Floating Sprints, Explained: How To Program Them Into Your Training

Add this speed drill to your warm up routine before a hard workout.

Various running drills are helpful for runners and athletes of other sports alike to improve abilities such as speed and form.

For example, A skips and high knees can help improve running form and technique and are great running drills to incorporate in a dynamic warm-up to prime your muscles and neuromuscular system for the workout ahead.

Floating sprints are one of the best running drills for runners of all distances, from sprinters to distance runners, as they help improve speed and condition the neuromuscular system.

Floating sprints are a type of speed workout in which athletes sprint all out for a certain distance, ease up, and then sprint again, all within the same rep.

In this guide, we will teach you how to perform floating sprints, discuss their benefits, and give you some of the best floating sprint workouts to incorporate into your training program to help you run faster.

A person doing a floating sprint.

What Is a Floating Sprint?

A floating sprint, or float sprint, is a type of speed work training for running used by sprinters, track and field athletes, and athletes of other sports such as soccer, football, basketball, and ultimate frisbee.

Floating sprints are often used in a “sprint float sprint” workout format, which is more commonly referred to as “ins and outs” sprinting by some running coaches.

The floating sprint pace and effort should be a hair more relaxed, generally 90-93% of max running velocity.

How Do You Do Flying Sprints For Speed Training?

Typically, the sprint-float-sprint workout means that the runner will sprint all out or accelerate to top speed for a certain distance and then ease up or relax to feel like they are “floating while running” before hitting maximum velocity sprinting again.

The float sprint speed or effort level is generally about 90-93% of your maximum sprinting velocity and effort, so it’s not vastly easier than an all-out sprint.

Think about relaxing your jaw, shoulders, hands, etc., and envision yourself “cruising” rather than “crushing” the distance with full-out effort.

The specific distances for floating sprint drills or floating sprint intervals will depend on the athlete, sport, and goals of the float sprinting speed training workout.

However, because maximum sprinting speeds are typically included in floating sprint drills, the total distance of a floating sprint is generally short.

A person sprinting.

For example, the athlete might accelerate for a 20 to 30 meter sprint and then try to hold maximum sprinting velocity until the 50m mark on a track and then relax the pace (decelerate) with a float sprint for the next 10 to 20 m before accelerating back to maximum velocity to finish 100m for the total float sprint drill distance. 

A sprinter who runs longer distances, a middle-distance runner, or a soccer player might do a total distance of 300 meters for a sprint float sprint drill.

He or she would start at the straightaway, accelerate for the first 30m or so, and try to hit maximum velocity by sprinting through the first part of the turn.

Then, float sprint for 25 meters or so before accelerating through the rest of the final turn and sprinting all the way to the finish line.

Distance runners or endurance coaches often try to associate sprint float sprint or floating sprint workouts as the sprinting counterpart of fartlek workouts.

The term “fartlek“ is Swedish for “speed play “ and involves a runner deliberately changing his or her pace in a continuous run by throwing in hard intervals and then easing up the pace before beginning the next surge or hard interval.

People sprinting on a track.

There are some similarities between fartlek workouts for distance runners and floating sprints for sprinters. Still, aside from changing running speeds and effort levels without stopping, there isn’t much overlap between fartlek and float sprint training.

During a fartlek workout, the differences between the pace and effort level between the “on” or hard intervals and the “off” or recovery intervals are drastic.

The runner should really feel like he or she is downshifting and easing up a lot on the pace and effort level. A coach or someone watching the runner could visually see a difference in stride length, stride rate (cadence), and running velocity.

In contrast, with a floating sprint or float spring float drill, the difference in the float sprinting speed vs maximum sprinting velocity or acceleration into max sprint speed is very nuanced.

The runner should feel a little more relaxed, but a floating sprint is still indeed a sprint.

The sprinter should be sprinting hard while float sprinting but just pulling back a hair or two on the effort level; again, the floating sprint should be about 90-93% of the effort and sprinting speed.

