If you’re an athlete, there’s a high probability you consider yourself a member of one of two groups: You’re either a lightning-fast sprinter who can effortlessly race a 400-meter run in a few strides but can’t jog longer than a 5K, or you embrace the mentality of “slow and steady wins the race” and can participate in a full marathon without experiencing leg fatigue.
And while you may feel satisfied sticking to your preferred running style, you may be missing out on some health and fitness advantages by doing so. In fact, diversifying your running workouts (such as incorporating treadmill sprint workouts) can help prevent injuries, achieve personal records, and enhance your overall athleticism. (See: Is It Better to Run Faster or Longer?)
“Sprints are advantageous even for extremely long-distance runners due to their impact on the neuromuscular connections between the brain and muscles,” states Laura Norris, a certified running coach in Indiana. “Engaging in sprints trains your body to run at high speeds, which in turn trains your brain to communicate with your muscles more rapidly. As a result, when you’re running at a slower pace, which most runners do for the majority of their runs, you become more efficient,” she explains.
Improving agility and refining running form are not the only perks of sprint workouts. “It’s similar to a high-intensity interval training (HIIT) session, with alternating intense and relaxed intervals. This type of workout greatly benefits your cardiovascular system by significantly raising your heart rate during the sprints and allowing for gradual recovery,” adds Amanda Nurse, a certified running coach in Boston. “It enhances both endurance and speed,” she adds. (And in case you weren’t aware, HIIT provides numerous remarkable benefits.)
Utilizing a treadmill is one of the simplest methods to integrate sprint workouts into your routine. Shielded from unpredictable weather conditions and secluded in your own gratifying sweat-inducing zone, treadmills enable you to train at any time, promoting consistency in your training schedule, which ultimately leads to progress, according to Norris. Additionally, you have the ability to set and maintain your desired pace throughout the entire sprint, as noted by Nurse.
However, if the thought of sprinting sends shivers down your spine, don’t fret. Here, Norris and Nurse provide guidance on how to create your own treadmill sprint workout that you won’t completely dread.
How to Construct a Treadmill Sprint Workout
Before you jump on the treadmill and increase the velocity to 10, there are a few things you need to keep in mind. To begin with, a treadmill sprint workout — and sprints in general — may not be the best idea if you’re a complete novice. It is recommended by Norris that you should have been running for at least six months before attempting a sprint workout. This will give your body enough time to adjust to the impact of running and ensure that you don’t get injured.
If you’re eager to try sprints early on in your running journey, you can try a gentler running interval workout: Begin with a very light jog. Once you’ve warmed up a bit, increase your speed (approximately 30 seconds per mile faster) for 10 to 20 seconds, then slow down to a walking pace. Nurse suggests trying one of these “sprints” after you’ve warmed up properly (meaning you’ve lightly jogged for seven to 10 minutes), and then observe how your body responds. If it feels like a manageable challenge, repeat the process four to five times. This type of workout will help you ease your way into sprints without pushing yourself to your maximum effort, which can be overwhelming and increase the risk of injury for a new runner, as explained by Nurse.
Adjust Your Velocity
Even if you consider yourself an intermediate runner and have experience with outdoor sprints, your sprint speed on the treadmill may not be as fast. Norris explains that runners tend to take longer strides on the treadmill and adopt shorter, faster strides outside. Furthermore, she adds that some people tend to lean back on the treadmill, while most people lean slightly forward when running outdoors. Although these differences may seem insignificant, they can actually make you a slower runner indoors.
So how fast should you sprint during a treadmill sprint workout? First, you need to establish your “easy pace,” which is the speed at which you can run or jog and still comfortably hold a conversation with someone (also known as the talk test), according to Nurse. Your level of effort here, also known as your rate of perceived exertion (RPE), may feel like a three or four out of 10, as mentioned by Norris. For your sprint, you’ll usually want to aim for a speed that feels really fast but doesn’t require all of your energy, which would be around a 9 out of 10 on the effort scale, as explained by Norris.
In any case, it’s always advisable to start your sprints at a speed slightly slower than what you think you can handle. Norris suggests that people often overestimate their sprint speed on the treadmill. If you believe your sprint speed would be 9 mph, she recommends initially setting it at 8.5 mph to 8.7 mph because it’s better to maintain good form rather than going too fast. This is also crucial for ensuring safe sprinting: You need to be confident that your legs can handle the speed, according to Nurse.
Determine the Duration and Quantity of Your Sprints
After completing a few intervals at a slower pace, assess your performance. If it feels like a challenge, that is an appropriate speed for you. However, if it doesn’t feel challenging, you can gradually increase the speed by 0.5 mph during each interval, according to Nurse.
In general, it is recommended to sprint for 20 to 30 seconds. This duration is sufficient to reap the benefits without activating your anaerobic energy system, which leads to the production of lactic acid and eventual fatigue, as mentioned by Norris. If you strive to reach your maximum speed, the longest duration you can sustain is approximately 45 seconds. At this point, you will reach the lactate threshold, as stated by Nurse. During exercise, when your body depletes carbohydrates for energy, it produces lactate as a byproduct. When the accumulation of lactate exceeds its removal rate (i.e., you reach the threshold), you start experiencing muscle fatigue. In simpler terms, your sprint will begin to resemble more of a jog.
Between each sprint, you must take a break to rest and replenish your energy for the next one. The general rule is to have a rest-to-work ratio of about 4:1. For instance, if you sprint for 30 seconds, you should rest for two minutes. As you gain more experience, you can reduce the duration of your rest intervals. According to Norris, the extended rest periods are essential to ensure complete muscle recovery between sets. Sprinting utilizes type-IIx muscle fibers, which generate high power but fatigue quickly.
The number of sprints you incorporate into your treadmill sprint workout depends on your level of experience. Beginners should aim for four to five sprints with recovery jogs in between, while advanced runners can strive for 10 sprints, as explained by Norris.
For your treadmill sprint workout, it is recommended to set the incline at 1 percent, as treadmills naturally have a slight decline. However, you can increase the incline for an additional challenge, and you don’t need to be an advanced runner to do so. According to Norris, opting for inclined sprints can be beneficial for beginners, injury-prone individuals, or those who are not accustomed to frequent sprints. Running uphill places less impact on the body and reduces the risk of injuries. Additionally, running uphill promotes a mid-foot or forefoot strike pattern, which lessens the severity and frequency of impact on a specific area of the tibia, as stated in a 2016 study published in Sports Medicine. (By the way, here’s all the important information you should know about proper running form.)
For every sprint, Norris suggests adjusting your incline to 5 or 6 percent, which will clearly feel like you’re going uphill, while Nurse recommends keeping it at 2 to 5 percent, imitating natural hills you’d encounter during an outdoor race. Just as you would for your speed, attempt to start your sprints on a lower incline and gradually raise it to match your comfort level and running technique. (Once again, safety should be your top priority!)
After your burst, lower your incline back down to a flat road. Whichever incline you select, be aware that your speed will definitely be lower than if you were running on a level treadmill — but you’re still getting a fantastic workout. “It’s an incredible approach to boost fitness. Hill running even further enhances your correct running form and efficiency,” Nurse explains. But regardless of how you structure your sprints, incorporating a treadmill sprint workout into your routine once a week — in addition to two to five other runs — can enhance your speed in as few as three to four weeks, according to Norris.
25-Minute Treadmill Sprint Workout
Are you ready to attempt a treadmill sprint workout but unsure how to begin? Follow Norris’ plan below, using your RPE to guide your speed. Note that the sprint commences once the belt reaches the desired incline.
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