The Health Benefits of Sprinting versus Long Distance Running

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Running is one of the most popular sports in Boulder, Colorado with many individuals taking advantage of our many trail options.  In general, run workouts can focus on short duration, higher intensity sprints performed as intervals or longer duration, sustained low to moderate intensity distance runs.  Each training option promotes beneficial changes in the body but new research highlights the benefits of sprint training in aging runners.

Previous research has focused on the benefits of long and slow distance running, but less attention has been paid to sprint training.  In a recent review article Krzysztof and colleagues discuss the beneficial adaptions of sprint training especially among aging runners (Exercise and Sport Science Reviews 2015).  In comparison to endurance athletes, sprint athletes have a slower rate of decline in maximum heart rate, one of the main factors in calculating VO2 max or the maximal amount of oxygen the body can utilize each minute.  Thus sprint athletes show a smaller decline in VO2 max over time compared to their endurance training peers.

Sprint athletes train at higher intensities requiring faster, more explosive muscle contractions.  These contractions promote muscle hypertrophy in sprinters compared to their endurance training peers.  Thus it is not surprising sprint athletes have a slower decline in lean muscle mass due to aging compared to endurance athletes.  In addition, sprint athletes demonstrate better performance on power, agility, and jumping tasks compared to their endurance trained peers.  One final benefit of sprint training is exercise adherence.  Sprint athletes have better adherence to their exercise programs likely secondary to their workouts being less time consuming and more efficient than longer, slower endurance programs.  

Runners are encouraged to consider implementing sprint or interval workouts into their existing endurance programs to further improve their health and performance.