If you've been doing long, slow cardio, such as jogging, cycling, or swimming, for awhile without losing much weight or becoming much leaner even though you keep increasing your workouts, there is a simple explanation: too much cardio actually makes you fat. Excessive cardio increases stress hormones and down regulates the hormones, such as growth hormone and testosterone, that preserve muscle. In addition, elevated stress hormones make you insulin resistant, which leads to overeating as well as to eating foods that contribute to insulin resistance, such as sugars and starches.
Despite their appearance, many joggers and cyclists are not really lean. They may be slender because they have little muscle mass, but their body fat percentages are often surprisingly high.. In contrast, sprinters are lean and muscular with low body fat percentages. They have high human growth hormone (HGH) and testosterone levels--good for both females and males. Think back to the last track meet you saw. Who would you rather look like: the sprinters or the distance runners?
Benefits of Sprinting
1) Sprinting will reduce body fat and strengthen you far more than long, slow cardio because sprinting requires maximal recruitment of muscle. After about 8 seconds, sprinting sends acid signals to the muscles, which activates the fast twitch fibers. Fast-twitch fibers are thicker than slow twitch fibers, and it is fast twitch fibers that grow in size when activated by the right training.
2) Sprinting naturally increases human growth hormone. Human growth hormone increases muscle mass, thickens and adds flexibility to the skin, enhances the immune system, promotes weight loss through fat redistribution and loss, and increases stamina.
3) Sprinting strengthens your cardiovascular system with brief bursts of high intensity followed by long periods of recovery. You strengthen your skeletal muscles by doing heavy, low-repetition sets with long recoveries. You should strengthen your heart the same way. Sprinting doesn't cause the continuous stress on the heart that long, slow cardio does.
4) Sprint workouts are short and a lot more fun than long, boring cardio workouts.
The Definition of Sprinting
Based on the misleading articles and workouts I've seen posted all over the web, I'd better define what sprinting is. Sprinting is not just running faster than a jog. You cannot "sprint" for 30-60 second or even more with an equal recovery for 6-10 repetitions as some fitness "experts" advise. This is an anaerobic or interval workout. It's far better for you than plodding along the road or on a treadmill, but it's not sprinting and won't give you the benefits mentioned above. Sprint means "to race or move at full speed." Think playing tag or running to first base after a hit. Sprint workouts feature short, high-intensity repetitions and long, easy recoveries.
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Where to Do a Sprint Workout
A track is the best place to do sprints because it's marked (in meters), and its surface is ideal for sprinting. A grass or dirt surface is next best; however, check your course for gopher holes and such before starting your sprints. Twisting an ankle will end your sprint workouts for awhile. The one place not to do your sprint workout is on concrete. Your back will thank you.
How to Do a Sprint Workout
Start your workout by warming up for about 5 minutes. Measure out a course from 50-100 yards (or meters) long. Remember that you need to sprint at least 8 seconds before your body sends the signals that produce human growth homone. Do 5-10 repetitions. The total distance of your sprints should not exceed 400-800 yards or meters. Between repetitions, walk slowly at least twice the distance that you ran. This should take from 1-2 minutes. Don't jog to "keep your heart rate up." You need to recover so that each repetition can be run at close to full speed. No matter what workout you planned, if you reach a point where you can't sprint because of fatigue, quit. Jogging to "finish" the workout won't do you any good since intensity is the objective, not volume.
If you're out of your teens and haven't been sprinting for a year or more, you will probably not be able to sprint at full speed right away. You should allow yourself at least a week for every decade you've lived to build up to full speed sprinting. In other words, if you're 40 and haven't been doing any sprinting in the past year, allow at least 4 weeks of gradually increasing the speed of your sprints before trying to go full speed in your workout. Even then, it doesn't hurt to hold back a little on the first repetition or two of each session.
How Often to Do a Sprint Workout
If you're running, cycling, swimming, etc. in addition to sprinting, limit your sprint workouts to twice a week with at least 48-72 hours between. If you're not doing anything else but strength training, you can go to 3 times a week if you want.
Sprinting is a natural and valuable human activity. If you think back to when you were a kid, how many times did you jog for miles? Almost never, right? On the other hand, you probably sprinted nearly every day on the playground, the athletic field, or just down the street. If you want to maintain a youthful body, you have to continue to do the things that youthful bodies naturally do. Sprinting is one of those things.
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