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Sprinting: A Lost Form Of Exercise


I like thinking about how we can train to develop a very high level of physical function and health, and maintain it for as long as possible.

With study and experience it becomes clear that this requires a variety of different exercise modalities. Any and all exercise and activity is very good for us, and should be encouraged, but there can be no disputing the distinct benefits from different types of exercise.

If you are interested in maximizing your physical function across a wide variety of tasks throughout your life, something I think of as
“aging athletically”, you should have some speed / explosive type training in your weekly plan. Aerobic and strength training being the other two most important to include.

In this article I am going to discuss sprinting, which is a great exercise option to fit this bill. I think it provides a wide array of benefits and provides a big return on training time. When trying to balance out a training week, I feel it is worthy of inclusion, once or twice per week.

It is no secret that we lose physical function as we age. The level that we get to before we begin to decline, and how quickly we lose function is hugely dependent on our activity however. From a skeletal muscle viewpoint, it is our fast twitch fibers that go through the most undesirable changes. They reduce in number, size, and function. This means that we lose strength, power, and speed. Obviously, this has ramifications for golf and life! To limit this happening as much as possible we need to target them with specific exercise.

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When thinking about fast twitch muscle fiber function and “aging athletically”, there are two areas that I consider.

1) Fast Twitch Muscle Fiber Size: This will be taken care of with intense resistance training (also known as strength training or “lifting”) and plays an integral role in how much force we can produce.

2) Contractile Function: This is a term that encompasses a lot, but I am referring to how well the nervous system can send signals to the fast twitch muscle fibers, and also how quickly these fibers can contract. To maximize these abilities and maintain them over the years, we need exercises where the effort level is maximal, and we are moving extremely quickly. This is where sprinting fits in really nicely, but it is simply one option. All maximum effort explosive exercises are helpful for this.

A recent review paper by Grisicki et al, which looked at age related effects on slow twitch and fast twitch muscle fibers provided this quote in their discussion section:

“Surprisingly, and at odds with some of the earlier findings in the field, both the size and contractile function of the slow twitch fibres appear to be well-preserved with ageing. In contrast, there are several studies observing profound age-related decrements in contractile function – primarily absolute force and power – of the fast twitch fibres”

Lifelong aerobic exercise training seems unable to prevent, or even attenuate, most of the age-related decrements in fast twitch fibre size and contractile function, revealing a critical need to identify other nutritional, pharmaceutical, or exercise strategies, such as lifelong resistance training, to protect the fast fibres from ageing”

Full paper download: HERE

We need aerobic training, strength training, AND power / explosive training to best mitigate the effects of aging on muscle function.


Easing into sprinting
Sprinting has risk for muscle and tendon injury (all exercise has risk, but not exercising is guaranteed to be catastrophic). This risk can be hugely reduced by following 3 golden rules.


1) You must be in condition to sprint
If you have not sprinted in a long time, you need to build your way back up to sprinting over a couple of months. It is asking for trouble to go years without sprinting and then try to sprint in session 1. Do not make this mistake.

I recommend taking at least 12 sessions to build back up to full speed. This number can vary hugely depending on your current physical status, so you will need to use some judgement.

If this is you, follow the guidelines below in “what does a session looks like” section, but don’t go full speed when it comes to sprint time.

In your first session, stick to a speed that feels very very comfortable.
In each session, as long as things are feeling OK, go slightly faster than the previous session. This will give your body a chance to adapt to the stress, and make the chance of injury far less likely.

If you want to err on the conservative side, you can still benefit greatly from the session outlined below, while not ever actually getting all the way up to maximum effort. It won’t be quite the same, but still very beneficial. You can think of it as going pretty fast, but not quite 100%.


2) Warming up thoroughly
A common misunderstanding is the difference between stretching and warming up. Many assume that “stretching out” prior to sprinting (or other activities) is adequately preparing them. It is not. Think of a warm-up as specific preparation for the activity ahead. For sprinting we need to gradually get ourselves from our “normal state” to a sprint ready state.

This requires getting our core temperature and muscles warm, and gradually exposing the muscles and tendons to the forces and speeds they are about to face. The simplest way to achieve this is by starting with some slow runs, then progressing to medium runs, then fast runs, and only when you are comfortable everything feels good at reasonably fast runs, moving into your sprints.

Before sprinting, you should have a number of runs at slightly under sprinting speed done, without any issue, before moving into sprinting.


3) Not sprinting when fatigued or sore from other exercise
Sprint when fresh, after a thorough warm-up. Don’t sprint after already doing another workout. Exposing the muscles and tendons in your legs to the forces involved in sprinting when they are already fatigued from another workout is a bad idea. If you are planning on combining sprinting with another form of workout in that same session, or later in the day, do the sprints first. Do not sprint after a weights session or cardio session.

Sprinting before a weights sessions is a great option, provided you still go through the full sprint warm up. It can also be done on a separate day and can blend in nicely with a swing speed session. I have often warmed up, sprinted, then done a Stack speed training session once the sprints are finished, or mixed in some med ball throwing and slamming with the sprints.

If you have Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) from a previous workout in your leg muscles, you should also rein in the speed you run at, or skip the session. For example if you did something like RDL’s or leg curls 1-2 days ago, and your hamstrings are very sore, I do not advise sprinting. You will still benefit from going through the warm-up and running at a more moderate speed, if you don’t want to completely miss a session.


