Sprinting has existed as long as man
Man has unknowingly been reaping the benefits of sprinting for eons. The hunter gather lifestyle would have forced the tribesman into sprinting scenarios. Sprinting to catch prey, evade predators, and escape rival tribes are among these.
I recently read “My People the Sioux”, in which Luther Standing Bear describes many of the games that Native American children and adults played at a time when they were still living in tribes. There was no shortage of games that involved some aspect of sprinting.
The human body has been mechanically engineered for sprinting, whether to pursue prey or outrun threats. Its functional capacity for sprinting has also carried over to a number of games that were played both during the time of the tribe and today.
Sprinting is pure and primal. Whenever I imagine tribal man pursuing prey or heading into battle I definitely don’t imagine him walking. Tribal man may have innately known there were health benefits of sprinting, but modern science has helped to break down the components as to what these are.
Benefits of Sprinting (physiological)
The benefits of sprinting outweigh many other forms of exercise. Sprinting is a powerful anaerobic exercise which predominantly activates the fast twitch muscles fibres in the legs, but also activates a number of other secondary muscles throughout the body.
Among the many benefits of sprinting are increases in both strength and muscle. One (Study) found it helped increased skeletal muscle by up to 60% in men and up to 230% in women. So that’s good news for men, and great news for women.
It has also been found to increase many of the anabolic hormones responsible for muscle growth including growth hormone, testosterone, and insulin-like growth factor-1 (Study). These hormones are the powerhouses which are linked to muscle growth but also have a positive effect on people’s mood (which I will cover in another article).
Sprinting is also great for your heart and can improve a number of processes related to endurance performance (Study). It is also great for burning abdominal fat (Study). Even a single sprint session can drastically increase post exercise fat oxidation (Study).
The most important physiological benefits of sprinting for me are that it drastically increases your speed and power, at the same time improving your balance and co-ordination. This helps to create a more functional body. An added bonus being it helps to keep you lean and muscular. Just take a look at Usain Bolt.
Benefits of sprinting (Psychological)
There are also a number of psychological benefits associated with sprinting. As with any exercise it helps to reduce stress. Following a workout a variety of endorphins (or happy hormones) are released which improves your mood (Study). This means that both in the short-term and the long-term your stress levels will decrease. As sprinting is such a powerful exercise I believe it is also one of the best ways to release anger and frustration.
Another one of the psychological benefits of sprinting is that it promotes mental resilience. Think about it. You are sustaining maximum exertion over your largest muscle groups for short but intense periods of time. It’s not for the faint hearted. Sprinting is hard and by continually subjecting yourself to this pleasurable torture you are creating mental resilience. I doubt anything else in your day will be as difficult as a proper sprint session.
Sprinting (Tribesman’s Workout)
The great thing about a sprint workout is it doesn’t need to be complicated. I have included one of the sprint workouts I occasionally use. You can adjust it to make it harder or easier by increasing or decreasing the amount of sprints and time spent resting.
First of all stretch the muscles of the legs. Any stretches that stretch the calves hamstrings and quadriceps will be great. I usually include 10-15 actual sprints but vary their intensity. So if you aim for 10 sprints in total. The first sprint will be more of a warm-up jog. The second will be a run. The third will be a fast run. Four-eight will be maximum exertion sprints. The ninth will be a run. And the tenth will be a warm down jog.
I usually pick a point from 50-200m away from where I am standing to sprint to. I walk back to my starting position and use this as my recovery time (or rest period) taking deep breaths to prepare me for the next interval.
One of the greatest benefits about sprinting is it’s hard but it’s short. As intense as a sprint session may be it is a relatively low time investment compared to many other forms of exercise. The results also outweigh many other forms of exercise, “more bang for your buck” as the Americans say.
Final thoughts on the benefits of sprinting
Sprinting is something the human body was designed to do. It’s in our genes. It gives you a surge of primal energy both during and after the sprint. It truly is an exercise that makes you feel alive. If you want to add to this even further, try sprinting barefoot. There are literally thousands of nerve endings in your feet feeding you intelligence about the ground which greatly aids balance, and in my opinion makes it more enjoyable. Sprinting is an exercise that requires no equipment and can be performed in the great outdoors making it even more beneficial for your health.
Final note: As I’m an ecologist I thought I would point out one (Study) that shows that faster lizards sire more offspring. Whether this also relates to humans is up for debate, but from a Darwinian perspective being faster than your rivals can’t be a bad thing 😛