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Last week, I linked to a story about a popular vegan blogger, author, and influencer who found herself going into menopause at the age of 37 despite doing “everything right.” She exercised, she ate raw, she avoided gluten and refined sugar, and, most importantly, she avoided all animal products. Now, this wasn’t a randomized controlled trial. This wasn’t even a case study. But it was a powerful anecdote from someone whose livelihood depended on her remaining a raw vegan. It wasn’t in her interest to make it up.
So, it got me wondering: How do diet and lifestyle influence the timing of menopause?
Now, before I begin, let’s just state the obvious: Menopause isn’t a problem to be avoided. It’s not something to be feared or maligned. It’s not “the end.” I wrote an entire series on menopause last year, and there will always be more to come on the subject because it’s an important time of life with its own questions and possibilities. While it’s a natural, evolutionarily-preserved part of being a woman, it also follows a natural cadence. Menopause at the right time in accordance with your genetics is normal, expected, and healthy. Menopause that occurs earlier than your genetics would direct suggests something is amiss. Sure enough, early or premature menopause—defined in most places as menopause before the age of 40—has a number of troubling links to poor health outcomes.
Early menopause is linked to:
- A shorter life and an increase in the risk of type 2 diabetes.
- Reduced physical function in later years.
- Lower cognitive function.
- Increased heart disease.
Not to mention that all the other things normally associated with menopause, like osteoporosis and changes in mood, also have the potential to occur, only earlier.
Okay, so early menopause can have some health consequences. Is veganism actually linked?
What Research Says About Diet and Menopause Timing
There was one study that found people who’d never been a vegetarian developed menopause at a later age, which is a roundabout way of saying that vegetarianism may increase the risk of early menopause.
Other lifestyle factors linked to later menopause included regular strenuous exercise, never smoking, midlife weight gain, and drinking alcohol. Strange mix of behaviors, both classically healthy and unhealthy.
But then another study in Han Chinese women found the opposite—that vegetarianism was associated with a lower risk of premature menopause.
Those are the only direct (if you can call it that) lines of evidence, and they conflict. No solid answers there. That said, there’s more indirect stuff pointing toward a link between exclusion of animal foods and earlier menopause:
- A high intake of vitamin D and calcium from dietary sources has been linked to a lower risk of premature menopause. Oddly enough, supplemental vitamin D and calcium were not linked to lower risks, suggesting that it’s the food—dairy primarily, but also bone-in small fatty fish like sardines—and not the nutrients alone. So a vegan might not be in the clear simply by supplementing with D and calcium.
- The amount of protein and carbs a woman eats throughout her life seems to predict the age at which menopause occurs. More protein, later menopause. More carbs, earlier menopause. Protein is harder and carbs are easier to come by on a plant-based diet—that’s for sure.
- Another fairly consistent finding is that polyunsaturated fat intake “accelerates” menopause. Women who eat the most PUFA tend to have menopause earlier. High PUFA intakes are pretty unavoidable when your diet is awash in seeds, nuts, and other plant-based fat sources.
Then there was a different connection in another study.
The Nurses Health Study found that women who ate the most plant protein were more likely to avoid premature menopause; animal protein intake had no effect. They even found beneficial links between specific foods and protection against early menopause, including dark bread, cold cereal, and pasta. Those are about as unPrimal as you can get.
How Can We Make Sense of Conflicting Research?
In addition to smoking (which we all know is trouble for almost all markers of health), one thing that keeps appearing in all these observational studies—and they’re all observational studies, unable to prove causation—is that underweight BMIs predict early menopause. In the Nurses Health Study, for example, BMIs under 18.5 were linked to a 30% greater risk of early menopause and BMIs between 25 and 29 were linked to a 30% lower risk. If that’s true, and if that’s actually a causal factor, then the most important thing a woman who wants to avoid early menopause can do is avoid being underweight. In that case, filling up on foods known to cause weight gain in susceptible people like bread, pasta, and cereal would be protective (at least for early menopause).
And that could really explain why the vegan blogger developed premature menopause. In her own words, she “had run out of fuel.”