A trained coach who works with the athlete regularly would likely be able to see a difference in the float sprinting mechanics and running speed.

On the other hand, a regular spectator would probably be unable to detect much difference during the float sprint portion of a floating sprint sandwiched workout in which the athlete alternates between floating sprints and all-out sprints.

Again, this is because there typically isn’t a significant difference in running speed for floating sprints vs strides or max velocity sprints.

A person sprinting.

What Are the Benefits of Floating Sprints for Runners?

There are several important benefits of float sprint workouts or floating sprint drills for runners, sprinters, and athletes of other sports.

#1: Improve Speed

Float sprints help increase sprinting speed, the ability to accelerate, and how to run at nearly max velocity without tensing up, all of which can improve sprinting biomechanics1Mero, A., Komi, P. V., & Gregor, R. J. (1992). Biomechanics of Sprint Running. Sports Medicine13(6), 376–392. https://doi.org/10.2165/00007256-199213060-00002 and performance.

#2: Condition the Neuromuscular System 

While floating sprint drills certainly fall under the umbrella of speed training and can help you run faster, a float sprint session is incredibly demanding for the nervous system.2Ross, A., Leveritt, M., & Riek, S. (2001). Neural Influences on Sprint Running. Sports Medicine31(6), 409–425. https://doi.org/10.2165/00007256-200131060-00002

‌Shifting gears with such precision requires tremendous coordination, a mind-body connection, and, of course, neuromuscular firing when sprinting at maximum velocity.

Although the float sprinting we described somewhat with vague distances, many coaches prescribe very specific points or distances for an acceleration vs sprint vs float sprint over the course of an in-and-out workout or float sprints float repeat.

This requires the runner to stay focused and shift gears incredibly quickly since most of the floating sprints are very short. You have to get the nervous system firing and shift gears super fast.

Plus, because you are doing some maximum-speed sprinting, the nervous system is being challenged to coordinate your running stride and cadence as fast as possible, all of which is neuromuscularly taxing and can improve acceleration and sprinting speed.

People sprinting on a track.

#3: Can Teach An Athlete to Switch Gears

Much like fartlek workouts, another benefit of floating sprints is that they teach the athlete to switch gears quickly and throw in surges even when they are tired.

Adding floating sprints to your speed training can also help you discover that you can dig deeper and reach faster speeds or more “levels” of sprinting while racing or running.

You can train different energy systems3Magida, D., & Rodriguez, M. (2023). Energy Systems. Human Kinetics Canada. https://canada.humankinetics.com/blogs/excerpt/energy-systems(ATP/PC system vs anaerobic glycolysis) with different floating speed intervals and surges.

In this way, floating sprints may also help improve repeated sprint ability4Bishop, D., Girard, O., & Mendez-Villanueva, A. (2011). Repeated-Sprint Ability – Part II. Sports Medicine41(9), 741–756. by improving the efficiency of energy systems and the nervous system, which can also be helpful for athletes in sports like soccer, basketball, lacrosse, and rugby.

#4: Are Modifiable

One of the most common questions coaches and athletes ask is: “How long should a floating sprint be?”

Although 20-30m is standard for the float sprint distance, floating sprint distances can be tailored to the athlete and goal.

A track.

How Can Floating Sprints Be Integrated Into A Runner’s Training Program?

Floating sprints are an advanced speed training technique that may not be appropriate for all runners or athletes, especially beginners.

Beginning with surges, basic accelerations, strides, and flying sprints is generally ideal.

Running floating sprints drills for track are typically incorporated as part of the dynamic warm-up before actual sprinting or running intervals on the track.

Make sure that if you do not move on after your floating sprints track drills to track running intervals, hills, resisted speed training, or other speed training, you should then cool down after your floating sprints workouts.

To learn more about the sprinting drills, check out this next guide:

References

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Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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