Become a Member

Get access to more than 30 brands, premium video, exclusive content, events, mapping, and more.

Already have an account? Sign In

Become a Member

Get access to more than 30 brands, premium video, exclusive content, events, mapping, and more.

Already have an account? Sign In

Brands

The Beginner’s Guide to Sprinting

Who doesn't want to run (and look!) like an Olympic sprinter? This expert-designed program will help you cross that finish line — fast.


Member Exclusive

Become a member to unlock this story and receive other great perks.

Join

Already a member?

Sign In

Competitive sprinters have some of the most incredible physiques in the world. Genetics aside, countless hours spent on the track sprinting mean well-developed glutes, quads, legs, shoulders, arms and core. Add to that their cross-training protocols and you’ve got the makings of a superhuman.

This guide sets you on the road to physique nirvana while also making you an excellent athlete. Once you’ve learned proper sprinting form and the ins and outs of gym training, use the three-month Sprint-From-Scratch program, designed by Lindsey Grasmick, USTFCCCA, head track and field coach at Western Colorado University in Gunnison, Colorado, and get in the starting blocks.

On your mark, get set… sprint!

Section divider

The Sprinting Advantage

Sprinting is entirely different than running for distance and/or endurance when it comes to intensity and muscle-fiber activation, and the all-out intensity of a sprint is similar to that of a heavy lifting set — short in duration but potent in outcome.

“Sprinting requires the use of the quick phosphocreatine energy system, which supplies energy for short, intense bursts of less than 20 seconds,” says Julia Anto, CSCS, a strength and conditioning coach for sport athletes and powerlifters. “The body expends a lot of energy to utilize and replenish this system, making it excellent for calorie burning both during the activity and afterward via excess post-exercise oxygen consumption.”

The fast-twitch muscle fibers in your body are responsible for your speed quotient, whereas your slow-twitch muscles are responsible for endurance. “It’s easy to see the physique differences between sprinters and marathoners,” Anto says. “Fast-twitch muscles increase in size with consistent training, while slow-twitch fibers don’t. If you’re looking for muscular benefits in the legs and glutes, you have to train fast-twitch fibers through [activities] like sprinting and weight training.”

Photo: Getty Images
Section divider

Sprinting Do’s and Don’ts

Sprinting is a high-intensity, high-impact workout that can lead to injury if approached haphazardly. Heed these words of wisdom from our experts to keep your feet on the track and your bod in the game.

Do…

  • Perform a complete warm-up at the beginning of every sprint workout. “Make sure your muscles and your brain are ready for high-impact, high-effort movement,” Julia Anto says. Tamara Ards recommends dynamic flexibility exercises, sprint drills, skipping and high knees.
  • Ease into sprinting if you haven’t done it in a while (or ever). “Start slow and low,” says Anto, meaning sprint slower than 100 percent all-out effort and perform fewer sprints to begin. “Even if you feel like you can do more on day one, work your way into it.”
  • Recover completely between sprints. “If I ask you to sprint as hard as possible for 15 seconds but only give you 30 seconds to rest, it’s highly unlikely you’ll be able to sprint as fast on the next one,” Anto says. Lindsey Grasmick prescribes two- to five-minute rest periods between sprints.
  • Record yourself sprinting to check your form. “It’s often hard to tell if you’re hitting good positions at first,” Grasmick says.

Don’t…

  • Sprint if you’re already fatigued. “For example, don’t go on a 10-mile run, then sprint afterward,” Ards says.
  • Increase intensity and volume at the same time, Grasmicksays. “Do one or the other and do so gradually.”
  • Sprint on consecutive days. “Give yourself at least 48 hours between sprint sessions for optimal recovery,” Ards advises.
  • Confuse sprinting with conditioning. Sprint distances are short — 10 to 150 meters on the flat. Conditioning workouts are longer — 400 meters or more.
Section divider

Ready, Set… Sprint!

Proper technique is critical in sprinting. Tamara Ards, assistant women’s track and field coach at Louisiana State University and former All-American sprinter from the University of Colorado, breaks down proper sprint form:

Keep Your Head Neutral

Your eyes should be focused forward and your chin should be level. “I should be able to draw a straight line from the top of your head down through [your body] to the ankles — that’s neutral,” Ards says.