A big downfall of many plant-based diets is that they starve you. They starve you of vital micronutrients you can really only get in animal foods, like B12, zinc, creatine, cholesterol, and others. They starve you of vital macronutrients, like protein and animal fat. And they starve you of calories. It’s hard to maintain your weight and physical robustness eating a diet of leaves, twigs, and seeds (unless you’re a gorilla). Oddly enough, I think vegans who eat grains and vegan “junk food” like fake burgers and weird nut cheeses are probably better off than the gluten-free ones who live off salads, simply because they’re getting more calories. It’s true that there are many ways to eat vegetarian and even vegan—and some are healthier than others (I’ve written about Primal recommendations for vegetarians and vegans in the past), but the more restrictive a person is with animal products, the trickier it will be to stay well-nourished.
If I had to make a bet, it’d be that any diet that provides sufficient nourishment in the form of micronutrients, macronutrients, and total calories will help stave off early menopause.
What about you? What’s your take on this? Has anyone out there experienced premature/early menopause that didn’t follow natural, familial patterns? What can you recall about the diet and lifestyle leading up to it?
Wang H, Chen H, Qin Y, et al. Risks associated with premature ovarian failure in Han Chinese women. Reprod Biomed Online. 2015;30(4):401-7.
Velez MP, Alvarado BE, Rosendaal N, et al. Age at natural menopause and physical functioning in postmenopausal women: the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging. Menopause. 2019;
Sujarwoto S, Tampubolon G. Premature natural menopause and cognitive function among older women in Indonesia. J Women Aging. 2019;:1-15.
Løkkegaard E, Jovanovic Z, Heitmann BL, Keiding N, Ottesen B, Pedersen AT. The association between early menopause and risk of ischaemic heart disease: influence of Hormone Therapy. Maturitas. 2006;53(2):226-33.
Purdue-smithe AC, Whitcomb BW, Szegda KL, et al. Vitamin D and calcium intake and risk of early menopause. Am J Clin Nutr. 2017;105(6):1493-1501.
Sapre S, Thakur R. Lifestyle and dietary factors determine age at natural menopause. J Midlife Health. 2014;5(1):3-5.
Boutot ME, Purdue-smithe A, Whitcomb BW, et al. Dietary Protein Intake and Early Menopause in the Nurses’ Health Study II. Am J Epidemiol. 2018;187(2):270-277.
Szegda KL, Whitcomb BW, Purdue-smithe AC, et al. Adult adiposity and risk of early menopause. Hum Reprod. 2017;32(12):2522-2531.
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When I wander into the kitchen for a snack these days, the questions running through my mind tend to be of the, “I wonder if that Greek yogurt I bought has turned,” variety. But, when you’re in a serious training cycle and you’re focusing on food as fuel that helps you perform at your highest level, your questions tend to get a little deeper. And those are just the questions being answered in the new Sports Nutrition Handbook by Justyna Mizera and Krzysztof Mizera. While the answers and explanations are backed with science, they’re explained in a straightforward manner that you…
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As Primal enthusiasts know, sprinting is an essential element to leading an optimally fit life. After all, it’s one of the 10 Primal Blueprint Laws, and perhaps the quintessential anti-aging activity. 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. Even a very brief sprint session has a profound effect on your metabolic and hormonal function for hours and days afterward, sending what Paleo movement pioneer Dr. Art DeVany calls a “renewal signal” to your genes.
Part 1 of this two-part Definitive Guide details how and why sprinting is so beneficial to your general health, fat loss and fitness performance at all lower intensities. Part 2 details the step-by-step process to conduct an effective sprint workout.
Too many well intentioned fitness enthusiasts conduct sprint workouts in a flawed manner, and suffer from breakdown and burnout accordingly. Many more fitness enthusiasts are intimidated by sprinting, thinking it carries a high injury risk and pain and suffering factor. Sprinting is an essential fitness objective for everyone, but you must learn how to do it correctly to enjoy the benefits and prevent the pitfalls.
Sprinting: The Ultimate Primal Workout
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. After all, humans evolved amidst the occasional brief, life or death threats calling for superhuman physical efforts—to kill or be killed. When we hone our fight or flight attributes once in a while as our genes expect us to, we stay youthful, powerful, vibrant, and self-confident. Conversely, when we indulge in endless comforts and conveniences, and avoid hormetic stressors like sprinting, strength training, exposure to cold or heat, and so forth, we atrophy across the board and become less resilient to all 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.
Sprinting rocks, but unfortunately most people never take full advantage of it. Others incorporate sprinting but apply it incorrectly to their fitness routine (more on that below). The most obvious error is that people simply avoid sprinting. They think it’s only for competitive athletes, that they aren’t fit enough to try. Or they avoid sprinting because they tell themselves they dislike intense effort of any kind.
