Most people don’t run at their top speeds unless someone’s chasing them. But here’s a novel idea: “Practicing running faster will make you faster,” says Matt Nolan, an RRCA-certified running coach and master instructor at Barry’s Bootcamp in New York, NY. Sprint workouts, or short, hard efforts followed by easy recovery periods, actually help you become a better runner at all paces and distances. That’s because “they train the body to recruit and develop fast-twitch muscle fibers, build muscle, improve heart rate and overall caloric efficiency,” says Nolan. Plus, the more comfortable you get working through sprint workouts, the easier they’ll start to feel. After just a few weeks, you’ll be surprised how much easier it is to hold your balls-to-the-wall sprint pace for longer than when you started. When you’re doing these sprint workouts—just once or twice a week—make sure to leave enough time to warm up and cool down before and after. A solid warmup includes dynamic exercises like hamstring sweeps, high knees, quad stretches, and butt kicks, followed by an easy 1-mile jog or 3 minutes of striders (15-sec. efforts at increasing intensities followed by 30 sec. walking or jogging). You can do the following routines on a treadmill or outdoors, either on a track or street. Panumas Yanuthai / Shutterstock

1. Beginner Sprint Workout

“This workout is easy enough for anyone to follow and teaches you to pace yourself,” explains Nolan. “Try to match the same speed you do in the first round for however many reps you do—repetition like this leads to the body adapting and becoming stronger faster.”

  • 1 min. jog
  • 30-sec. sprint
    Repeat 6–8 times

2. The Fastest Sprint Workout

“By working out at a very high intensity for super short efforts—with full recovery in between reps—you’re training the nervous system to optimize acceleration, top speed, force production, and efficient limb movement,” explains Alain Saint-Dic, a coach at Mile High Run Club in New York, NY.

  • 3x 10–12 sec. @ 85% effort (or fast but not all-out) at 8% incline
    90-sec. recovery walk or jog
  • 5x 10–12 sec. @ 95% effort (as fast as you can possibly go) at 1% incline
    90-sec. recovery walk or jog

3. Hill Sprint Workout

You’ll need a steep hill about a third of a mile long (or, if you’re on the treadmill, set it to a 3.5–4.5% incline). “This workout will continuously push you outside your comfort zone as you increase the distance of the hill climb,” says Amanda Nurse, an elite marathoner and running coach based in Boston, MA. “Try to maintain an even effort on the way up and use the downhills as your recovery.” And don’t underestimate the short sprints at the end: “Strides improve your running form, help to lengthen all your leg muscles, and improve your efficiency and turnover.”

  • Run ⅓ of the of the hill at a fast pace, then jog down at an easy pace
  • Run ⅔ of the hill at a fast pace, then jog down at an easy pace
  • Run all the way up the hill at a fast pace, then jog down at an easy pace
    Rest for 2 min.
  • 4 x 20 sec. sprints up the hill followed by an easy jog down

4. Descending Sprint Workout

“The payoff of speed efforts that get shorter and faster the closer you get to finishing is both physical, in terms of increasing your overall cardiovascular fitness, and mental,” says Nolan. “Your brain will see and know that as you progress to the shorter sprints, and that will help you go faster and faster.”

  • 3 x 600m or 90 sec. @ 80% effort (or 2 MPH below top sprint pace) with a 2-min. recovery walk or jog in between sets
  • 3 x 400m or 60 sec. @ 90% effort (or 1 MPH below top sprint pace) with a 90-sec. recovery walk or jog in between sets
  • 3 x 200m or 30 sec. @ 100% sprint speed with 1-min. recovery walk or jog in between sets

Maridav / Shutterstock

5. Endurance Sprint Workout

Instead of all-out sprinting, “this time, you’re focusing on sustaining your maximum velocity for an extended period of time,” explains Saint-Dic. That’s going to train your body to feel comfortable holding a faster pace for longer durations—an important element if you want to race a half-marathon or marathon.

  • 4 x 18–22 sec. at 85% effort at an 8% incline
    90-sec. recovery walk or jog
  • 4 x 18–22 sec. at 95% effort at a 1% incline
    90-sec. recovery walk or jog

6. Power Sprint Workout

Two hundred meters is about an eighth of a mile or half of a track lap—a super easy distance to wrap your head around. “It’s a great distance to improve endurance while also improving anaerobic power and capacity,” says Nurse. “Thanks to equally long recovery, you should feel good enough to sprint again when you reach the next 200 meters.”

  • 15 x 200m (or ⅛ mile) at a hard effort
    Do a 200m recovery speed walk or jog in between sets

7. Pyramid-Style Sprint Workout

Pyramid-style sprint workouts build up speed, then gradually bring you back to your starting point. “They’re great for keeping the body guessing—no interval is a direct repeat,” says Nolan. “And the recoveries are double the length of the work efforts, so you always feel ready for the next interval.” You should feel like you’re flying by the end of each round.