Use Your Shoulders and Arms

Proper technique can help propel you forward. “The elbows should be bent 90 degrees when they’re in front of you, and as they swing down and back, your elbows should open up to about 120 degrees,” Ards explains. Her visual cue: Imagine your hands are two hammers and you’re trying to pound in a nail into the wall behind you.

Keep Your Feet Underneath You

“Put your foot down, don’t [reach it] out,” Ards explains. “You want your foot strike to happen as close to your center of mass as possible — under your hips. If the foot strikes too far in front, it’s like putting on the brakes in a car. Start with your [foot up, not pointed down], accelerate down with the thigh and punch with the ball of the foot.”

Optimal Stride Length

Overstriding means reduced power because you’re spending more time on the ground. “From the side, a good stride looks cyclical, almost like you’re riding a bike,” Ards says. Practice while standing still: Lift one leg to hip height, thigh parallel to the floor, ankle dorsiflexed. Pull the big toe toward your shin and cycle your heel around as if pedaling a bike.

Photo: Getty Images
Section divider

The Sprint-from-Scratch Program

Training for speed requires several different workout protocols: heavy compound lifting for strength; light, quick workouts for power; explosiveness training; and, of course, sprints. “These components are compatible with each other from an energy system standpoint, but it’s advisable to spread them out during the week,” Grasmick says. To maximize your capacity, do your sprints before your strength training or on days opposite lifting.

Sprint Workouts

Sprinting is known as a “speed-strength” sport, meaning that in order to get faster and perform at top speed, you have to develop maximal power and strength (particularly in the lower body). And as many coaches say, you only can get better at sprinting by sprinting.

Hill Sprints

1-2 times per week

“Hill sprints are a great way to hit max-velocity positions naturally,” Grasmick says. “It’s very difficult to overstride when sprinting uphill, so run these aggressively.” Perform sprints on an incline up a grassy hill or road, or on a treadmill set at a 5- to 8-percent incline.

Acceleration Development

1-2 times per week

These longer sprints should be done on flat ground with a focus on progressive acceleration. Don’t go full speed right out of the gate, but rather accelerate through the run, so at the end, you’re hitting top speed. “Focus on a big range of motion and pushing down into the ground/track,” Grasmick says.

Max-Velocity Development

1-2 times per week

Also called “segment runs,” these are slightly longer, flat-ground sprints with the emphasis still on increasing speed from start to finish: The first third is fast, the middle third is faster and the last third is fastest. “Practice proper sprinting mechanics, in particular keeping your hips underneath you and staying upright,” Grasmick says.

Plyometrics

1-2 times per week

Plyometrics such as jumping, bounding and skipping help develop the explosive, muscular power that will translate into speed. “Plyometrics teach you how to apply force into the ground and how to absorb force when you land,” Anto says. Also, focus on minimizing your ground contact, Grasmick advises.

Box jumps, standing long jumps, straight-leg bounds, skips for height, skips for endurance and hurdle hops are Grasmick’s plyometrics of choice for sprinters.

Strength Training

1-3 times per week

Olympic and powerlifting staples (squats, cleans, deadlifts, Romanian deadlifts) and other lower-body compound exercises are ideal supplements for sprinting. “Single-leg exercises in particular are great, because when we sprint, only one leg is on the ground at a time,” Anto says. Squats, deadlifts, lunges, step-ups, and single-leg squats and deadlifts are high on her list of recommendations.

For strength, perform your lifts using a heavy weight for lower reps and complete three to five sets. For power, use the same set and rep scheme with a lighter weight, somewhere around 50 percent of your one-rep max, and move more quickly. “The most important thing is to move the weight as fast as possible to develop the muscular explosiveness that translates directly into running faster,” Grasmick says. Rest two to three minutes between sets — up to four if you’re going particularly heavy — to allow for optimal recovery.

Section divider

Sample Training Schedule

If you’re doing strength training and sprinting on the same day, do the sprinting work first.

MONTH 1

MONDAY Hill Sprints, Lifting
WEDNESDAY Acceleration Development, Lifting
FRIDAY Hill Sprints, Plyometrics
TUESDAY/THURSDAY Off or Aerobic-Based Workouts

Lifting

For each workout, choose: 1 Power Move, 1-2 Strength Moves, 1-2 Assistance Exercises.

