Today, let’s discuss how sprinting every once in a while can dramatically improve health. Don’t get scared—you’ll be happy to know I’m recommending it less than once a week! Read on if you’d like to learn why it’s a great idea.
If you’ve read some of my other posts, maybe by now you’ve noticed there’s a trend. I like to consult God’s word on whatever topic is at hand prior to digging deeper into the topic itself. From my own experience reading scripture, two things stood out to me; physical training only goes so far—that we should really concentrate on Godly training instead—and that I couldn’t really think of any verses that had a really strong focus on running.
Let me say now, that was my initial impression, but boy was I wrong! My thought that there wasn’t much on running in the Bible was way off for two reasons… first because I didn’t think running—or sprinting—mattered, and second, because not only does it matter, but it seems to be a theme!
Years ago a close friend of mine described the Bible as the best love story ever written. Take away: the main focus of the Bible is love.
By the same token, there are literally TONS of verses that compare our lives to a race. Just like we’re commanded to love, running—and I would argue, sprinting—is in fact a very real skill that Christians may do well to focus on. Love may be at the top of the list, but I don’t think sprinting is far behind.
When we sprint, we parallel physically what biblical wisdom tells us to do spiritually—to desperately, purposely, and with intense effort flee from those things that put us at risk.
Sprinting is the ultimate workout. No other single activity promotes overall health like sprinting does. In Mark Sisson’s Sprinting, Part 1: Benefits of Springing post, he lists the benefits below:
- Brief, explosive all-out sprints are the single best activity to promote rapid reduction of excess body fat, achieve fitness breakthroughs, flood the bloodstream with anti-aging hormones like testosterone and human growth hormone, and boost neuron function in the brain.
- Sprinting is a powerful hormetic stressor—a brief, natural fight or flight stimulation triggering that renewal signal that makes you more resilient not just for your next sprint workout, but for all other forms of life stress.
- Upping your sprint game can help you make an assortment of breakthroughs, from fat loss to fitness peak performance in a variety of activities (yes, including endurance and ultra-endurance events), and generally making you a more confident, energetic person.
- Numerous studies have shown that sprinting skyrockets growth hormone levels quickly and reliably and boosts protein synthesis (muscle building or toning) by 230 percent.
- … Sprinting delivers huge psychological benefits by reducing your perceived exertion at all lesser intensity levels.
Do you really need more convincing than that?
What is Sprinting
Sprinting is running—for your life—for a specific amount of time, at a specific intensity level. Notice the title of the post though, “… Once in a While.” Sprinting isn’t something we’re supposed to do all the time. If we make wise decisions, we spare ourselves from the intense effort of sprinting too often—spiritually and physically. Whether we’re running for our life to save ourselves spiritually, or from an animal about to eat us, it doesn’t matter—the effort and intensity are the same.
The take away is that when it’s time to sprint, there needs to be an all out, I’m-gonna-die-if-I-don’t-get-outta-here, kind of effort.
What to Watch Out For
0-8 seconds. 8-30 seconds. 30+ seconds.
Maximum effort carried out over these different time frames affects the body in different ways. To keep it short and sweet; a max effort of less than eight seconds is too short, between eight and 30 seconds is where we want to be, and a max effort over 30 seconds turns into something other than max effort and has too many risks for recreational athletes.
That which doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.Friedrich Nietzsche
That’s the concept that applies here. We need to put ourselves under an optimal amount of stress. If you’d like more science and details check out this article by Craig Marker, and parts one and two of Mark Sisson’s series on sprinting.
If we go too far beyond 30 seconds of anaerobic intensity, our bodies will pay the price, similarly to if we take an aerobic workout beyond the max 180-Age heart rate more often than we realize. Sprinting too often poses the same risks. If our sprinting becomes chronic, too long of a duration and/or too often—usually because we don’t think we’ll get what we need from one work out every once in a while—we can do damage to our bodies.
Muscle breakdown, compromised immune function, poor performance, exhaustion—these things won’t motivate us, this is called burnout folks, and it’s what happens if we take it to far.
The act of sprinting puts us under stress. It’s our responsibility to make sure we’re able to handle the stress at the time we decide to sprint. Is work going crazy, are the kids sniffling, do you feel under the weather, is your body still reeling from some other recent trying physical task? If so, save sprinting for another day.
We need to be in a good state in order to get the most benefit from our sprint sessions and stave off potential negative outcomes.
Before starting, make sure you’re up for the task. A calm and focused mind. Plenty of energy! Feel rested and ready for the task at hand. Ensuring that you’re ‘in a good place’ before beginning will enable your body to use what you’re about to do to get better at sprinting when it’s necessary more so than enjoyable. Give your body the benefit of the doubt and sprint on a good day so you’re not compounding your stress.
With a well rested body and a strong mental position, a sprint session will be tough—or even downright hard—but do-able.
If after two or four sprints you find that your ability is lacking, i.e. you’re absolutely exhausted, stop! If you keep going, you’re only doing the damage mentioned earlier. Come back when your commitment is on par with your ability.
How To Do It Right
Effort / Intensity Level
Just as mentioned above, the effort and intensity level during a sprint work out needs to be top notch. If you’re not up for the challenge, come back another time when you are. Using your imagination here might help. Imagine that grizzly bear chasing you, or the crazy ex that you know is bad news. Run for your life!
Aim for between 10 to 20 seconds per sprint and a total of six sprints per workout. Take the time between sprints to let your breathing return to normal and be ready to apply the same sort of explosive effort each time. Do not go over 20 seconds, okay?
Mark Sisson’s Sprinting, Part 2: Creating a Sprinting Workout has a wealth of advice. If you’d like more, take a look at these links for some good pointers:
Considering intensity and effort need to remain roughly the same throughout a sprinting session, use time and distance to verify whether you’re hitting the mark. If you do a 15 second sprint and don’t make it nearly as far the fifth time as you did the first, reevaluate your approach. Maybe it’s time to quit for the day and next time see how you do with 12 seconds instead. If after six sprints you’re able to make it roughly the same distance as you did the first time, it may be time to increase your duration at your next session.
Once you’re able to sprint for 20 seconds and meet a consistent distance mark each time, aim for a shorter distance rather than extending the duration.
Duration. Since the goal duration is between 10 and 20 seconds, start around ten seconds and as you progress, increase the time for each sprint until you’re around 20 seconds each.
Task. Running on a paved straight away can be rough on joints. Running uphill can help. Going all out on an exercise bike, or in a lap pool can accomplish similar results too. If you modify how you’re ‘sprinting’ in the beginning, aim to run as a final goal. There’s nothing else that compares to sprinting when it comes to full body functional movements.
God, your Word blows me away. It is just so crazy to me how all of the pieces of the puzzle fit together. How Bible verses that never stood out to me before come to new life in a different context. I never knew running, or sprinting, would be important but it seems like such a common theme in your Word. Thank you for using such an elementary physical skill to help us hone our spiritual relationship with you.
When we sprint, please help us go all out.
Something in my heart is telling me that if we practice sprinting physically, the repetition of doing so will reinforce exactly how to accomplish the same thing spiritually—and get really good at it.
Lord please help us all get better at running for our lives—away from evil and toward you.
In Jesus name I pray,