Craig Leonard

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Sprinting: The Ultimate Fat-Shredding and Conditioning Exercise

Craig Leonard January 31, 2014

Sprinting, sprinting, sprinting.

Sprinting, along with other forms of HIIT (high intensity interval training), is quickly replacing more traditional cardio exercises to become one of the most popular exercises for attacking fat loss and conditioning.

With the rise in popularity sprinting has enjoyed as of late, sentiments opposed to traditional cardio and endurance training seem to be multiplying at an equally rapid rate.

I have been a proponent of sprinting for years. There are a number of reasons for this, which I’ll be laying out for you in great detail.

Unlike a growing number of other fitness professionals, I’m not against traditional steady state intensity cardio implements. Steady state, moderate intensity cardio does burn fat – and does a pretty good job of it.

There’s no denying this fact. As such, it will always be an acceptable training option when the goal is fat loss.

After all, I dropped more than 60 pounds of fat and developed a shredded physique – with a body fat percentage in the single digits – while exclusively using the traditional cardio methods of jogging and elliptical training as my fat burning exercises of choice.

I still take my treadmill or elliptical machine for a spin once or twice per week (for reasons I’ll get into a little later).

So this article isn’t meant to be an attack on traditional cardio exercise. It’s meant to show through scientific and anecdotal evidence that sprinting reigns supreme as the ultimate exercise for fat shredding and conditioning.

There is no doubt in my mind that sprinting is the most effective way to exercise for both fat loss and cardiovascular health – and I intend to devote the remainder of this article to proving it to you.

Before I do, though, it’s imperative that I define what I’m referring to when I use the term sprinting.

What is Sprinting (in Craig’s terms, that is)

Normally when I use the word “sprinting” I’m referring to the maximal or near maximal propulsion of the body using one’s bipedal extensions, also known as legs (I like using scientific words like bipedal because it makes me sound smarter than I really am. šŸ˜‰ ).

As it pertains to the context of this article, however, sprinting should be taken simply to imply a period of maximal power output. So, propelling yourself forward at maximal velocity with your legs certainly applies here, though not exclusively.

Cycling, rowing, weighted sled pulls/pushes, and swimming can all be performed in sprinting fashion.

In fact, many of the studies I’ll be referring to throughout this article did not utilize the running form of sprinting. So I want to make perfectly clear that sprinting can take on many different forms.

The benefits of sprinting I’m about to break down for you are not solely relegated to the running form of sprinting.

ALL sprinting movements will allow you to reap the fat-shredding and conditioning benefits I’ll be proclaiming throughout the remainder of this article.

Sprinting Is Way More Time-Efficient

Sprinting - Efficiency

While I’ll never understand why anyone would receive any amount of joy from running marathons, if you’re doing it in order to lose body fat, I can tell you right now that you’re being hugely inefficient with your time!

I get that running 26.2 miles is an accomplishment. And it’s certainly a feat that those who’ve accomplished should be proud of.

However, when it comes to fat burning, sprinting dominates lengthy jogging sessions and leaves them straggling behind, clutching their sides and eating its dust.

You’re probably thinking, “Surely the fat burning difference between jogging and sprinting doesn’t amount to much, does it?”

Let’s see what the science says…

A recent 12-week study found that three, 20-minute interval sprinting sessions per week induced as much as a 17% reduction in visceral fat among its participants. Visceral fat is the fat that hugs your organs.

It’s also some of the most difficult fatty tissue to eradicate from our bodies because it tends to be more resistant to oxidation than other fat deposits.

As it pertains to sprinting being superior to jogging as a fat loss implement, the leader of the study noted that other studies have concluded that it would require jogging for 7 hours per week for a total of 14 weeks to produce a similar decrease in visceral fat.1

To quantify what this means: You can either spend a total of 12 hours doing interval sprints over a 12-week period or 98 total hours of jogging over a 14-week period to achieve similar fat loss results.

Simply put, there is no known fat burning exercise more efficient than sprinting.

If you value your time and your results – and I trust that you do – sprinting should be your cardio exercise of choice. It’s time to ditch the jogging and replace it with some form of interval sprinting.

