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Points of Interest
- A brief history
- What does the research say?
- When should we stretch?
- How should we stretch?
As an endurance runner, the thought of sprint interval training may seem counter intuitive. Why should you sprint over short distances when your events cover much greater ground?
Over the last decade or so, High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) has grown in popularity to such an extent that it has moved beyond the gym-going crowds and into the mainstream of sporting performance.
Many distance runners are only now noticing the performance benefits of sprinting.
In this article we're going to look at why you should include a sprint-based endurance protocol into your training if you are a long distance runner.
Why Should a Distance Runner Perform Sprint Training?
The goal of training is to improve event performance. Once we really understand that, we can let go of our biases towards training methods.
Sprint training offers benefits to distance runners that they just can't replicate as efficiently with other means of training. Traditionally, distance running training involved multiple weekly long runs, was all about the mileage and making sure the volume of training was deemed sufficiently high to improve performance.
In many ways, this is still the case. The difference now though is that as sprint training has been introduced, the mileage has been reduced but the intensity has increased. In short, it's the same amount of overall work but condensed into a shorter time span.
Therein lies the benefits of sprint-based endurance protocols. They're not designed to replace distance runs in training, they're designed to enhance the benefits of the programme as a whole.
Research Supporting Sprint-Based Endurance Protocols
By the time a training method has reached the mainstream, it has usually been put through scientific testing and analysis, then been used by elite coaches with their athletes. Once it filters down to the rest of us, the method has been proven as successful.
Here's a review of studies that show the benefits of sprint-based endurance protocols…
A 2013 publication by Aarhus University in Denmark looked at ‘Effects of sprint interval training on VO2max and aerobic exercise performance: A systematic review and meta-analysis.'
The analysis mentioned ‘Strong evidence support improvements of aerobic exercise performance and VO2max following SIT (sprint interval training)'.
In detail, the analysis showed VO2max increases of 4.2-13.4% across different studies and led to the following end statement of the review.
‘In conclusion, strong evidence supports improvement of aerobic exercise performance and VO2max following SIT, which coincides with peripheral muscular adaptations'.
Beyond the scientific proof of effectiveness in the method, there is also a number of logic reasons to apply a high intensity, shorter duration element to the training of an endurance runner.
Sprint Training Improves Technique at Higher Speeds
At the edges of performance capability, technique begins to break down – this is true of all sports. A cyclist at full gas is unlikely to look smooth and controlled. A weightlifter pushing their limit is unlikely to look technically perfect. A swimmer in a sprint for the end is unlikely to be as smooth as they would normally.
By introducing sprinting to endurance runners, they're more able to practice technique at higher speeds. The more practice they can get, the smoother and technically better they are during sprints, making them more efficient and less likely to suffer injury.
Sprinting Reduces Workloads
By increasing intensity but reducing duration, a sprint workout requires significantly less mileage. This in turn reduces steps, repetitions and impact through the joints. The overall effect here is the injury risk is reduced, the time spent training is reduced, and the time spend resting and recovering is increased.
Amongst elite athletes, rest and recuperation is the most under-appreciated element of training and performance. A tired, overworked athlete is at a much greater risk of injury and poor performance in competition.
Sprinting Improves VO2 Max
As the meta-analysis shows, sprinting improves VO2 Max which is a bedrock of endurance running performance. Taking everything else out of the equation and going back to the opening few paragraphs of the article, we said that the goal of training is to improve performance.
Sprinting improves VO2 Max and other aspects of distance running, whilst reducing workload and injury risk. They are the reasons you should include sprint-based endurance protocols in your training. They'll make you a better, faster and more efficient distance runner.
If you aren't sprinting as part of your training, you should be! Start off with simple sprint workouts…
- Sprint 100m as fast as you can, rest 30 seconds and repeat until fatigue.
- Sprint 100m, rest for 30 seconds. Sprint 200m, rest for 1 minute. Sprint 400m, rest for 2 minutes. Repeat x 5.
These are basic sprint-based endurance protocols, but they're a great start and are very effective. Give them a try for two months and see how your running improves.
For more training advice, look around the rest of the KYMIRA Sport Blog .
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