While running sprints definitely requires high fitness competency due to the impact trauma and explosiveness, sprints can also be performed in no- or low-impact activities such as stationary bike, rowing machine, or swimming. Running sprints delivers maximum results for bone density, joint and connective tissue strength, and fat reduction, but you can benefit tremendously from all forms of sprinting, and perhaps work your way up to eventually performing weight-bearing sprints.
Why Sprinting Helps Fat Loss and Endurance Performance
It might be hard to imagine how only a couple minutes of all-out effort once a week can make a huge impact on your fat reduction goals. And it might be hard to imagine how someone training for a 26.2-mile marathon or all-day triathlon event can benefit tremendously from running back and forth on a football field several times once a week. The secret is accelerated level of genetic signaling, hormone optimization, and central nervous system programming that happens when you sprint.
When you conduct an all-out sprint, you’re asking your body to perform at a level of metabolic function some 30 times greater than your resting output. This is a concept known as Metabolic Equivalent of Task (MET). By comparison, a brisk walk, casual bike ride, or easy swim is 6-10 MET, while running at a steady “tempo” pace is around 13.5 MET. A 30 MET experience sends a powerful adaptive signal to your genes to shed body fat, turbocharge fat burning, and boost hormone levels for an anti-aging effect. While the hormone spikes are brief in duration, the genetic signaling effects of a sprint workout last for hours and days afterward.
Numerous studies have shown that sprinting skyrockets growth hormone levels quickly and reliably and boosts protein synthesis (muscle building or toning) by 230 percent. The late Canadian strength and conditioning expert Charles Poliquin communicated the idea that sprinting gives the best ROI beautifully. Dig this quote from the article, “8 Reasons Everyone Should Do Sprints” at PoliquinGroup.com: “A 2010 study found that just six sprint sessions of 6 x 30-second all-out cycle sprints with four minutes rest over 2 weeks led to a leaner waist by 3 centimeters, and much greater use of fat for fuel.”
If you are stuck in the flawed and dated calories in-calories out fitness mindset, it might be hard to imagine how a brief workout that you only conduct a few times per month can have a measurable impact on your fat loss and fitness progress, but this is how genetic signaling works. Throw some 30 MET fuel into your fat burning machine, and it kicks into high gear for up to 72 hours after the workout. The science strongly supports my quip that nothing cuts you up like sprinting.
In concert with the physiological benefits, sprinting delivers huge psychological benefits by reducing your perceived exertion at all lesser intensity levels. When you train your heart, lungs, brain neurons and muscles to perform at maximum capacity, your cellular energy production becomes more efficient and makes jogging or tempo running seem easier. This reduced perceived exertion is literally true, because your brain is the ultimate limiter of performance, not the fatiguing peripheral muscles. This Central Governor Theory concept is advanced by Dr. Timothy Noakes, the great South African exercise physiologist and promoter of low-carb and keto eating. Noakes explains that our typical symptoms of fatigue like burning muscles and heaving lungs are “illusory” and that these physical sensations of discomfort are just the brain processing feedback from the body and generating symptoms of fatigue to protect you from potential injury.
You can best grasp this central governor concept when you’re at the gym and doing reps of bench press or pull-ups to failure. Indeed, that 12th rep seems like all you got, but if someone came over and put a gun to your head and barked, “two more!,” your brain would direct your screaming muscles to perform two more for sure! Ditto for anyone who has finished a marathon—the last six miles are no fun no matter how fit you are. If there were no finish line awaiting with family and friends, warm blankets and fresh food, your body might very well cramp up and stop working at mile 21.5, or 23.4, or 25.1. The central governor is going to get you to the finish line no matter what, and then give your body permission to collapse into the arms of the race medics!
Getting Started As A Sprinter
The first step toward becoming a sprinter is to adopt an empowering new mindset that you are capable of sprinting, and that it’s an extremely important element of your fitness program.
Next, establish a movement and exercise routine that will prepare your body sufficiently for the rigors of sprinting. If you are already putting in devoted miles on the road or the treadmill, getting to Pilates or yoga regularly, and otherwise keeping active and fit, you can easily and quickly integrate some top-end efforts into your workout routine.
