The Best Sprint Workouts to Get Faster, Build Muscle, and Drop Fat

Man sprinting on track
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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 at these high-intensity speeds, 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.

sprinting on road
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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

sprinting on track
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 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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