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Crank It Up: Sprinting Towards Single Digit Body Fat Percentages With High Intensity Training

The relationship between sprinting and a rock-solid physique is why strength coach Erick Minor put together the program in this article. He thinks it’s such a damn shame that so few bodybuilders actually sprint anymore. It’s one of the few fat burning activities that can actually build muscle tissue instead of catabolizing it, and it’s easy to do; just find a track and run! Well, and maybe read this first…

Look around a track and field event sometime and you’ll notice the relationship between sprinters and bodybuilders actually goes both ways, meaning a lot of full-time sprinters also have damn impressive bodies!

Not surprisingly, their training off the track is remarkably similar to that of a hard-lifting bodybuilder.

Okay, quiz time….

What’s the most foolproof way to increase an athlete’s performance?

“Increase his VO2 max?”
Nope.
“Uh, improve one-arm Kettlebell snatch on a Bosu ball performance?”
Hell no.

Well…

The most reliable way to increase any athlete’s performance is to improve his or her strength-to-weight ratio, which is a fancy way of saying minimizing the amount of bodyfat the athlete carries while maintaining or adding lean body mass.

Typically, any athlete with a favorable muscle to fat ratio is likely to have higher relative strength.

High levels of relative strength are necessary in many sports for world-class success. The same rules apply for recreational athletes or guys who just want to look good naked. With the exception of a handful of pure strength sports, a leaner body will perform better and faster, not to mention look better when the clothes come off. So when an athlete or weekend warrior rolls into my facility, how do I go about improving anaerobic performance, maintaining and/or increasing maximal strength, and reducing body fat?

Well, the first thing you have to understand is what I don’t do. Some of you may know that I don’t recommend steady-state “aerobic” exercise for the conditioning of any athlete.

Let me be blunt here:

The only athletes that should perform low intensity cardio such as jogging are distance runners, tri-athletes, or someone needing to lose muscle tissue. Yes, you read right, unless your goal is to have LESS lean muscle mass, the hamster wheel approach to energy system work is not for you. For maximum body composition and anaerobic performance improvements, the modality of choice is sprinting.

A well-designed sprint program will create significant losses of body fat and at the same time increase your anaerobic work capacity and posterior chain development. So less fat, better lungs, and a dead-sexy butt that will make the nymphets and cougars come crawling. What more could you ask for?

The Sprinter’s Body – Nature vs. Nurture

Pound for pound, sprinters are some of the leanest and strongest athletes on the planet. They possess the perfect storm of fast-twitch dominance, exceptional reaction time, great work capacity, and a favorable endocrine profile. Physically, they look pretty damn good too. Now you may suspect that a sprinter’s physical characteristics are all a product of awesome genetics, but that’s only one aspect of the resultant physical outcome. Yes, a certain body type is preferential for success in sprinting, but training, lifestyle, and diet all have a big impact on the expression of physical qualities. To understand my point, just attend a collegiate level track meet and you’ll note that certain track events develop specific physical characteristics in their participants.

For example, even the guy or girl who places dead last in the 200 or 400m sprint will still typically have well developed glutes, hamstrings, and fairly low body fat levels. Even though they may not have what it takes to win even a Junior College track meet, their body resembles that of a world-class athlete. I attribute this to the training.

I Wanna Look Like That!

As a strength coach of some world-class sprinters, I’m often asked if their training regimens would only be of benefit to full time athletes or if the average Joe might reap similar rewards as well. That’s a good question, as it also plays into the Nature vs. Nurture genetics debate mentioned earlier.

So for those who think it’s all genetics and that pro sprinters were born to look and perform the way that they do, check out this training program for one of the top sprinters I train:

The Sprinter’s Body

The following program outlines the typical pre-season training schedule of Darvis “Doc” Patton, #5 ranked 100-meter sprinter of 2009.

(Track workout designed by Monte Stratton, coach of multiple Olympic sprinters.)