  • 30-sec. sprint followed by 1-min. recovery walk or jog
  • 45-sec. sprint followed by 90-sec. recovery walk or jog
  • 1-min. sprint followed by 2-min. recovery walk or jog
    Repeat 4 times

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Achieving goals and tracking your progress is one of the best parts about fitness. There are tons of physical accomplishments that feel great time after time, like nailing a heavy lift, or beating a previous time on a benchmark workout. And of course, picking up the pace when you run and feeling super fast. If you want your training plan to be well-rounded, you’re going to need to include sprint workouts. Speed training, often referred to as interval work, should have a place in every athlete’s routine if you ask Steve Finley, Nike+ Run Coach and head coach of Brooklyn Track Club in New York City. men's health mvp subscription Click here to join for access to more workouts. Men’s Health “A good speed session is exactly the same thing as a hard lifting session, and brings the added benefit of being a great cardio workout,” he says. “Small segments of interval work can make a major difference if you add them into your training, whether you’re an avid runner or someone who would rather be lifting weights in the gym.” Don’t just take Finley’s word for it. Research agrees. Interval training can improve heart health, including capacity and lowering resting heart rate, according to one small study. Another limited study found that this method of training can also lead to improvements on both anaerobic and aerobic capacity. Want to channel your inner Usain Bolt? Here, Finley offers up eight different workouts that can be done everywhere from the track to the treadmill to help you kick your speed into high gear. One quick note: if you’re not a seasoned runner, you might not be familiar with the pace estimates Finley suggests for these workouts. That’s okay. You can use a calculator tool to figure out what this means to you, or run by feel. Think about the fastest pace here (5K), as working hard enough that you would not be able to hold a conversation, and adjust from there. This content is imported from poll. You may be able to find the same content in another format, or you may be able to find more information, at their web site.

Sprint Workouts at the Track

young sportsman running on tartan track Westend61//Getty Images

Workout 1 — 10 x 200 meters

  • Rest: 60 seconds
  • Pace: 5K

Finley says: “This is a great workout for you to get to know the track, feel how it feels to accelerate around the line and the turn and ride it out for a steady pace, striding down the straightaway. The 60 seconds of rest will add up quickly. Done in this format, this workout is a cardio fitness, aerobic effort. If you were to go for 2:00 rest instead, I’d suggest really picking up the pace working down toward your goal mile effort, which makes this more anaerobic.”

Workout 2 — 8 x 400

  • Rest: 90 seconds
  • Pace: Start at 10K and working down

“This is like the advanced version of workout one. Your goal is to get progressive as time goes on. Ideally by the end of this workout, you should be hitting at or below your best mile time.”

Workout 3 — 5 x 800

  • Rest: 60 seconds
  • Pace: Start at 10K and working down

“This is one of those workouts where you’re in the effort for a solid amount of time, and you want to turn your brain off. Get into a rhythm. Think of this like a tempo run that feels super relaxed and calm.”

Sprint Workouts for Running on the Road

running in san francisco Jordan Siemens//Getty Images

Workout 4 — Hills, 8 x 45 seconds

  • Rest: Jog down hill
  • Pace: Hard effort, about a 7 our of 10 on the RPE (rate of perceived exertion) scale

“This workout is all about working on explosiveness, as your goal is to get farther and farther up the hill you’re working with for each rep. Think about driving your knees and working your arms. Hill work is speed work in disguise. By working the muscles in your posterior chain, you’re actually becoming faster. A lot of runners feel guilty that they don’t do big lifts, but often times if they’re doing hill work, they’re reaping a lot of the same benefits.”

Workout 5 — 12 x 1:00

  • Rest: 1:00
  • Pace: 7 out of 10 on the RPE

“You could call this a fartlek. This is an easy workout you could do after traveling, after work, if you’re not feeling that great — because the intervals are really manageable. It’s really about just getting your heart rate up, and then on the one-minute rest, you’re bringing it back down. Don’t go into this with any big expectations or pressure. Just enjoy it for what it is.”

Workout 6 — Segment Run x 6

  • Rest: 90 seconds
  • Pace: 7 out of 10 on the RPE

“Segments, or specific areas in your neighborhood, can be great for repeat work. I would prescribe this segment to be done at a decent effort, but really, you can make this what you want. Similar to the hill workout, see if you can get farther with each repeat. If you really want to crank intensity, find a segment with an incline.”

Sprint Workouts for the Treadmill

man running on treadmill at gym Westend61//Getty Images

Workout 7 — Ladder: 5:00, 4:00, 3:00, 2:00, 1:00

  • Rest: 90 seconds
  • Pace: Progressively working down from half-marathon to goal mile pace

“I love ladder workouts. Your goal here is to start conservatively. You definitely don’t want that first 5:00 block to be too hard. So, start at something slower, like a half-marathon mph pace, then bump it up about .5 or 1.0mph with each rep, depending on how you are feeling.”

Workout 8 — 4 x 4:00

  • Rest: 90 seconds
  • Pace: Start at half-marathon and progressively pick it up

“With the increase from rep to rep here, bump it up only about .2 to .3 each time. This workout is about turning your brain off, you could even call it a meditation style run. You’re zoning out, purposely trying to listen to your breath, and focus on not being the space you’re in. This is what makes tread running beneficial. This zone out, it’s something we teach through long runs as coaches, but it can be taught through long intervals.” preview for Omari Hardwick | Train Like

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