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sprintingMany runners use sprinting in their training routines. It’s a powerful training tool that when done properly can help transform your performance and help you blast through running plateaus. Regular sprinting training or running at maximum exertion over a short distance, will bring about several physiological adaptations that are very beneficial to your endurance.

First, this type of high intensity training (HIIT) is one of the ways a half marathon trainer will be able to enhance their fast twitch muscle fiber recruitment. Your body is made up of a diverse pool of muscle fibers, mixed between fast twitch and slow twitch fibers. The slow twitch fibers are used mainly during steady endurance work, like long distance running in half marathon training. The ability to better use your fast twitch muscle fibers will be a big help when your slow twitch fibers are fatigued, and possibly help you keep up a hard pace a little longer.  This becomes important nearing the end of a race, where you will have to really kick it into high gear and sprint to the finish line. Training your body to exert this kind of force through fatigue is necessary if you want to have the ability to rely draw upon your muscle reserves.

Although there are tons of advantages to using sprints to develop enhanced muscular capacity, there are some downsides. Sprinting can put stress on the central nervous system. It involves a huge amount of signaling by the nervous system to get the optimal muscle contraction as quickly as possible. Half marathon training rarely stresses runners nervous system to such a high degree like this during base building work.  Because the central nervous system controls everything, if there’s problems, your performance is going to suffer. So you have to allow for a full and proper recovery. Any time you use sprints, you put the body under stress and it needs some time to recover. A big part of recovery happens in the nervous system, and your body uses a lot of energy to repair it.

You should never perform two sprint intensive workouts on back to back days. Although you may not feel sore after sprints that does not mean that your body is ready to train. Rule of thumb, if you’re sprinting hard enough during your speed work session, your body should only be able to endure one training session like that per week.
I’ve found that this works well, and I try to mix into my weekly training. My sprinting sessions are usually 5 or 6 repetitions of 100 meters of all out sprints, and then a slow walk back to the starting point as a way to catch my breath. If you are incorporating weight training, be sure to space apart any sprinting or heavy weight lifting sessions several days a part from each other.

Don’t overdo it. You may feel like Superman, that you can lift and do speedwork and long distance on the same 24 hour period. Your body needs time to recover from the intensity you are putting it through. In the long run, you’ll thank me. When it comes to training at high intensities, less is definitely more. From a purely endurance mindset, you might be anxious to get out and try to do more. Sprint only one day a week, or maybe two at the very maximum. If you still feel like you need more sprints, you can wrap up your normal weight training or distance running with a short speed set at the end.

If you can gradually incorporate sprints into your workout routine I’m confident that you will see some great results in your half marathon and marathon training.

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