If your fitness regimen is currently lacking, it’s best to focus on increasing all forms of general everyday movement before pursuing ambitious fitness goals like sprinting. From there, you can establish a respectable aerobic conditioning base with comfortably paced cardio sessions at a heart rate of “180 minus age” in beats per minute, and also integrate some regular strength training efforts to get your muscles, joints, and connective tissue resilient for all manner of daily activity with minimal injury risk. Strength training can be anything that puts a resistance load on your muscles, including the Primal Essential Movements (pushups, pull-ups, squats, and planks), resistance bands or cords, home gym equipment, a machine circuit at the gym, or free weights.
After a few months of moving frequently, conducting comfortable aerobic workouts, and lifting heavy things, it’s time to integrate some brief, all-out efforts, and enjoy rapid fitness breakthroughs. However, with the increased benefits comes increased risk. Sprinting is a high-stress endeavor that should be done infrequently, with an extremely careful and deliberate protocol every time, and with extended recovery time afterward. It seems the concept of sprinting has been misappropriated by coaches, trainers and devoted exercisers such that attempts are made to push the body to maximum output at most every workout.
Remember, the Primal Blueprint Law is titled, “Sprint Once In A While” because this aligns with our ancestral experience and our genetic expectations for health. If you attempt to sprint too frequently, your sprints become mediocre by default, because of excess output with insufficient recovery. Sprint workouts should be a special occasion where you feel 100 percent rested and energized to deliver a peak performance effort. Furthermore, you should only sprint for short duration, complete minimal reps, and take extensive rest periods between your sprint efforts—details follow. This ensures you enjoy maximum hormonal and fitness benefits with minimal cellular breakdown and risk of exhaustion.
This is all part of the empowering new mindset: Treat your body with care and respect and set aside the common but flawed notions about “no pain, no gain”—and that consistency is the imperative to fitness. Your body will break down with a consistent application of stress with insufficient rest. So, while you can strive to implement consistent patterns of healthy, active living, eating, and sleeping, you have to think like an elite athlete and take what your body gives you each day and nothing more. If you have a sprint workout planned for Tuesday and come up with stiff muscles or a scratchy throat, you must junk your best laid plans until you feel fantastically energized and excited at rest.
Sprints: Determining Optimal Reps, Duration, and Recovery
A revolutionary article by Dr. Craig Marker at BreakingMuscle.com titled, HIIT versus HIRT, delivers a compelling argument with extensive scientific support to do what I’ve been saying for a long time: Keep your sprints short in duration, explosive in nature, not too many, and not too often. Craig’s article details why the ideal duration for your sprints is between 10 and 20 seconds. The scientific truth is no one can sprint for longer than around 30 seconds without slowing down, and the cellular destruction required to sustain maximum effort beyond 10 seconds increases exponentially. From zero to 10 seconds, your rocket engine does just fine blasting off the line and accelerating furiously to maximum speed. Internally, your cells are burning their stored supply of pure ATP for energy.
After 10 seconds of maximum effort, you can’t produce sufficient ATP to keep going full speed. Say hello to the familiar burn of acid accumulation in the muscles. When you keep pushing beyond 10 seconds, your body commences the cellular processes of disassembling and deamination in order to supply more ATP for maximum energy output. Dr. Marker describes this disassembling and deamination process as, “breaking down the A-frames of your cells.” The vaunted benefit of mitochondrial biogenesis that you get from sprinting gets put on hold, ammonia builds up to toxic levels, and you essentially fry your cells to get to the distant finish line. While you feel the immediate burn during the effort, you also experience fatigue, immune disturbances, brain fog (ammonia is particularly destructive to brain neurons) and muscle weakness in the hours and days after the workout. Bottom line: It’s simply not worth it to try and sprint for longer than 10-20 seconds.
Let’s get more specific inside the sweet spot of 10-20 seconds. Stay on the low end (10 seconds) if you’re a novice sprinter, if you’re training for explosive sports or have high percentage fast-twitch muscle fibers, or if you are doing high-impact running sprints. You can extend to the high end (20 seconds) if you’re doing no- or low-impact sprints or preparing for endurance events. But even for endurance freaks, 20 seconds is it.
There’s simply no reason to ever sprint longer than 20 seconds unless you’re trying to break South African Wayde Van Niekerk’s world record for 400 meters. Hint: you won’t, because this is one of the most exceptional athletic performances in the history of humanity. Watch the video and you’ll see Wayde actually did “sprint” for 43.03 seconds to win the gold from the outside lane at the Rio Olympics. Alas, as you can discern by Van Niekerk’s energetic state at the finish line, elite athletes are much less affected by cellular breakdown than recreational fitness enthusiasts.
