sprint workout routines three times a week. Allow at least one to two days of rest or another easy exercise between sprint workouts.

  1. Warm up. Before sprints, warm up thoroughly with easy exercise for five to 10 minutes. Perform the same exercise you will be using for your sprints.
  2. Do your first sprint. Perform your first sprint at about 60% max intensity. If you feel any muscle tightness or joint pain, back off and continue to warm up.
  3. Recover. Recover for four minutes by slowing to a comfortable pace, but keep moving.
  4. Do your second sprint. Perform your next sprint at about 80% max intensity.
  5. Recover. Recover for four minutes.
  6. Do your third sprint. Perform the remainder of your sprints at 100% max intensity or all-out efforts of 30 seconds. You should be pushing yourself to the max for each one.
  7. Recover. Recover for four minutes after each sprint to allow your breathing and heart rate to slow to the point that you can hold a conversation without gasping.
  8. Repeat. Repeat the sprint/recovery routine four to eight times depending on your level and ability. For your first workout, you will want to stop at four sprints. Try to gradually build up to eight.

Benefits of Sprints

Sprint training can be used effectively by both elite athletes and recreational exercisers. Sprint training enhances endurance performance. In one study, participants who completed eight weeks of sprint interval training saw improvements in maximal oxygen uptake, also known as VO2 max. This test is one way to measure a person's cardiovascular fitness.

These short bouts of intense exercise (not unlike interval training) improve muscle health and performance comparable to several weeks of traditional endurance training.

Other findings have shown that short, high-intensity exercise burns more calories than the same amount of moderate-level cardio exercise.

Other Variations of Sprints

There are different ways to structure a sprinting routine, and different fitness goals will determine the intensity, duration, and number of sprints that should be performed.

Beginners

If you are new to sprinting, start slow as overdoing it can lead to injury. Work on building up a base level of fitness before introducing sprinting into your exercise routine. When you decide to try sprints, start with one set of four sprint/rest cycles. As you achieve your fitness goals, you can add more sprints to each set, or add another set of sprints.

Intermediate

Once you start a sprint routine, it may be just a few weeks before you are ready to advance to an intermediate level. As you do sets of sprints, try adding to the number of sprints you do at different intensity levels. Do remember, however, to avoid doing sprint exercises too many times per week. Your body needs adequate rest.

Advanced

Advanced or elite athletes can intensify the sprint routine by continuing to increase intensity and add reps. One way to do this is by adding resistance. For example, if you're running or cycling, you could try sprinting hills. If you're skating, you could wear wrist and ankle weights to increase your load. Swimmers can use strength-building techniques to focus on just the upper or lower body or add resistance with tools like a Push Plate.

Common Mistakes

There are a few mistakes that sprinters commonly make. They include starting too hard, advancing too quickly, and doing too many sprints for too long. Sprints, by definition, are not meant to be performed to the exclusion of more moderate-intensity exercise.

Remember: The goal is to modulate the intensity of aerobic activity. A study published in Biology of Sport showed that not getting enough rest between sprints led to an inability to perform as well during the sprint phase. Insufficient rest means you won't get as much benefit from the same amount of effort.

Safety and Precautions

Sprint workouts can be done while running, swimming, cycling, or almost any other cardiovascular exercise. The following precautions should be considered before adding sprint training to your schedule:

  • Safety: Because sprinting is a high-intensity exercise, it is recommended that you check with a healthcare professional and review the physical activity readiness questionnaire (PAR-Q) before beginning a sprint workout.
  • Base fitness: It's also important to have a strong base of fitness in the activity you are using for sprints. To build a base of fitness, follow the 10% rule, and gradually increase your training volume.
  • Frequency: Because of the intensity of sprint workouts, most athletes shouldn't do sprint work more than three times a week.
  • Muscle soreness: Launching into a sprint program may be difficult or cause delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) if you haven't done much training prior to trying sprints. Experts recommend having about three to four weeks of base fitness before beginning.

Before your sprint workout, be sure to complete a thorough warmup. Injuries are more likely if your body isn't properly prepared.

Try It Out

The goal is to do this workout six times in two weeks, then back off to twice a week for maintenance for six to eight weeks before you change your workout. On the days following your sprint workout, aim for 20–30 minutes of the same aerobic activity at an easier pace to help recover but maintain your results.

If you like your results, you can continue with this routine longer. But it's a good idea to vary your workouts every few months and throughout the year. Modify the routine as you like to find what works best for you.

Sprint workouts are intense, and you may need to take a break and perform some longer slow workouts for a while

A Word From Verywell

Sprint training offers an option for those who don't have much time for exercise, but still want to improve their cardiovascular health. While this type of training is demanding and requires a high level of motivation, it can lead to dramatic improvements in a short period of time.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Are sprints better than endurance exercise?

    Sprints aren't inherently better than endurance exercises, rather they provide a different benefit. By increasing the intensity of the exercise, you build cardiovascular health more quickly. Specifically, studies have shown that sprinting increases endurance, strength, and power more than moderate-intensity exercise alone.

  • How long should you do sprints for?

    Aim for 30 seconds of increased effort, followed by four minutes of slow- or moderate-paced activity. Do this for one to two sets of four. This routine can be performed three times per week.

  • Are sprints good for you?

    Sprints are an excellent way of improving cardiovascular fitness even more quickly than moderate-intensity exercise, which makes sprinting a good choice for people who want to reach fitness goals in the shortest time possible. Like all intense activity, you should be careful not to overdo it, which could lead to injury.

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4 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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