Wind sprints have secured a prominent place among today’s vast array of training options. Consisting of a series of top-speed running spurts, followed by “recovery” walking, wind sprints offer a multitude of benefits. Changing particular variables of the exercise can help tailor it to any athletic discipline. Learn how and when to incorporate wind sprints into your clients’ workout sessions.
Putting the Wind Sprints to Work
Ideally, trainers compose workouts with a purpose or goal in mind. If the design of the specific conditioning aligns with the client’s sport-specific needs, the trainer propels his client forward, improving speed/endurance/power accordingly. The versatility of a wind sprint makes it a common option.
If we consider the mechanics of a heavy lift (bench press, for example), we know it requires a short burst of powerful energy to enact the concentric portion of the move. Such a dynamic parallels what one experiences during a wind sprint: short bursts of all-out power, followed by a brief respite (the eccentric half of the bench press). This author included wind sprints when training for competitive bodybuilding, and found it highly successful!
A properly executed wind sprint finds the well-conditioned athlete reaching close to 90% of maximum effort, over a set distance or time. The first phase of the wind sprint should reach an aerobic heart rate range (50-80% of max); the runner will reach an anaerobic level by the end of the sprint. During recovery, the heart’s bpm should return to around 50% of max heart rate before engaging in the next sprint.
*It’s important to note that one should not attempt maximum intensity when beginning a sprinting routine, but instead, should step up intensity over the course of the training program.
Sprinting can tax the body significantly more than other modes of training. As such, adequate rest intervals play a key role in the success of this type of workout. For this reason, most athletes choose to perform wind sprints on days planned for resting or strength training, as opposed to cardio days.
By definition, wind sprints do not add significant time to one’s current training. As an example, one can sprint for 15 seconds, then walk for 45 seconds. After four such sets and a rest period, the athlete then sprints for 30 seconds followed by 30 seconds of walking recovery. Once again, after completing four sets and a brief rest, the last two sets in this particular protocol call for a 60-second sprint followed by an equally long recovery. This training amounts to less than 20 minutes.
A study published in the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy described an experiment where researchers separated 25 recreational runners into four groups. Each group engaged in various stretches prior to sprinting: ballistic, dynamic, static, and a control group that sprinted without any prior stretching.
Data showed a significant and perhaps unanticipated correlation between stretching and sprint times. The control group, who did not stretch at all, demonstrated the greatest sprinting improvement. While stretching post-exercise remains valid and essential, a few minutes of a simple walk or jog should prove sufficient as a warm-up prior to wind sprint training.
Building Muscle and Power
As sprinting puts an athlete temporarily into an anaerobic phase, it facilitates anabolism in much the same way as weight training. However, while weight training hones in on one body part at a time, sprinting requires the combined simultaneous effort of multiple muscles, making it a favorite in terms of complete muscle training exercises.
Studies have proven that sprinting can enhance protein synthesis pathways, particularly those that facilitate protein breakdown, by as much as 230%. With proper nutrition and recovery, sprinting can actually promote lean muscle mass. Sprinting also boosts the body’s production of human growth hormone and improves insulin sensitivity.
The act of wind sprinting increases the proportion of type II “fast twitch” muscle fibers in the legs; these typically align with increased muscle mass and strength in the glutes and hamstrings. For the majority of runners, power hinges on these two muscles.
To HIIT or Not To HIIT?
Nicholas Rizzo, a fitness researcher for RunRepeat, analyzed over 70 scientific studies in an effort to compare the effects of conventional high-intensity interval training (HIIT), sprint interval training (SIT), and moderate-intensity continuous training (MICT). Despite spending 60% less time exercising, SIT participants experienced a 39.6% higher reduction in body fat percentage than participants who performed conventional HIIT. Likewise, in comparison to MICT, SIT resulted in a 91.8% higher reduction in body fat percentage while requiring 71.1% less time exercising. Perhaps this knowledge will enable trainers to safely encourage clients obsessed with HIIT training to try SIT as a complement to their current workout regimen.
Variations on a Theme
To help alleviate the repetitive tedium of regularly performing wind sprints, consider the inclusion of exercises that focus on improving form. In this manner, the trainer can add a modicum of variety to the sprint.
Consider adding the following when designing a sprint-based workout protocol:
- High Knees Sprint: Improves the knee drive component of the leg cycle.
- Straight Leg Striking Sprint: Focuses on key speed mechanics during the pulling/cycling pattern of foot strike.
- Butt Kick Sprint: Improves speed by shortening the lever arm of the leg.
- Power Skips Sprint: Focuses on the pre-loading and unloading phases of the knee drive.
- Forward Bounding Sprint: Ideal for foot strike power production, and also forces up to 3x the average extension while accelerating.
- Downhill Sprints: Classified as “overspeed training”, sprinting downhill builds the ability for faster and more expedient leg cycling. Over time, as the athlete experiences a faster turnover/stride frequency, he also cultivates power and speed.
Whether a client seeks to improve speed, agility, power, or overall strength, sprint intervals can add a unique dimension to any training program. Requiring a small-to-moderate time commitment, the payoff speaks for itself. With so much variety from which to choose, wind sprints may become a personal trainer’s new favorite tool for taking clients to the next level of athleticism.