The other thing you want to guard against is cumulative fatigue during a sprint workout, because this will prompt cellular destruction and extended recovery time. Unfortunately, cumulative fatigue is pretty much the essence of a HIIT workout. You repeat a work effort that’s a little too long, too many times, with not enough rest between efforts. The workout becomes a suffer fest and ammonia bath instead of a proper, highly explosive sprint workout. Even the respected science behind the popular Tabata training protocol has been widely bastardized into workouts that are too long and depleting to deliver the substantial VO2 max increases that Dr. Tabata achieved with elite speed skaters in Japan. Realize that the original Tabata protocol was to conduct the familiar 20 seconds on, 10 seconds off for a total of only four minutes! Today, gyms across the world offer “Tabata classes” that can last for up to an hour—slinging kettlebells, doing burpees, or pedaling bicycles at the 2:1 work-to-rest ratio.
The revolutionary concept that I want you to embrace here is that you must deliver a consistent quality of effort for the duration of your sprint workout. This means both the measured performance and the perceived exertion are similar. If your first sprint of 50 yards across half a football field takes 10 seconds and feels like an 85 on a 1-100 effort scale, you want your final sprint to be of similar time and similar effort. (Okay, a tiny bit of attrition is acceptable, say 11 seconds at 90 effort level on your final sprint. But what you don’t want is to struggle and strain on your final efforts to stay around 11 seconds, nor start coming through in 12 seconds at that 85 effort level.)
Once performance declines or more effort is required to sustained performance, your sprint workout is over. Go hard and go home! I contend, along with Dr. Marker and many other experts, that 4-10 sprints are all you ever need to perform. If “more is better” thinking starts to creep in as you get fitter, you must strive to improve performance rather than add reps or increase duration.
Ready to get started? In “The Definitive Guide to Sprinting, Part 2” (check it out HERE), I provide a step-by-step protocol to conduct an effective sprint workout, honoring all of the philosophical guidelines detailed in this article.
Thanks for reading, everybody. Let me know your questions and thoughts on the board below.
The post Definitive Guide To Sprinting, Part 1: Benefits of Sprinting appeared first on Mark’s Daily Apple.
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Now that you’ve absorbed the rationale and benefits to add sprinting to your fitness program with Part One of the Definitive Guide To Sprinting, let’s get into the details of how to conduct a great workout. The following five guidelines are presented in logical succession, so you can refer to them frequently and ensure a safe, effective sprint workout. I’ll also share a few sprint workouts you can do anytime, including my own sprint workout routine. Remember, it’s all about going big…and then going home to get on with an awesome life.
Let’s get started….
First Things First
First, get your movement and fitness objectives in a good groove before you contemplate adding sprinting to your program. When you’re ready to sprint, make sure you pick the right day. It’s essential that you feel 100 percent rested and energized—chomping at the bit—every time you conduct a sprint workout. If you have even the slightest sensation of subpar immune function or muscle stiffness or soreness, postpone your workout until you feel great. (This is the better day to do low-level cardio activities instead.) If you conduct a sprint workout in a fatigued state, bad stuff happens. First, you increase your risk of injury and extend recovery time by pushing a tired body to hard work.
When you insist upon training in a fatigued state, it doesn’t make you tougher, but rather slower. When you conduct an all-out sprint, you are asking billions of neurons in your central nervous system to process messages and motor responses with great speed and accuracy. If you’re off your A-game and attempt a sprint session, you’ll actually fire neurons and muscles more slowly and inaccurately. You’re literally training your body how to go more slowly when you start out feeling like crap and carry on in the name of “consistency,” or the demands of the ego.
Swimmers know that when your stroke becomes short and choppy due to fatigue at the end of a workout or a tough set, you’re ingraining these flawed motor patterns into your central database. Consequently, you become more likely to make technique errors all the time, even when you’re fresh. This is just like an undisciplined day in the office, when you perform sloppy work that also takes longer than usual, and become accustomed to working in what author, speaker, and performance scientist James Hewitt calls the “cognitive middle gear.”
