Sprint interval training (SIT) consists of short, high intensity bursts of speed interspersed with longer, lower intensity periods of rest and recovery e.g. sprint for 20 seconds, then active recovery (walking) for 60 seconds; therefore each cycle lasts 80 seconds and because of the intense nature of this type of training it means you only need to perform a small number of cycles in one training session to reap the benefits. As your body adjusts to the intensity of the training, you would then just increase the work the rest ratio (sprint time to recovery time) or increase the number of cycles performed in order to add progression and overload to your training.
SIT is a form of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) which is becoming increasingly popular amongst all types of athletes as it has been shown to improve both anaerobic and aerobic fitness and significantly enhances the body’s ability to burn fat compared to performing steady state cardiovascular training (Trap, Chisholm, Freund & Boutcher, 2008). Burgomaster, Heigenhauser & Gibala (2006) found almost a 10 percent improvement in cycling time trial performance after just two weeks of SIT; therefore showing the rapid performance effects of SIT. Research into SIT has shown various physiological enhancements including improved VO2 max (Dawson et al., 1998), improved muscle oxidative and glycolytic enzyme activity (MacDougall et al., 1998) and enhanced muscle buffer capacity (Sharp, Costill, Fink & King, 1986).
In conclusion, SIT is an extremely efficient way to structure your training as it can be completed in less than half the time of sub-maximal training and leads to far greater fitness benefits. It also helps to maintain lean muscle tissue by up-regulating muscle protein synthesis and revving up metabolic rate to turn your body into a furnace for torching stored body fat. So ladies and gents, bin off the long and boring jogs on the treadmill or the cross trainer and swap them for some maximal effort sprints to fast track your way to the fitness goals you want to achieve.
James Rutherford BSc Hons Sport and Exercise Science