  • Monday (10am): Track work: speed-endurance (300m, 200m, 100m)
  • Monday (2pm): Upper body strength training
  • Tuesday (10am): Track work: block starts (2 x 10m, 2 x 20m, 2 x 30m, 1 x 50m) or speed work
  • Tuesday (2pm): Lower body quad dominant strength training (squats, knee flexors, hip flexors)
  • Wednesday: Soft Tissue therapy/ Massage
  • Thursday (10am): Track work: speed day (5 x 60m) or (4 x 90m) or (3 x 120m) w/ 10 minute rest interval
  • Thursday (2pm): Upper body strength training
  • Friday (10am): Track work: speed endurance (3 x 150m) or (4 x 120m) or (180m, 150m, 120m)
  • Friday (2pm): Lower body hip dominant strength training (deadlifts, split squats, hip flexors)

Twice a day workouts, off day restorative sessions, and nary a moment wasted on those minor irritants in life like a JOB? Almost makes you want to be a pro athlete, doesn’t it? (Maybe keep this schedule in mind the next time your know-it-all buddy looks at a chiseled Olympian and snorts, “Genetics” between his endless sets of seated 12 ounce Heineken curls.)

But you’ll be pleased to know that while Olympic hopefuls require a life devoted to training, time-challenged regular folks can experience very significant results with a much more modest training schedule.

…. And the Joes

Now that you’ve seen a glimpse of how a world-class sprinter trains, here’s an abbreviated version that will work for the typical Joe with normal work and family commitments. It may not have you nipping at Doc Patton’s heels in six weeks, but you should expect serious reductions in body fat, increased anaerobic performance, and the beginning development of a smooth gluteal fold that even your long-suffering wife won’t resist slapping.

Training Schedule:

You’ll sprint twice a week, and weight-train three days a week. You’ll perform a heavy maintenance session for legs once per week for the six-week cycle.

  • Monday: Upper body: Horizontal push/pull
  • Tuesday: Sprints
  • Wednesday: Rest
  • Thursday: Legs (alternate quad and ham dominant days)
  • Friday: Upper Body: Vertical push/pull
  • Saturday: Sprints
  • Sunday: Rest

Warm-Up and Stretch Descriptions

High Knee March

  • Move briskly for about 20 steps, lifting the knees as high as you can with each step.
  • Pump your arms.
  • Stay on your toes throughout.

Butt Kicks

  • Kick your heels up to touch your bum.
  • Stay on your toes and pump your arms.
  • Works the hamstrings and stretches the quads.

Lateral Shuffle

  • Squat down until your thighs are approximately parallel to the floor. Keep the chest up.
  • While maintaining this position, quickly shuffle sideway for about 10 steps and immediately return with the same amount of steps.

Cariocas

  • Move briskly sideways, crossing the trailing leg in front.
  • Uncross the legs and move the trailing leg behind.
  • Increase the speed as you get the hang of the footwork.

A-Skips

  • Similar to a High Knee March but performed explosively (like a skipping motion with an explosive element).
  • Raise kness and pump arms, and dorsiflex foot (lift toe).
  • Drive ball of landing foot into the ground.

Active-Assisted Hamstring Stretch

  • Lie supine (on your back) with a small rolled-up towel under your low back.
  • Actively initiate hip flexion; once you reach the limit of your active range of motion use a strap to deepen the stretch by pulling the leg a few inches farther.
  • Hold for 2 seconds; repeat until 6 reps are complete.
  • You will feel mild pain in the hamstring on each rep.
  • Your non-working leg should be in contact with the floor and completely straight with toe pointing towards ceiling.
  • Sets: 3/leg
  • Reps: 6 reps (Photos at right)

Notes on sprinting workouts

You may notice I don’t recommend any distance over 200 meters. This is because I want you to focus on working within the short term and intermediate energy system (anaerobic alactic and anaerobic lactic system). All sprints should take less than 30 seconds to complete. If you have less than 10% body fat and can’t run 200 meters in less than 30 seconds, you’re in sorry shape, my friend.

Intensity definitions

  • When running at 80% you should not feel strained.
  • Running at 90% intensity is running at full speed under control. You’re running as fast as you can while maintaining good body position (no arm flailing, neck and face are relaxed).
  • Running at 100% requires you to focus on applying as much force to the ground as possible.
  • Arm position: arms at 90 degrees, and your hands should pass your pants pockets during each stride.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why should I follow a sprint-based training program?