It’s interesting to note the frequency at which the world’s elite sprinters will pull out of a race at the last minute. Even with the pressure and expectation of a stadium full of fans, the athlete will report a twinge in the hamstring during warm-ups and withdraw from meet. Implement the same strict standards for your own workouts. Even if you’re a novice, you can tell after a couple wind sprints (details shortly) if you are not feeling as snappy and explosive as usual. On those occasions, wait patiently and try again on a better day.
It’s important to warm-up carefully before any workout, but even more so for sprinting due to the increased demand placed on muscles, joints, and connective tissue. A warm-up consists of 5-10 minutes of very comfortably paced cardiovascular exercise—something registering a 1 or 2 on a 1-10 scale. For all but the fittest folks, this is simply a brisk walk, perhaps an easy jog. The goal is to break a light sweat and elevate heart rate and respiration rate so you’re prepared for the next phase of the workout. A gentle warm-up allows blood concentrated in the organs to flow smoothly out to the extremities. This minimizes the fight or flight impact of transitioning from a sedentary state to an active state.
Granted, your body is capable of springing into action anytime via fight or flight mechanisms, but this increases the stress impact of the workout as you can imagine. Even if you’re just going for a moderately paced jog, you’ll start burning glucose immediately instead of fat because you’re prompting a six-fold increase in your metabolic output from a resting state too quickly. Once you stimulate glucose burning processes, it’s difficult to transition over to the desired fat burning-dominant jogging session. In contrast, if you leave the house, walk for a minute or two, move to a brisk walk for a minute or two, then start the intended aerobic jogging pace of your workout, you’re more likely to burn fat for the duration of the session. This is true for any exercise, so spin the pedals, paddle the board, or row the oars very slowly for several minutes at every workout.
Dynamic Stretches and Preparatory Drills
While an easy cardio warm-up is sufficient for most workouts, the high-intensity nature of sprinting requires more extensive preparations before you launch into the main work efforts. You’ve probably heard about the drawbacks and dangers associated with static stretching, whereby muscles are temporarily weakened after being stretched. Dynamic stretches are different—you’re moving muscles through an exaggerated range of motion, but not applying extra force beyond what’s required to go through the range of motion. I provide photos and detailed descriptions of a great set of dynamic stretches for running sprints in The Primal Blueprint 21-Day Total Body Transformation and 21-Day Primal Reset video course.
Here’s a quick rundown of a great dynamic stretching sequence. (Stay tuned for a complete post on this important subject soon.)
- Knee-to-Chest: Start out gently pulling knees up to chest and releasing as you walk forward
- Pull Quads: Grab your foot from behind, pull gently up to butt, and release.
- Open Hips: Facing forward, rotate your knee up and along bodyline, then place directly in front of you. This is especially important to improve hip flexor mobility that is compromised by sitting in a chair all day.
- Mini-Lunge: Take exaggerated-length steps, getting your front thigh nearly parallel to the ground. Don’t overdo this one, it’s just warm-up!
I also recommend completing some preparatory drills that are actually quite difficult on their own but help refine excellent technique, and also build flexibility and mobility for sprinting. I’ll detail these drills in a future article about dynamic stretching. Generally, the drills help you refine good technique and avail full range of motion before you explode off the line at your first sprint. Following are a couple great drills to conduct before sprinting:
- Hopping Drill: Launch off one leg, driving knee high into chest, then land on the same leg. After a short hop forward, launch off opposite leg, driving knee high. Balance your launch effort between height and distance. Pump arms vigorously during each sequence.
- High Knees: This one will get your heart rate up, and help you focus on achieving correct form during sprints. Run forward with exaggerated knee lift, striving to slap palms. During actual sprinting, focus on preserving a tall, straight body, driving knees high, and maintaining a balanced center of gravity through fast, efficient leg turnover.
You should be feeling loose, fluid and explosive after the dynamic stretches—ready for some wind sprints! This is a term describing brief accelerations up to nearly full speed, then a quick easing off the gas pedal back to easy effort. Wind sprints are important to get the final kinks out, get the brain and body focused on proper technique, and hone your focus for the main set of sprints just ahead. Wind sprints can be done with bicycling, swimming, rowing or other type of sprint session. You just initiate a few powerful pedal strokes or rows to get up to speed, then quickly back off before feeling slightest bit of strain.
Wind sprints are the time for an honest evaluation of how you’re feeling and whether to proceed to the main set of sprints. Tudor Bompa, Ph.D., author of Periodization Training for Sports, describes the ready state as: optimally excited and uninhibited. You are about to fire fast twitch muscle fibers to their full potential, so you might want to emulate the Olympians and do some miniature explosive jumps and hops before you launch into your first sprint. If you feel particularly sluggish when you accelerate during the wind sprints, you may want to pull the plug on the workout.
