High-intensity speed work like sprinting is an incredibly important training component for every athlete. Moving fast increases the time it takes the signal from your brain to reach your feet, which can help you even when you’re running slower, like in a 10K, a marathon or a Spartan race. Furthermore, it can help keep your V02 Max up, especially important as it starts to naturally decline after the age of 35.
If you’re joining us for our 2% Tougher: 1-mile Run challenge, you’ll be doing sprint intervals every week leading up to your retest. It’s the most efficient way to improve your mile time.
But whether you’re following a specific plan like ours, or simply striking out to flex those fast-twitch muscle fibers on your own, getting your mind and body prepared for an all-out sprint is key. Use this checklist to make small but potentially game-changing tweaks to your nutrition and warm-up.
What Should You Do Before a Sprint? Follow This Prep Guide and Watch Your Results Skyrocket
1. Learn Your Sticking Point
This is the point where your sprint gets “real,” says Chris Hinshaw, a top endurance coach who has worked with more than 30 CrossFit Games champions. In a mile, it’s usually around ¾ of the way through, when you have that last “lap” ahead of you. In a 300-meter repeat, it might be halfway through, after you've flown out of the gate. But it’s unique to everyone, so as you train, establish what that sticking point feels like — you might get emotional or experience a heightened level of pain — and how you’ll handle it mentally.
“The brain is always monitoring your level of fatigue and looking at the remaining distance," Hinshaw says. "If you underestimate your amount of fatigue and feel worse than you thought you were going to, you will underperform every single time."
2. Plan Your First 5 Seconds
Any race or timed effort can be nerve-wracking, which is why having a plan for what you’ll do when the bell dings (or the gun fires at the starting line) is essential.
“Once you establish that opening protocol, the body takes over, the training takes over, and now you’re on autopilot,” Hinshaw says.
For instance, your first five seconds might be five steps of acceleration, then settling into your intensity.
3. Follow the 24-Hour Fiber Rule
During high-intensity exercise, we’re at an increased risk for GI problems, says Marni Sumbal, MS, RD, CSSD, LD/N, an expert triathlon coach. To reduce the likelihood of this happening, she suggests cutting back on fiber in the day before your sprint.
“Fruits with a peel, cruciferous veggies, and bran should be reduced or eliminated to help reduce residue in the gut,” Sumbal says.
4. Eat 40 Minutes Before Go-Time
Though a short, intense effort won’t really increase your overall energy needs as long as you eat a balanced diet, there’s another reason to keep your pre-sprint snack in the mix.
“It can help with concentration, focus, and motivation, as well as alertness and mood,” Sumbal. says “A pre-workout snack has been shown to help athletes push harder.”
She suggests getting in 100–200 calories, primarily carbohydrates, 20–40 minutes beforehand. Think: a banana with a bit of nut butter.
5. Get Your Engine Warm
If your aerobic system isn’t fully turned on, you get energy from the anaerobic source, which is where lactic acid and fatigue is created, Hinshaw says.
“So essentially, without a warm-up, what we're doing is putting ourselves in an inferior position to maximize workout performance,” he says.
This is why Hinshaw recommends prepping with five to seven minutes of walking, jogging, backwards running, and marching drills — anything that gets your heart rate up and your aerobic system primed to perform.
6. Mobilize Your Lower and Upper Body
Most athletes know they should be doing a dynamic mobility warm-up before any workout, including sprints, but Hinshaw says he often sees people cutting this part short.
Doing 10 leg swings in each direction is a great way to prep your body for running, you should also be doing arm swings, wrist and ankle rotations, and head rotations, too. Whatever you do, don’t skip the arm-swings.
“It’s the arms that make the legs move,” Hinshaw says. “Remember, it’s all connected.”
7. Warm Up Your Brain
The last component of your sprint warm-up should be some skipping, hopping, or jumping drills. These warm up your neurological system.
“The faster you get your foot on the ground and off the ground, the faster you're going to run,” Hinshaw says. “That requires the brain to send a signal straight down to the feet, to make them move quickly. So we want to make sure the brain is warmed up properly.”