When was the last time you ran for real? Running hard, arms pumping, core strengthening, knees driving, feet detonating off the ground with each stride. For many of us, the answer is to kill ourselves in high school or go to the playground in even older times.
For the men and women who practically fly on treadmills at the Better Every Day gym in Orlando, the answer is now. They are members of the Movement/Athletics/Power (MAP) group class, which was created by Coach Trevor Anderson, CSCS, and features, in most cases, ten-second sprint intervals that push you to sprint to your max. “Running is my solution when people start talking about their goals,” says Anderson, owner and founder of Better Every Day. “As long as a person is healthy enough to do a 10-second interval, sprinting can be a viable solution for a lot of these things.”
The things he’s talking about are probably already the reasons you go to the gym: build muscle, shred fat, chisel your abs, and prep your body for backyard football and playground hoops. Infusing your workouts with a dose of speed can help with every goal. For years, professional sports teams have used speed work to hone power and explosive athleticism, which is why Lee Taft, a veteran coach known as “the speed guy,” has conducted speed clinics for the Philadelphia Phillies, Oklahoma City Thunder and Boston. Celtics for the last two decades. But the practice has only recently begun to trickle down to trainers working with mere mortals.
Sprints were largely ignored by most gym-goers for years, in part because bodybuilding preached slow, controlled reps to build muscle and long, steady jogs to melt fat. As working out like a professional athlete became more important and CrossFit eclipsed bodybuilding, more weekend warriors tried intense and diverse training methods. In the last five years, the proliferation of manual treadmills that allow you to track your top speed has further accelerated the trend by gamifying speed running. And who can resist a good game? Anderson recently told a client that he hit 13 miles per hour during his race. The client arrived at 13.5. “Having a quantitative measure of where you are pushes you to go even faster,” he says.
Reaching these benchmarks is not easy. Sure, he can run in a group fitness class (and the trainer may even tell him to “sprint”), but he’s rarely going all out in those settings. Running requires you to put forth your maximum effort, wanting to push forward with every ounce of power you can muster. (Even big toe strength is important in sprinting; the big toe is the final point of contact your body has with the ground with each stride.) So intense is a true sprint that it’s over in ten to 15 seconds (or less!), and you need minutes to recover before you’re ready for another. A sprint challenges your body in the same way a single rep of an ultra-heavy deadlift would, forcing you to build explosive power and strength.
Yes, this is all as exhausting as it sounds, so Anderson understands why you may initially be afraid to try. “When people hear the word run, they think of Usain Bolt,” he says. “They think every sprint means there’s a guy running 100 meters in ten planes and that’s what sprinting is all about.”
Except you’re not running for a world record, and neither are most people in Anderson’s MAP classes. But you’re overloading your body in a way that most workouts (and everyday life) simply can’t. During most exercises, you can kick back for a moment, whether it’s mailing in a bicep curl or daydreaming during a segment of your Peloton ride.
But every step during a sprint is about power and precision, and this improves your first step in, well, everything. From picking up the basketball to chasing your toddler, your body learns how to initiate any movement quickly and is insulating itself from the jerks and muscle strains that come from sudden unplanned movements.
Build Muscle Groups Fast
Running doesn’t just increase speed. You’ll build strength and size in four key muscle groups.
Forget relaxed and firm arms. You’ll pump your arms hard, challenging your mid-back muscles (and core strength) more than you think.
For a fraction of a second in each stride, your torso and back leg should form a straight line, propelling you forward. Called “hip extension,” this moment requires your glutes to go into overdrive, and mastering it builds athleticism and also protects your lower back.
Your first few steps have you driving your knees powerfully to your chest as your body leans slightly forward, a sort of mountain climber in motion. This challenges your entire core (abs, lower back extensors, obliques, and more) to hold tight, a constant tension challenge as you run.
act in an exaggerated way
Your hamstrings play multiple roles in each step. They make your knees bend, key to lifting your back leg off the ground and in front of your body during each step. Your hamstrings get back to work, helping you straighten your legs in line with your torso and push off the ground.
Get going with these speed workouts
Try these three super-fast sprint workouts anytime, anywhere.
The 10-Minute Blitz for Beginners
Game Plan: This workout teaches acceleration. Sprint 10 meters. Walk back to the start. Repeat as many times as possible for 10 minutes. Add 5 meters each week, working up to 100. Do this twice a week.
The cardio/explosion hybrid
Game plan: Learn to run fast under fatigue. Sprint for 100 meters, then jog very slowly for 50 meters. Repeat this 7 times. Rest 6 minutes. (Yes, seriously.) Repeat the sequence. Do this twice a week.
The 9 Week Speed Program
Game plan: Run 20 meters, then rest 30 seconds. Do this twice a week. Repeat 10 times in weeks 1, 4 and 7; 15 times at weeks 2, 5, and 8; and 20 times in weeks 3, 6 and 9. Every 3 weeks, add 10 meters.
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