Granted, sometimes it takes a while for the engine to get warmed up and the brain to get enthused about maximum explosive efforts, but after the warm-up, dynamic stretches, preparatory drills, and wind sprints, the goal is to feel nothing short of fantastic. Believe me, I have made the mistake many times of thinking I could man up and get through a sprint workout. Guess what? I can every time, but these are the sessions where I tweak or pull something, and/or experience much more muscle soreness and fatigue in the ensuing days.
Feeling optimally excited and uninhibited before the first sprint is critical, and it’s also important to preserve the sensation throughout the workout. What I often notice during sprint sessions is feeling great, great, great, and then noticing a bit more fatigue and sluggishness during the recovery period. I might drag my feet a bit during slow jogging, or my mind will wander from intense focus on the session to something relating to the business matters of the day. Pay attention to these little things throughout the session. If you’re endurance athlete, this requires a fundamental change in mindset from “endure” to “explode.” It’s a cool feeling to conduct yourself like a real athlete instead of just a plodder once in a while, so go for it!
(Optional) Intensive Sprint Preparation: Cold Immersion
Speaking of optimally excited and uninhibited, my writing sidekick Brad Kearns has been doing some interesting research and field testing with the practice of cold exposure, followed by a rewarming jog, followed by all-out sprints. Brad calls this operation the Unfrozen Caveman Runner (those in the older age groups will recognize the Saturday Night Life reference to one of Phil Hartman’s classic characters). The essence of the protocol is this: We know from research detailed in The Definitive Guide to Cold Therapy article that even a brief cold exposure of 20 seconds in 40ºF (4.4ºC) water triggers a 200-300% spike in norepinephrine lasting for an hour afterward. This is a legit hack to access the desired “optimally excited and uninhibited” state!
We also know that performing intense exercise on cold muscles and joints is completely stupid. Instead, you take the necessary time to rewarm after a cold immersion and before a sprint session. In Brad’s protocol, this entails a 30-minute jog at aerobic heart rates—extremely slow and gentle at first, and gradually warming into a typical training pace. Once warmed, you arrive at the track and ride the norepinephrine high for a breakthrough sprint session, as seen on Brad’s YouTube video.
The benefits of cold exposure to athletic performance and recovery have been validated in a laboratory setting by the inventors of the RTX cooling glove at Stanford University. In short, they invented a contraption you stick your hand into which quickly lowers your core body temperature. A very fit researcher named Vin Cao established a baseline fitness standard when he did 180 pull-ups in a single workout—performed in sets of 50 with three-minute breaks between sets. Not bad, for a Stanford researcher! After training with the glove for six weeks, and cooling his body temperature after every set of pull-ups, Cao was able to perform a mind-blowing 620 pull-ups in a single workout!
Your wind sprints are done? Now onto the main event.
Choose a duration between 10 and 20 seconds, and target your reps between 4 and 10. (If you’re new to sprinting, stick to no more than 4-5 reps.)
We haven’t talked about rest intervals yet, and Dr. Craig Marker and other experts urge you to take “luxurious” rest intervals during your sprint workouts. I must admit that this insight was a revelation to me.
I came to sprinting from an endurance background, where I spent decades suffering with the best of them. Wanna do a couple more reps? Sure—and forget the rest interval, let’s go right now! For years, I performed brief explosive sprints as directed, then after a brief jog would launch right into another one, and another. Why be luxurious when you can be tough? Well, it turns out that replenishing ATP and creatine phosphate (fuel used during explosive efforts of less than 30 seconds) requires around three minutes of rest before performing another maximum effort. Olympic sprinters will routinely rest for several minutes between efforts—not because they absolutely need to, but because this maximizes their ability to generate explosive force repeatedly, and minimizes cellular damage caused by the workout. Science geeks note: this is an oversimplified description of energy contribution during intense exercise. This article about the energy systems involved during intense exercise will give you a fabulous overview of everything you need to know to run a 43-flat 400-meter like Wayde Van Niekerk.