Sprinting Induces an Anabolic Effect

Sprinting - Anabolic

The same study I referenced above also proved that sprinting induces an anabolic effect. The difference wasn’t negligible, either.

The participants experienced an average gain of 2.6lbs of muscle in their legs and trunk during the course of the 12-week study.

Adding 2.6lbs of muscle while reducing their visceral fat by 17% through sprinting alone is pretty incredible.

Time and time again studies have shown that sprinting leads to an increase in HGH (human growth hormone) and free testosterone levels in the body. Given this fact, the anabolic effects of sprinting really aren’t all that surprising.

Although, you really don’t need some fancy study to prove to you that sprinting will get you jacked. Just look at the bodies of athletes who sprint for a living.

Olympic sprinters (men and women), NFL running backs, wide receivers and defensive backs are some of the most jacked people on the planet.

If you want to build more muscle, a 15-20 minute round of interval sprints 2 or 3 days per week should be viewed not as a recommendation, but as a requirement.

Resistance Sprinting Makes You Faster

Sprinting - Speed

It’s an incredible feeling to be lean and have a fantastic level of muscle definition. It’s an even better feeling when your body is able to perform at a similarly impressive level.

After all, nobody wants to be that guy or gal who looks like an athlete yet runs about as well as the kid that was always picked last for teams in gym class. And, of course, in the event of a zombie apocalypse, your ability to survive and potentially save the human race could very well depend on your ability to outrun all the flesh-hungry, shotgun shell fodder.

The fact that resistance sprinting increases one’s running speed is fairly intuitive, as I’m about to show you.

Basic muscle building principles tell us that placing the muscles under an increasingly strenuous load forces them to grow, adapt and become more resilient. Over time this muscular adaptation manifests itself in several ways.

For the purposes of our discussion here, we’re going to focus on the resultant increase in power output.

Fifteen years ago I could barely muster enough force to squat 150lbs. My power output was severely limited.

Through the consistent application of progressive overload I’ve slowly increased my power output over time.

Today I can squat 300lbs for multiple reps and 150lbs serves as nothing more than a warmup weight that I can pump out with ease. This is the principle of progressive overload in action.

As it turns out, sprinting under a load produces the same effect. As your body adapts to sprinting at maximal speed under an increased load, your sprinting power output will improve and it will become easier and easier to propel your body when the load is no longer present.

This is exactly how sprinting under resistance will increase your sprinting speed and improve your ability to accelerate better than any other single exercise implement.

What’s that? You want some evidence to back up that claim?

Of course you do. I would, too.

Not to worry. I’ve got you covered.

This study of 21 men looked at the exact situation I just described above. The study found that participants sprinting under a load that produced a max speed reduction of 30% for 2 sessions per week, for a total of 8 weeks, produced an improvement in sprinting speed by as much as 10.7%.

Since it’s safe to say that we could all benefit from being able to run a little faster, implementing some type of resistance sprinting 2-3 days per week is obviously a good goal to shoot for.

Plus, you definitely don’t want to find yourself running around the neighborhood looking like any of these guys:

As I’ve already alluded to, resistance sprinting can take on a number of different forms. The most common forms of resistance sprinting are:

  • Parachute Sprints
  • Cycling
  • Sled Pushes and Drags
  • Hill Sprints (where gravity provides the additional resistance)
  • Treadmill Belt Push Sprints (performed with treadmill motor not powered)

Any of these will work fine, so pick one and get after it!

Sprinting Improves Fat Loss…Even When You’re Not Exercising

Sprinting - Metabolism

A study inĀ International Journal Sport Nutrition and Exercise MetabolismĀ divided participants into two groups of male students and assigned them to do either 30 minutes of steady jogging, or 2 minutes of sprint interval training, 3 times a week for 6 weeks.

To their surprise, the researchers found that interval sprinting boosted the students’ post-workout metabolisms the same amount as those who jogged, even though the joggers exercised for 28 more minutes than the sprinters during each session.2

I already covered how much more effective sprinting is at burning body fat than lower intensity, steady state movements like jogging.

