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illio walk back sprints

When it comes to long-distance running, I haven’t been one to stand at the starting line. In fact, I rarely run but have admired runners for years for their endurance and commitment. I’d see them cruising around the Minneapolis lakes and think, I wish I could be a runner.

If you’ve been following my weight-loss progress (along with my tales of success and woe as I adopt healthier habits) on my Coming Clean blog, you’ll know I’ve never claimed to be an athlete. Even though I was a bit of a social butterfly in grade school and high school, I was much more bookish than brawn.

My inactivity has come at a price over the years, but I’ve been learning new skills from the magazine, research, group fitness and with my personal trainer, Shane Kinney, NASM-CPT, CES.

Since I’ve been focused on weight loss, my trainer has me working in interval circuits, similar to HIIT-style (HIIT stands for high-intensity interval training) or Metabolic Resistance Training. (Learn more in “Lift to Lose.”) HIIT can help everyone from beginners to advanced athletes improve their fitness, but it’s particularly good for fat loss.

Why I love it: You work hard and fast, then rest and repeat. If you mix weight lifting with, say, cardio work like sprinting or rowing, and body-weight-based moves like pushups and burpees, you’ve got one terrific workout. And because of the variety, I don’t feel bored.

While I’ve been doing this type of workout, I told my trainer I was worried I wouldn’t fare as well with endurance when it comes to running the Esprit de She 5K in July. (Happily, it’s noncompetitive, which was another draw for me.) Yes, I’ll still need to get in some longer runs if I want to keep a pace I’m pleased with, but he assured me that sprinting would help with my endurance training.

Here’s why:

  1. Sprinting increases your aerobic capacity, or VO2 max (the maximum amount of oxygen your body can process to produce energy). You can still do this with long-distance running, but researchers are finding that shorter, more intense workouts are accomplishing similar results as those longer runs. (Those who’ve followed the research may remember professor Jens Bangsbo 10-20-30 study through the University of Copenhagen, in which one group ran in 30-, 20- and 10-second runs in three to four 5-minute intervals for seven weeks. They not only cut their overall time by 21 to 48 seconds, they also lowered their systolic blood pressure and cholesterol.)
  2. Sprinting burns fat during and after your workout for 48 hours. I find this be one of the greatest incentives of HIIT-style training!
  3. Sprinting improves your “running economy,” which measures how efficiently one’s body uses oxygen. According to Mike Young, PhD, CSCS, an elite USA Track & Field Level 3 coach and director of sports performance at Athletic Lab in Cary, N.C.: “When endurance athletes do a little sprinting, it increases their ability to run efficiently and they utilize less oxygen when training aerobically.” (Read more about the benefits of sprinting, plus workouts you can try now, in “Speed x3.”)

I’ll keep working on my long-distance running in prep for Esprit de She, but I’m glad to know my sprinting workouts are helping me reach my goals. I’ll be calling myself a runner soon enough.

Thoughts to share?

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