Sprint workouts are one of the most accessible methods of exercise that any human can partake in. Whether you are doing sprint interval training on a treadmill or doing hill sprints outside, sprint workouts can be a great way to improve the health outcomes of athletes or those just starting to exercise again.
Some associated health benefits of sprint workouts are:
- Improved body composition
- Improved insulin sensitivity
- Improved blood pressure
- Improved cardiovascular function
- Improved VO2 max
- Enhanced cognition
- Increased bone density
Unfortunately, many people cannot sprint without injuring themselves so they resort to isolated exercises, such as lifting weights in the gym, in hopes of acquiring these health benefits in a segregated and isolated manner.
In this article, we will address some questions such as, “is sprinting better than lifting weights?”; “is sprinting a good way to burn fat?”; and “does sprinting increase testosterone?”
Hopefully by the end, you will see that although a sprint workout is one of the best forms of exercise that comes with many amazing health benefits, it is also one of the most difficult ways of training if one does not prepare the body beforehand. So before you start a beginner sprint workout hoping to reap the many health benefits, read this article to find out what you need to consider to avoid the potential risks of sprinting and receive a better return on investment to achieve better health.
What If It Hurts to Sprint? Can I Lift Weights Instead?
Lifting weights has many associated benefits that closely resemble those of sprinting workouts. So why would someone put their joints at risk to sprint when they could more comfortably work their muscles in an isolated fashion?
Because of the SAID Principle: Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands.
This means that if you are training your muscles in an isolated fashion, those muscles will only know how to function during those isolated movements, not in the integrated manner by which we evolved in nature to survive.
We sprinted hard, not only to catch prey, but to ensure survival by running away from predators or other rival groups. The ability for an organism to move away from threats or towards food makes gait one of the most fundamental movements in living organisms. Even breathing seems to have developed through the function of how the rib cage moves during the gait cycle (Cieri, et al. 2020). Therefore, if one can sprint faster and more efficiently, their cardiovascular function, VO2 max, and blood pressure would most likely improve, as would bone density, cognitive function, and insulin sensitivity (Piasecki, et al., 2018).
This is why we believe that one should prioritize improving the quality of the sprint over lifting weights if they care about their health and well-being. This will decrease the potential for injury in your daily tasks such as playing or caring for your kids, sitting or standing at work, daily house chores, or if the need to sprint arises in order to catch a bus or to flee for safety. It can also improve multiple health factors and avoid the dysfunctions associated with lifting weights in an isolated manner.
Burning Fat and Building Muscle With Sprints
But not everyone is looking to sprint just so they have the ability to run away or chase prey for sustenance. In modern times, the need to sprint has diminished due to technological advancements allowing us the leisure of buying our food from grocery stores. Since then, it seems we have developed a disorder of overconsuming food while our bodies aren’t being used as a means of attaining our food. Therefore, more people are looking to include exercise like sprint interval training to lose fat that they’ve accumulated due to this change in lifestyle.
Our resting metabolism burns fat molecules to supply needed energy in order to produce heat in muscle fibers through non-shivering thermogenic mechanisms (Periasamy, et al., 2017). If we can increase the amount of muscle fibers that are active while moving, energy expenditure would also increase and thus more fat would be burned in order to produce more heat in the skeletal muscles. This may allow one to have a more optimal temperature regulation at rest if they have more muscles on their skeleton to help them when they move.
Does this mean that we should be including more exercise to compensate for our overconsumption of food, though? At Functional Patterns, we believe that the need to exercise in order to lose weight may be a coping mechanism that doesn’t address the root cause of anxiety surrounding overconsumption of food and our dysfunctional biomechanics while standing, walking, running, and throwing.
Unfortunately, if one’s body cannot sprint optimally, it may be limited in how much energy it can expend, due to poor biomechanics. This inefficiency may also create anxiety in our physical and mental states, causing us to cope by eating excessively because we are anxious, rather than to fuel activity. By addressing the biomechanics of standing, walking, running, and throwing, your structure will find a more optimal balance between exercising and burning off excess calories due to an anxious overconsumption of food.
Testosterone, Cortisol, and Pain
Testosterone is a highly sought-after steroid hormone that many fitness influencers are taking exogenously (externally) and trying to produce endogenously (internally) since it has an anabolic effect on muscle tissue and fat loss. We should be able to generate this hormone endogenously, but due to our modern lifestyles many of us have become chronically stressed, leading to high levels of cortisol in the blood and suppressing the release of testosterone in our bodies. Because of this, many athletes and fitness influencers are using chemical compounds and specific methods of exercise to raise their testosterone levels. One of these methods is sprint interval training or HIIT (high-intensity interval training) sprint workouts.
Studies have found that high-levels of testosterone can be found in the blood post sprint interval training (Smith, et al., 2013). Both plasma total testosterone and bioavailable testosterone concentrations increased significantly at the end of the sprint and during the recovery period (Derbre, et al., 2010).
So it would make sense that we should prioritize more sprint workouts to elicit more testosterone responses in the body to promote more muscle gain and fat loss, correct?
Unfortunately, there seems to be a strong negative correlation between circulating cortisol and testosterone in the body (Brownlee, et al., 2005). If one has developed pain or postural dysfunctions due to the inability to sprint in a biomechanically efficient manner, cortisol will most likely be elevated due to the body having to deal with the inflammation caused by sloppy movement.
As with the prior example of exercising more to compensate for the overconsumption of food, we believe that doing more sprint interval training or sprint workouts alone to induce testosterone endogenously is probably not the most sustainable approach to health due to this correlation between testosterone, cortisol, and pain.
This isn’t to say we advise against doing sprint workouts; we think that the priority should be placed on optimizing your biomechanics using Functional Patterns protocols so that when you do perform your sprint interval training, your body won’t maintain elevated cortisol levels when your body should be in recovery. If one can tap into deep states of relaxation after their sprint workouts, there will be less cortisol circulating throughout the body which will help to elevate blood testosterone concentrations at rest and promote regeneration, burn more fat, and build more muscle.
How To Get The Most Out Of Your Sprint Workouts
In conclusion, sprint workouts such as sprint interval training, HIIT sprinting workouts, or hill sprint workouts can be done outside or on a treadmill. There are beginner sprint workouts and sprinting workouts for high-level athletes which provide numerous health benefits for either demographic.
Unfortunately, every individual is going to be restricted as to how many benefits can be attained, and to what extent, if they do not account for their biomechanical dysfunctions while sprinting. This may lead some who experience discomfort while sprinting to instead lift weights and train their muscles in an isolated fashion that don’t promote coordinated muscle connections in movements that we evolved to do, like standing, walking, running, or throwing.
By addressing the quality and precision of sprinting through Functional Patterns protocols, one can reduce the risk of injury, increase their resting metabolism to burn excess fat and better regulate body temperature, and reduce circulating cortisol levels while inducing higher blood testosterone concentrations to promote muscle development.
- Brownlee, K. K., Moore, A. W., & Hackney, A. C. (2005). Relationship between circulating cortisol and testosterone: influence of physical exercise. Journal of sports science & medicine, 4(1), 76–83.
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