  • Power Moves (e.g., power clean, hang clean, snatch, squat jump, jumping lunge). Complete three to four sets of three to eight reps using lighter weight (~50 percent 1 RM).
  • Strength Moves (e.g., squat, deadlift, lunge, one-legged squat, step-up). Complete three to five sets of three to eight reps using heavy weight.
  • Assistance Exercises (e.g., Romanian deadlift, single-leg Romanian deadlift, leg curl, hip thrust). Complete two to four sets of 10 to 15 reps using a moderate weight.

Hill Sprints

  • Part 1: 8 x 8-second sprints. Rest two minutes between sprints.
  • Part 2: 6 x 10-second sprints. Rest two minutes between sprints.

Acceleration Development

Start from an athletic stance; walk back slowly between each sprint for recovery. Rest four to five minutes between parts.

  • Part 1: 3 x 10-meter sprints
  • Part 2: 3 x 20-meter sprints
  • Part 3: 3 x 30-meter sprints

Plyometrics

Perform two to three rounds of the following exercises for 30 meters each:

  • Standing Long Jump
  • Straight-Leg Bound
  • Skip for Height
  • Skip for Distance

MONTH 2

MONDAY Hill Sprints, Plyometrics, Lifting
WEDNESDAY Acceleration Development, Lifting
FRIDAY Hill Sprints, Max-Velocity Development
TUESDAY/THURSDAY Off or Aerobic-Based Workouts

Lifting

For each workout, choose: 1 Power Move, 1-2 Strength Moves, 1-2 Assistance Exercises.

  • Power Moves (e.g., power clean, hang clean, snatch, squat jump, jumping lunge). Complete three to four sets of three to eight reps using lighter weight (~50 percent 1 RM).
  • Strength Moves (e.g., squat, deadlift, lunge, one-legged squat, step-up). Complete three to five sets of three to eight reps using heavy weight.
  • Assistance Exercises (e.g., Romanian deadlift, single-leg Romanian deadlift, leg curl, hip thrust). Complete two to four sets of 10 to 15 reps using a moderate weight.

Hill Sprints

  • Part 1: 8 x 8-second sprints. Rest two minutes between sprints.
  • Part 2: 6 x 10-second sprints. Rest two minutes between sprints.

Acceleration Development

Start from an athletic stance; walk back slowly between each sprint for recovery. Rest four to five minutes between parts.

  • Part 1: 4 x 20-meter sprints
  • Part 2: 3 x 30-meter sprints
  • Part 3: 2 x 40-meter sprints

Max-Velocity Development

Perform four to five rounds of 90-meter sprints. Rest five minutes between rounds.

  • 30 meters fast | 30 meters faster | 30 meters fastest

Plyometrics

Perform two to three rounds of the following exercises for 30 meters each:

  • Standing Long Jump
  • Straight-Leg Bound
  • Skip for Height
  • Skip for Distance

MONTH 3

MONDAY Hill Sprints, Plyometrics, Lifting
WEDNESDAY Acceleration Development, Max-Velocity Development, Lifting
FRIDAY Hill Sprints, Max-Velocity Development, Lifting
TUESDAY/THURSDAY Off or Aerobic-Based Workouts

Lifting

For each workout, choose: 1 Power Move, 1-2 Strength Moves, 1-2 Assistance Exercises.

  • Power Moves (e.g., power clean, hang clean, snatch, squat jump, jumping lunge). Complete three to four sets of three to eight reps using lighter weight (~50 percent 1 RM).
  • Strength Moves (e.g., squat, deadlift, lunge, one-legged squat, step-up). Complete three to five sets of three to eight reps using heavy weight.
  • Assistance Exercises (e.g., Romanian deadlift, single-leg Romanian deadlift, leg curl, hip thrust). Complete two to four sets of 10 to 15 reps using a moderate weight.

Hill Sprints

  • Part 1: 8 x 8-second sprints. Rest two minutes between sprints.
  • Part 2: 6 x 10-second sprints. Rest two minutes between sprints.

Acceleration Development

Start from an athletic stance; walk back slowly between each sprint for recovery. Rest four to five minutes between parts.

  • Part 1: 3 x 50-meter sprints
  • Part 2: 2 x 60-meter sprints
  • Part 3: 1 x 70-meter sprints

Max-Velocity Development

Perform four to five rounds of 150-meter sprints. Rest five minutes between rounds.

  • 50 meters fast | 50 meters faster | 50 meters fastest

Plyometrics

Perform two to three rounds of the following exercises for 30 meters each:

  • Standing Long Jump
  • Straight-Leg Bound
  • Skip for Height
  • Skip for Distance