Floating Sprints, Explained: 4 Benefits + How To Program Them Into Your Training

Get to max sprint speed, then dial it back a notch

There are a variety of different running drills that are useful for runners and athletes of other sports alike.

For example, A skips and high knees can help improve running form and technique and can also be 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.

In this guide, we will discuss what floating sprints are, the benefits of floating sprints for runners and other athletes, how to do them, and examples of some of the best floating sprints workouts to incorporate into your training to run faster.

We will cover: 

  • What Is a Floating Sprint?
  • How to Do Floating Sprints
  • What Are the Benefits of Floating Sprints for Runners?
  • How to Program Floating Sprints Into Training

Let’s dive in! 

A person doing a floating sprint.

What Is a Floating Sprint?

Before we can describe the best floating sprints workouts, let’s define floating sprints and discuss the meaning of “float sprinting.”

A floating sprint, or a float sprint, is a type of speed training for running that is used by sprinters, track athletes, as well as 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.

A person sprinting.

How to Do Floating Sprints

So, how do you do a floating sprint, or what does a floating sprinting speed workout entail?

Typically, the sprint-float-sprint workout means that the runner will sprint all out or do an acceleration to maximum speed for a certain distance and then ease up or relax so that they feel like they are “floating while running” instead of putting the pedal to the metal before hitting maximum velocity sprinting again.

The float sprint speed or effort level is generally said to be 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 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 20 to 30m and then try to hold maximum sprinting velocity until the 50m mark on a track and then relax the pace 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 or a middle-distance runner or soccer player might do a total distance for a sprint float sprint drill of 300 meters.

He or she would start at the straightaway and accelerate for the first 30m or so and try to hit maximum velocity sprinting through the first part of the turn and then float sprint for 25 meters or so before accelerating through the rest of the final turn before sprinting all the way to the finish line.

Distance runners or endurance coaches often try to make the association of 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.

In some ways, there are some similarities between fartlek workouts for distance runners and floating sprints for sprinters, but aside from the concept of changing running speeds and effort levels without stopping, there isn’t all that much overlap between fartlek vs float spring training.

During a fartlek workout, the differences between the pace and effort level between the “on” or hard intervals with 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, and a coach or someone watching the runner would be able to 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 person sprinting.

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

On the other hand, a regular spectator would probably be unable to detect much of any difference during the float sprint portion of a floating sprint sandwiched workout where the athlete is alternating 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.

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.

Here are some of the top floating sprint benefits:

A person sprinting.

#1: Floating Sprints 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 biomechanics and performance.

#2: Floating Sprints 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.

Needing to shift gears with such precision requires a tremendous amount of coordination, 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 that the runner stays very focused and shifts gears incredibly quickly since most of the floating sprints are very short, and you have to get the nervous system firing and shifting 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: Floating Sprints 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 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 ability 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: Floating Sprints 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 person running.

How to Program Floating Sprints Into Training 

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

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.

Learn more about the best sprinting drills here. 

A track.
Photo of author
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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