What does a session look like?

1) General Warm-up: I use this routine


2) Specific Warm-Up: I like to use about 50 yards as the sprinting distance. Something that takes about 5 to 7 seconds is perfect.

I recommend about 5 warm-up runs before starting the sprint session.
Do your first one at what feels like about 50% of your maximum speed.

Walk back to the start line.

On your next run, go slightly faster. Walk back to the start line.

Repeat this for 5 total runs, going a little bit faster each time.


3) Sprint: Sprint from your start line to the finish line. Gradually slow down, don’t slam on the brakes abruptly. Walk back to the start line.
Rest a little bit. Repeat for 4 to 6 total sprints. Session done.

I generally use 60 yards as my sprint distance (end zone line to halfway line on an artificial turf american football field). It takes just under 8 seconds. I hold a stopwatch in my hand and try to time my run as best as I can (there will be a little bit of error).

Once I’ve come to a stop after the sprint, I start the timer for my recovery and begin walking back to the start line. I aim for 2:00 to 2:30 total recovery time between sprints. Some of this time is taken up by the walk back to the start line and then I just wait around at the start line until it’s time to go again.

There are 3 additional tips you can use to reduce the likelihood of injury.

1) Use a “flying start”. This means that you would start your sprint from running, rather than a static start. For example you might gradually build up speed over a 30 yard period, then sprint for 5 to 7 seconds.

2) Sprint up a hill. Sprinting up a slight incline will naturally slow us down, but we still get all the explosive exercise benefits from trying to go as fast as we can. It will also reduce our stride length, which means less stretching of the hamstrings. Slightly slower stretching and contracting of the muscles, and a shorter stride length may be desirable when starting out.

3) Ensure you are sprinting on a suitable surface with suitable footwear.
I sometimes do hill sprints on a road. If running on concrete I will wear running shoes. I normally sprint on an artificial turf field. If doing this I wear football boots / soccer cleats. You can run faster and have less chance of slipping.

You want to ensure you have very good grip.

What are the benefits?
Sprinting is an excellent way to expose the lower body to high forces and high speeds simultaneously. This is brilliant for developing powerful legs. There is also considerable recruitment of the trunk and upper body during sprinting. While the legs are clearly the main contributors, it is really a full body exercise.

It keeps our nervous system recruiting the fast twitch muscles and sending signals to them very quickly. This is a missing piece in many peoples exercise plan. Most people stop doing any type of high speed explosive activity like this as soon as they stop playing sports (if they ever played them in the first place). Sprint sessions are a way to work on this in a controlled environment at your own pace.

I think the “own pace” piece is important. We can get in some of this type of activity from recreational soccer, basketball, flag football etc, but the competitive nature of this can often lead to people pushing way harder than they are currently in condition to do, and getting injured. They then decide they are “too old” for any type of explosive activities, and gradually lose their explosive capabilities.

It is an excellent dynamic mobility exercise for the hips.

While not comparable to moderate intensity steady state or high intensity interval training, there will be some cardiovascular benefits too.

I really like the idea of being able to sprint reasonably well at all stages of life, or at least as long as health will allow. If you maintain the ability to sprint, I think it will have excellent transfer to other activities that are likely important to many of you. Such as swinging a golf club powerfully, and getting around on your legs in day to day life with no problem!

This is completely subjective, but I think sprinting is more enjoyable and satisfying than many other exercise options that would fall into a similar category. There is something that really resonates with me about getting from point A to B as fast as possible on our feet. Maybe it will with you too.

Alternative Options
I understand that a variety of circumstances rules sprinting out for certain people. Any activities that you can do in a “sprint fashion”, will have similar benefits to those I outlined above. Sprinting is a little bit unique, because of the interaction between the foot and the ground at high speeds, and the way in which we move, but there are good alternatives if necessary.

Stationary bikes, rowing & ski ergometers, boxing bags, swimming, can all be done in a sprint fashion, and may make more sense for you.

The key is to make sure you have them set up so that effort can be maximal, the bout is very short in duration (about 7 seconds), and the rest is long enough so that you are full power for each bout. (HIIT isn’t sprinting).

My preference is definitely actual sprinting, and I encourage taking the time to start working towards it, even if you never end up going at 100% of your speed.

If you are following workouts on the Fit For Golf App, the sections which have jumping, med ball throwing or slamming, or rapid band work are also targeting this type of power / explosive activity we need, so don’t feel like you are missing out if you can’t fit it in.

Depending on the time of year I tend to do one of these sessions once or twice per week. I do my gym workouts on Monday’s, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and I generally sprint on one or two of the days in between workouts.

If maintaining as high a level of physical function as you can as you age is important to you, consider allocating one 30 minute session per week to sprinting (or building up to sprinting).

It has wide ranging benefits, and a new exercise modality to work at might be stimulating.

You can get similar benefits from alternatives like the ones I listed above, but there is something about sprinting that I think is a little bit unique.

If you decide to embark on including sprinting in your routine, respect the required preparatory period, and warm-up. These two conditions are non negotiable. Consider yourself warned.

Don’t feel like you have to do this to be in great physical condition for life, you don’t. It is simply one option of many, I feel is very useful for targeting the type of explosive exercise that is very valuable for “aging athletically”.

My plan and hope is to do it at least once a week, for as long as I can.

Fit For Golf App users can find the workout I outlined above in the Outdoor Options section on the app.

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