Dr. Craig Marker’s HIIT vs. HIRT article recommends a sensible work-to-rest pattern in a kettlebell workout of 10 seconds of explosive effort, repeated on the minute, for a maximum of 10 minutes. I find 50 seconds of rest is plenty for a sprint of short duration. Alas, we want luxurious as the top goal here, so feel free to extend your recovery time on the last few sprints to make sure you feel optimally excited and uninhibited every time.
Let’s put it all together with some sample sprint workouts. I’ll begin with my own running routine.
My Sprint Routine
Warm-up: 10 minutes of brisk walking/slow jogging. Maintain a heart rate well below aerobic maximum per Dr. Phil Maffetone’s formula: “180 minus age” in beats per minute.
Dynamic Stretching and Preparatory Drills: Complete as directed, probably lasting 7-10 minutes.
Wind Sprints: Do 3-5 wind sprints where you move for perhaps 10 seconds, but only two seconds are at speed.
Sprint!: Pick a fixed distance such as half of a football field or running track straightaway, knowing that it will take around 10 seconds to complete. Conduct between 4 and 10 sprints, taking at least 50 seconds between sprints. Quit as soon as you notice any muscle tightness, breakdown in form, a slower than typical time for the same distance, or an increase in effort needed to achieve the same time.
Cool Down: Commence a gradual cooldown consisting of 7-10 minutes of light jogging or brisk walking, maintaining a heart rate below “180 minus age.” At the end, you should stop sweating, have a normal respiration rate and a heart rate near normal. If you have trouble spots, injury concerns or a rehab protocol (make sure to get your doctor’s and physical therapist’s okay before incorporating a sprint routine!), conduct your static stretches and/or foam rolling after your cooldown.
Active Recovery: In the ensuing 24-48 hours after your sprint workout, make a devoted effort to be more active than usual with increased walking (especially frequent work breaks), dynamic stretching, foam rolling and flexibility/mobility drills. It’s now clear that the most powerful recovery tool is simply movement.
Stationary Cycling Sprints
Warm-up: 10 minutes of easy pedaling. Maintain a heart rate well below aerobic maximum per Dr. Phil Maffetone’s formula: “180 minus age” in beats per minute.
Dynamic Stretching and Preparatory Drills: You can still do these on a bike or rowing machine by exaggerating your range of motion. On the bike, I will try to hyperflex my ankles during pedal revolution, alternatively trying to touch the ground with pointed toes and dorsiflexing the ankle so the heel always rides high. I also will pause for a moment and lean forward onto my hamstring for a couple seconds, then resume pedaling. Find similar moves with rowing, swimming, or other that extend range of motion.
Wind Sprints: Do five quick accelerations up to sprinting speed, where you move for perhaps 10 seconds, but only two seconds are at speed.
Sprint!: Pick a fixed time duration of 20 seconds. Conduct between 4 and 10 sprints, taking at least 50 seconds between sprints. For example, you can set your watch to beep every 1 minute, 10 seconds, knowing it’s time to initiate another 20-second sprint at every beep.
Cool Down: Commence a gradual cooldown consisting of 5-10 minutes of easy pedaling, maintaining a heart rate below “180 minus age.” If you have trouble spots, injury concerns or a rehab protocol (make sure to get your doctor’s and physical therapist’s okay before incorporating a sprint routine!), conduct your static stretches and/or foam rolling after cooldown.
Active Recovery: In the ensuing 24 hours after your sprint workout, make a devoted effort to be more active than usual with increased walking (especially frequent work breaks), an easy aerobic pedaling session, dynamic stretching, foam rolling and flexibility/mobility drills. It’s now clear that the most powerful recovery tool is simply movement.
Finally, let’s wrap it up with some easy take-home points that review everything it takes for a powerful sprint workout routine.
- Choose the appropriate activity, either low or high impact
- Always be ready, feeling 100 percent rested and energized for a special workout
- Warm up with aerobic exercise at 180 minus age heart rate
- Complete dynamic stretches and preparatory drills
- Complete wind sprints
- Conduct main set with appropriate work efforts (10-20 seconds), luxurious rest intervals, and for 4-10 reps
- Cool down with 5-10 minutes of easy cardio
- Keep active over ensuing days
- Recover completely before the next sprint workout
- Have fun getting off the TV treadmill and feeling like a real athlete!
Thanks for reading, everyone. Get out there, go hard, go home and report back about your experience. I look forward to hearing from you!
The post Definitive Guide To Sprinting, Part 2: Creating a Sprinting Workout (+Video) appeared first on Mark’s Daily Apple.
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