Here are just a few reasons:

  • Increased work capacity
  • Increased hamstring and glute development
  • Increased maximal strength on all lower body exercises
  • Loss of body fat
  • Many life & death situations that you might one day find yourself in will require you to sprint. God forbid, if your toddler suddenly starts pedaling his tricycle towards a busy intersection, you won’t be wishing you spent more time on a recumbent bike.

Where I live it’s winter eight months out of the year. Can I replicate this program on my treadmill?

Doubtful. Most treadmills, even the higher end commercial ones found at your neighborhood big box fitness center, won’t cut it — unless you’re dreadfully out of shape. One notable exception would be high-speed Woodway treadmills. But if your facility doesn’t have these, you need access to an indoor facility with a track- or move!

Q: I haven’t sprinted since back when I played high school football. So what do I do? Just, uh, run?

Perfecting sprint form sprinting is much more in depth than many would think and requires years of practice and precise coaching. While most of this is irrelevant to the average guy just trying to sprint his way back into shape, here are a few key points to focus on when sprinting:

  1. Keep shoulders down and relaxed, with eyes down the track and chin slightly tucked in. Keep your torso erect; don’t lean forward like you’re trying to break Usain Bolt’s record.
  2. Keep hands relaxed and open, like holding an egg.
  3. Arms should not cross in front of body; arm motion should be front to back, front to back with hands passing pants pockets on each stride.

Q: The last time I tried sprinting without stretching first I pulled a hamstring. Why do you only have hamstring stretches after the sprint sessions?

Passive stretching doesn’t prevent hamstring pulls. Increasing active range-of-motion and increasing eccentric hamstring strength prevents hamstring pulls.

Q: Should I focus on running faster each workout? Do I try to beat my best time or best distance?

Neither. You will get faster just because you haven’t sprinted in the past. Trainees sprinting for cosmetic purposes (fat loss, glute hamstring hypertrophy) should focus on effort more so than time. A program designed to improve sprint time/performance would be significantly different, including longer rest intervals and start work.

Off to the Track

Getting off the stationary bike and onto the track may seem a little scary to some bodybuilders. Don’t be afraid. Some of the finest built bodies of yesterday and today consider sprinting to be an essential part of their training toolbox. Remember, you have only stubborn body fat to lose and rock-hard quads, hamstrings, and glutes to gain.

Author: Erick Minor
Website: www.erickminor.com

Erick Minor is a freelance writer and the owner of Strength Studio a sports performance and personal training studio located in Fort Worth, Texas.

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52 Comments

  1. Mike Richardson says:

    Very interesting article. I wonder what the opinions of the trainer when comparing this sprint program to HIIT training/interval training.

  2. Jared R says:

    Should mid-distance athletes consider similar routines to improve 1 and 2 mile run times?

  3. Arthur K says:

    I’m a big fan of HIIT.

    On my last cut I did a mixture of sprints (timed at 10seconds with 50seconds breaks) and high intensity skipping with the same intervals.

    Just wondering what your thoughts on skipping are? Or even cycling on a stationary bike?

    I understand how a treadmill is crap. Even at max speed its too slow – takes too much time to speed up / slow down and is dangerous to jump on/off when its at speed.

    But I’ve found skipping is a good alternative for sprints too and cycling on a stationary bike can work too as you can instantly speed up and slow down / set resistance. Thoughts? Reply back to the e-mail I’ve provided incase I don’t check back here.

  4. Hey guys, Could anyone help me? I was really interested in giving this workout a try. But already have questions on first day workout. A1 Bench press, contrast method….Reps 5,1,4,1,3,1…tempo 21X1
    I dont understand the reps 5 then do I max out once and go back to something I can do four times and so on. Maybe a dumb question but it has me puzzled. Tempo? And the last question do you have to run on a track? Is it that much better? Thanks in advance.