As this study makes clear, though, the superior fat shedding benefit of sprinting is not just a result of the fat oxidation that occurs while sprinting.

Sprinting also provides a magnitude of metabolic boost during the hours following a short session of sprinting that doesn’t compare to what is achieved with other conditioning exercises.

The metabolic after-burn effect is often treated like the red-headed step child in the fat loss equation in terms of the recognition it receives. But the impact this has on fat loss over time definitely deserves our attention – certainly more attention than it typically receives today.

Fortunately, it seems that the scientific community is taking notice.

More and more research is being focused on the impact exercise-induced metabolic enhancements can have on fat loss. The initial results of research in this area are confirming that certain methods of training provide superior metabolic changes whose positive fat-shedding effects can be seen in the body as many as 48 hours later.

Unless future studies conclusively determine otherwise, it appears that, at least for now, sprinting is sitting on the throne, drinking out of the bling-covered golden chalice and enjoying its elite status as the most effective way to unleash the power of metabolically charged, post-training fat loss.

Sprinting Is The Ideal Heart-Healthy Exercise

Sprinting - Heart Health

Extreme intensity exercises like sprinting are often avoided by those with hypertension (high blood pressure) or heart disease out of fear that placing their bodies under such a high strain could be dangerous or even life-threatening.

It’s true that sprinting – or any other exercise that is performed at near maximal intensity – will temporarily raise blood pressure. However, this increase is only temporary and is not typically life-threatening.

Moreover, research indicates that sprinting may very well be the most effective means of improving hypertension, normalizing one’s blood pressure and improving cardiovascular health, in general.

For example, this study indicates that the commonly prescribed, low to moderate intensity exercises are likely not nearly as effective at reducing hypertension as high intensity interval movements, like sprinting.

In addition, the evidence – as reported here and here – contradicts the safety concerns commonly associated with high intensity interval training movements that are held by those with heart disease and/or hypertension.

While additional research needs to be conducted to further verify this data, it’s promising that high intensity interval sprinting (among other HIIT options) may be one of the most effective means of exercising to improve any or all of the following factors:

  • VO2Max (the body’s ability to take in, absorb and distribute oxygen)
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Risk of Heart Attack
  • Insulin Resistance and Type 2 Diabetes

If you have any of these conditions, you will obviously want to consult with your doctor before doing any type of exercise.

Be forewarned, though, that they will likely be resistant to the idea of sprinting because this evidence is still being reviewed and studied within the medical community and your doctor will likely see it as a liability for your safety (and a liability for them, by extension).

If you are healthy enough that sprinting receives your doctor’s blessing, or if you simply desire to proactively optimize your heart health, sprinting is the ideal heart-healthy training option.

Are You Ready for Some Sprinting?

I don’t know about you, but writing this article has gotten me all jacked up and ready to hit the treadmill for a round of belt-pushing resistance sprints.

Before I do, though, I want to make sure I don’t give you the impression that sprinting is the only kind of fat-shedding conditioning work you ought to engage in. Traditional cardio can still have its place in your training regimen.

The majority of my conditioning training these days is of the sprinting variety. However, like everyone else, there are days when I’m feeling a little beat up from my training or just don’t have it in me to go all out with a round of sprinting.

At times like these I’ll do a brisk walk on the treadmill at a steep incline, jump rope, jog around my neighborhood or hit up my elliptical machine. These methods are tried and true for fat loss and conditioning.

They shouldn’t be shunned and written off as being obsolete or useless just because sprinting has been shown to be more effective. You can still utilize them in your training as desired with fantastic results.

But, as I’ve hopefully convinced you, the benefits they provide won’t compare to those you’ll experience through regular sprinting. Traditional cardio is sufficient; Sprinting is optimal.

To put it more bluntly…

Sprinting is the ultimate fat-shredding and conditioning exercise. Hands. Down. Resources:

Photo Credits:
1 Running Cheetah
2 Green Alarm Clock
3 Sprinter vs. Runner Comparison
4 Zombies Hate Fast Food
5 Relaxing On Couch
6 Heart Rate Monitor

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