  5. G Fadlalla says:

    Are the rest intervals between REPS or SETS???
    For example, 3 sets of 100m sprint 4 min rest interval (4 min between each set or between each 100m sprint)?
    Blessings

  6. Greg says:

    Its unbelievable how incredible sprinters look. There built like bodybuilders except a little leaner on the upperbody standpoint. Anyone that does regular cardio training should read this article.

    Problem is most bodybuilders just do slow, long boring cardio. They should definitely incorporate the sprint workouts you provided.

  7. Adam says:

    interesting..im giving it a try starting today!

  8. Adam says:

    This program seems really interesting, but there is one hindrance for

    me to start with this program – I don’t understand how the tempo

    works. I mean ”21×1” and ”3010” ?

    Would be sweet if somebody could explain.

    Thanks! :)

  9. Michiel says:

    Adam, 21×1 means letting the weight come down in 2 second, pausing for 1 second, pushing in X (which doesn’t matter how fast you do it I suppose) and then pausing for 1 second again. 3010 means lowering the weight in 3 seconds, no pause at bottom, pushing it away in 1 second, no pause at top.

    This is true for all pushing movements. For all pulling movements, the first number becomes the 3rd, and vice versa. So basically the first can be seen as the relaxing number, the third number is the number which describes where you execute the force and the 2nd and 4th are the break numbers.

  10. Daniel says:

    I have some questions, in the Sprint Sessions, the Rest Intervals means do nothing, or resting means walking or jog?

    Also, can I just do the Sprint Sessions with my normal lift workout?

    Thanks.

  11. Colin says:

    I am a sprinter turned bodybuilder for off season and injury training. Its good to now know that my sprint training will not hinder my muscle growth when i begin sprinting competitively again this spring. My body is tone and according to my coaches “skinny” but i still hold my own. Now that i have almost achieved my bodybuilders body i can translate that to faster times on the track!

  12. D says:

    Regarding lifting tempos: the “x” isn’t a variable, it means “explosive.” So 31X1 would be eccentric 3 seconds, pause 1 second at bottom, explode up, 1 second pause at top. This tempo would improve sprint starts because the pause at the bottom eliminates a lot of bounce… you’d have to overcome the dead stopped weight which is a different training stimulus. Learning this stuff as a bodybuilder can only help.

    In my experience the stretch reflex will still help after a 1 second pause. Try pausing at the bottom for 5-7 seconds and see what it’s like to lift with pretty much zero stretch reflex.. training this way will improve strength out of the bottom of a lift.. good for people who need to work the bottom of a bench or a sprint start or whatever else.

  13. Alex says:

    Can someone explain the podium deadlift? Is it just a conventional deadlift on a podium, or is it a Romainian (straight-legged) deadlift on the podium?

    Also, do you weight lift and run on different days? For example, do I lift M/W/F, and run T/Th?

  14. Paul says:

    For those who feel that the workout charts lack a good amount of detail, and in response to G Fadlalla’s question about the rest intervals…

    I’ve been on this program for a week, meaning I’ve done two sprint sessions (one 80% day and one max speed day), and I’ve realized that if this program is supposed to increase your EPOC at all, the rest interval pretty much HAS to be after the whole SET of that distance/intensity. I was waiting and waiting to feel fatigued from each sprint, but the rest interval was so ridiculously high on the first couple runs that I decided to cut the rests down significantly as well as add a couple extra runs toward the end of the session. On my next sprint day I will be doing somewhere between a 1:1 and 1:2 sprint to rest ratio and then doing the specified rest interval just once. Definitely don’t keep doing that same rest interval after every short sprint or you’ll be majorly wasting you’re time. I realized afterwards that it was absolutely ridiculous to think that the rest was after each individual run… 15 seconds for a sprint, and then 5 minutes resting? That’s a 1:20 ratio and quite useless when it comes down to it. Sprinting is supposed to be efficient, and I was out for nearly an hour today, including warmup/cooldown/stretch, not getting the workout I’m used to. The funny thing this isn’t the first time I’ve done a sprint training program, yet I still went ahead and followed the directions that made no sense.

    So, don’t make the mistake I made if you’re looking for something intense… or at all effective, for that matter. Actually THINK about the rest intervals before you do them.

  15. JJ says:

    Hi I need some urgent advice

    I tried this program earlier in the year, and had great results, however I seemed to tweek or strain my hamstring doing the high knee runs, as well as sprinting at about 85 – 95 % intensity or speed. So I stopped

    I started again 3 months ago, and in the 2nd week I tore my hamstring. I’ve done my rehab now, and wanna give it another go. Any advice?

    I’m thinking I should do it around midday or even early afternoon, as I find my legs to be a bit more loose and have relatively fewer niggles.

    Please help, I really enjoy sprinting, I wanna give it a proper go

  16. Frank says:

    @JJ work alot on your dynamic stretching capabilities in conjuction with strengthening your legs as a whole. like it says in the article static stretching solely doesnt prevent hamstring tears, when in sport do you see someone suffer a hamstring tear in a 100% static position – rarely if ever. leg swings are great crank out them regularly

  17. Dennis says:

    Paul,

    Those rest intervals are the proper rest intervals for sprinting. I’m a track guy so I know how it can get pretty boring with the long rest intervals, but they are scientifically proven to be best for increasing anaerobic performance. Same goes for strength and power training exercises. It takes that long for your body to replenish the energy stores.

    If you want to train for recovery and speed endurance, then yeah you can decrease your rest. But for pure speed and power, 3-5min rests are it.

  18. User says:

    WOW thank you very much

  19. Sam says:

    hey,

    i’m a natural bodybuilder and i really want to lose body fat whilst still putting on lean muscle mass, will sprinting help me to lose fat and not lose muscle mass?

  20. Josh says:

    @Sam-Yes, you’ll still be able to put on lean muscle mass.

  21. IanI says:

    Is it OK to mix this run sequence in with a mass and strength type workout?

  22. Joe says:

    Can you consider this sprinter’s regimen to be a lean mass gaining routine if you already have a low percentage of body fat? Given that you eat a lot, and often of course…?

  23. P says:

    Theres not really much variety in the gym, should i change the excersises every week?

  24. Gods says:

    Would this method be useful to someone who is trying to gain weight also ? I weigh 70 kgs just wondering if this would be any use to me, cheers.

  25. James says:

    Hi, thanks for the article

    Just wanted to ask, where exercise orders are listed as A,A1,B,C, does that mean that A and A1 are done as a superset?

  26. Adino says:

    Great article, love doing HIIT programs. I would love to start this program considering snow is gone now (I live in Canada).

    I am however a little confused with the in-gym training. If there are any videos here or even youtube that would be great!

    Thanks in advance

  27. tt_91 says:

    Hi, Thanks for the article. Just wondering when you have completed week 6 do you go back to week 1 and start the program again? Thanks.

  28. Al says:

    Hello, I was wondering if I could do the sprint training the day after a full body rountine? Or would that not be enough time to recover my legs? I usually train M-W-F and am considering doing sprints thursdays and saturdays. Thanks

  29. AmHealth1 says:

    Great sprinting program to get one interested in running while bodybuilding and strength training. Guys with the questions, do the program as written and see some excellent results!

  30. Ryan says:

    JJ try eccentric hamstring “let downs” i play australian rules football and ive suffered from the most common injury in the sport (hamstring injuries) for a year or two now but these exercises have helped a lot and i havnt torn it since (touch wood)
    basiccally you just get someone to hold your feet/ankles down so that u can lean forward slowly using only your hamstrings to keep u from falling over. once youve worked this out u just extremely slowly let yourself fall to the floor while keeping tension on your h/s’s repeat this 4-8 times until fatigue.

  31. Rick says:

    I love this article. It is exactly what I was looking for. I’m pretty attached to my strong lifts 5×5 routine and planning to mix it with the sprints routine. Any thoughts on that?

  32. Mr.Joe says:

    This is just awesome. I have been experimenting with different strength programs this summer and how to integrate sprinting routines into them. I think i have finally found the routine that i am going to stick to for a while. My goals at the moment aren’t surrounding bodybuilding but more geared toward strength gains and athletic performance, which i why i am going with the 5/3/1 training style. Here is my split:

    D1: Squats5/3/1, P.Cleans5/3/1, Deadlifts(Dynamic Effort), Sprints D1

    D2: Bench5/3/1, BB Row5/3/1, Bodyweight Trisets(Pullups/Dips/Pushups)

    D3: OFF

    D4: Deadlift5/3/1, Squat(DE), Farmerswalks, Goodmornings, SPrints D2

    D5: Overhead Press5/3/1, Bench(DE), Bodyweight Trisets, Abs

    D6: OFF

    D7: OFF

    If you are trying to cut out more i like to put a treadmill sprinting workout on d2 and d5. I think this is a good way to combine a weight program with a solid sprinting scheme.

    Any thoughts or changes?

  33. Sara says:

    Can anyone explain “static side deadlift”? :)

    Thanks

  34. Travis Bane says:

    @Sara – Check this out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E6xc4RvTcrE

  35. Rick says:

    So, back to my question. I do “Strong Lifts 5×5″ workouts. I want to do this sprint routine in conjunction. I squat every M W F, and I deadlift 3x every two weeks. I’m leaning toward keeping Saturday a permanent sprint day, and adding sprints to either Monday or Wednesday, whichever day does not include deadlifts that week. That would leave me with three rest days per week. Or should I put sprint days permanently on Tuesday and Saturday with no rest on Wednesday and two rest days per week? Or is this too much lower body exercise in all?

  36. athlete 101 says:

    can somebody please tell me the athletes names from the first two rows of pictures??

  37. Dave says:

    The bottom right is Linford Christie. Bottom left looks like Michael Johnson.

  38. athlete 101 says:

    no i mean the topless sprinter and the two with the orange singlets, sorry for the confusion.

  39. Dave says:

    I reckon the two with the orange singlets are the same guy, being Harry Aikines-Aryeetey. Can’t say I recognize the dude at the top. He looks a bit like Blake, but Blake doesn’t have that tat I don’t think.

  40. Zohaib says:

    Excellent article. Considering starting this program next week.
    Regarding the three days of weight training, what sort of weights/repetition maximums (RM) do i need to be lifting? Does 5 reps means doing 5 reps with a weight i can lift for 5 reptition max? And 1 rep with a 1 repitition maximum weight?

    Thanks

  41. VV says:

    Hey guys. What sort of a diet / nutritional plan would you recommend with this? I’d guess obviously you need to eat less than you consume to cut; then again this exercise regime does consume a helluva lot and plenty of carbs are needed for recovery. Any ideas / hints / links?

  42. YOUSSEF says:

    CAN i replace the 3 workout training days wit a condensed 3 workout day plan on the gym … to increase the shoulders and arms ,.. it will be much more better

  43. Champagne says:

    I am a woman and find that this program quite interesting and appealing. Would I be able to use this program or is there something that is more compatible for women only?

  44. Ronnie Coleman says:

    Will it work if I swapped the low decline DB press for dips?

  45. scott says:

    So… for the sprinting routine day 1, I am supposed to sprint 100m and then rest 4 minutes and do another 100m and repeat this. 4 minutes of rest between sprints seems like a lot but what is everyone else doing?

  46. Darius says:

    I am 17 and a sprinter I run low 11s and can not get to 10s would this training get me to drop a second off my time?

  47. Reot says:

    Excellent article. It has been 6 weeks since I have started this workout. How should we go on after this program?

  48. Lincoln says:

    Week 1-2 of day 1 for the sprints has 100m at 4-5 sets. How many reps in a set? Or do you only do 4 or 5 100m sprints, doesn’t seem like a lot of running…

  49. KenDM says:

    When there’s no prowler available and no weight vest for the burpees, what’s a recommended exercise to fill that gap?

  50. KenDM says:

    Also, is there a replacement for the farmers walk? It’s a bit hard to do as the gym is limited in walking space. Also, I need some heavier weights for the effects of this exercise to kick in, but my hands/arms can’t handle this weight (even with straps).

  51. Josh says:

    Sprints hands down! My favorite as they keep the body looking perfectly aesthetic! (Golden Means Ratio) No better form of cardiovascular training either!

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