How To Start Sprinting – And Why We Should All Sprint Sometimes

Speedwork is one of the pillars of strong, sustainable, and happy running.

When most people think about starting running as a form of exercise, they consider long distance running.

This doesn’t necessarily mean the intention will be to train for marathons, but rather that they will build up to running or jogging at a relatively comfortable pace for several miles without stopping.

However, whether you are already a consistent long-distance runner or simply looking to add running to your training program, sprinting is an often overlooked sector of running workouts.

Sprint training or sprint workouts can be challenging, engaging, and highly beneficial to long-distance runners and everyday individuals looking to boost their fitness level.

But how do you get started with high-intensity sprint training? What are the best sprinting drills to improve your top speed?

This guide will teach you how to start sprinting, discuss the benefits of speed training for long-distance runners and general athletes, give tips to improve sprinting mechanics and provide examples of good sprint workouts for beginners to help you run faster.

We will cover: 

Let’s jump in!

A person sprinting on a track.

How To Start Sprinting

Beginners often ask: “How do you start sprinting for beginners, or what are the basic steps to begin sprint training?”

There’s ultimately no rulebook or mandated step-by-step protocol to start sprint training as a beginner—you simply start.

However, understanding proper sprinting form will help reduce the risk of injuries and allow you to run faster.

What is the proper technique for a beginner to start sprinting?

Here are some sprinting technique tips:

  • Keep your head neutral and your gaze forward: envision Usain Bolt staring down the finish line of the 100m dash at the Olympics. Don’t look down at your feet or crane your neck towards the sky. This will add unnecessary tension to your neck and shoulders.
  • Keep your face relaxed. Don’t clench your teeth.
  • Keep your shoulders relaxed and down away from your ears. Holding tension in your shoulders zaps energy and reduces the efficiency of your arm carriage.
  • Pump your arms vigorously alongside your torso.
  • Keep your hips square and avoid excessive rotation or twisting of the trunk relative to your pelvis.
  • Engage your core to stay stable and strong.
  • Use good upright posture. Your chest should be up and proud. Don’t slouch or bend your back backward. Think: erect and upright.
  • Land on your midfoot or forefoot rather than your heel. Keeping your foot under your center of gravity reduces the braking force applied to the leading leg. This maximizes your forward momentum and minimizes negative energy (energy lost to the ground). Your shin should be vertical just before you land on your foot.
  • Try to minimize ground contact time and increase flight time, a strategy shown to increase maximum velocity when sprinting. Think: fast feet, balls of feet. Don’t overstride.1Monte, A., Muollo, V., Nardello, F., & Zamparo, P. (2016). Sprint running: how changes in step frequency affect running mechanics and leg spring behaviour at maximal speed. Journal of Sports Sciences35(4), 339–345. https://doi.org/10.1080/02640414.2016.1164336
  • Drive your knees up and power through your calves and glutes.
  • Run rhythmically with a balanced, even stride between both legs. 
  • Stay relaxed in your posture despite running at max effort.
A person sprinting on a track.

What are the Best Sprinting Drills to Improve your Technique and Sprinting Mechanics?

In addition to actual sprinting intervals, your sprint sessions should include sprinting drills that help dial in proper form and sprinting technique.

Sprinting drills will help you increase your turnover, foot speed, explosive acceleration, and sprinting form.

Here are some of the best sprinting drills for sprinters and distance runners alike:

#1: High Knees

The high knees sprinting drill exaggerates the upward knee drive to build strength in your calves, glutes, hip flexors, core, and arms.

You won’t cover as much ground in the forward direction but rather work on your turnover and forefoot landing as you perform this sprinting drill.

High knees sprinting is also a great cardio workout when you have limited room because you can practice the drill by sprinting in place.

A person bounding on a field.

#2: Bounding

Bounding is a good sprinting drill to improve your explosive strength. This plyometric exercise is essentially exaggerated skipping.

Aim to land lightly on your feet and be as explosive off the balls of your feet as possible.

The goal is to maximize your vertical height rather than your horizontal distance so that you maximize the benefits of the plyometric power training.

#3: A Skips 

The A Skips running drill is great for a warm-up exercise for sprint sessions.

You can read all about how to perform this running technique drill here.

#4: Resisted Sprints

Performing resistance sprints is one of the best sprinting drills to improve your maximum sprint speed.

You can use a running parachute or weighted sled or even have someone sprint behind you who is tethered to you by a heavy resistance band to add resistance.

One study found that implementing parachute-resisted sprints into a four-week training program improved 0-20-meter acceleration by 3.3 percent compared to the control group who did unresisted sprints. 

The sprinters who used the parachute increased their stride frequency (turnover or cadence) during the maximal velocity phase of the sprint.

For these sprint drills, sprint at an all-out effort with the resistance for 25 to 50m and then release the form of resistance you are using. 

Then, continue sprinting at your max effort as just a bodyweight sprint. This will help you develop strength and improve your top speed.

A person running with a parachute.

#5: Accelerations

Sprinters should train from starting blocks and practice the initial acceleration.

Long-distance runners don’t necessarily need to use starting blocks for sprint workouts, but even just training the initial acceleration from a dead stop is a great way to build explosive power.

The faster you can accelerate from the starting position to your top speed, the better your sprinting performance will be.

#6: Plyometrics

Any type of plyometric exercise will help build strength and power that can translate to better sprinting.2Gómez-Molina, J., Ogueta-Alday, A., Camara, J., Stickley, C., & García-lópez, J. (2017). Effect of 8 weeks of concurrent plyometric and running training on spatiotemporal and physiological variables of novice runners. European Journal of Sport Science18(2), 162–169. https://doi.org/10.1080/17461391.2017.1404133

‌Plyometric exercises such as box jumps, single leg hops, burpees, broad jumps, depth jumps, and even jump roping can potentially help you become a faster sprinter.

A box jump.

#7: Strength Training

Sprint sessions on the track should be balanced with a strength training workout in the gym.

Strengthening the muscles in your lower body, such as the hamstrings, glutes, calves, quads, and hip flexors, can help you become a faster sprinter.

Examples include lunges, squats, split squats, step-ups, deadlifts, and calf raises.

To maximize the effectiveness of strength exercises for sprinting mechanics and speed training, you should perform fewer reps with higher weights.

This will help build muscle and increase overall strength.

Working with a personal trainer or running coach can also help you identify muscle imbalances and weaknesses that might be contributing to compromised sprinting technique.

A knowledgeable personal trainer can then help you come up with the best strength exercises and plyometric exercises to improve your sprinting mechanics to help you run faster.

People lined up on a track.

How To Start Sprinting for Beginners?

There isn’t a definitive list of the best sprint workouts or speed training sessions that will necessarily apply to all runners.

Competitive sprinters will have varying needs for the types of sprinting drills in sprint sessions they should be doing based on the sprint distances they are competing in.

However, as a certified running coach and personal trainer, my philosophy for the long-distance runners and everyday individuals I coach trying to incorporate HIIT sprint workouts into their training program is that variety is essential.

This means that you should play around with the number of reps you do with your sprint interval training workouts and the distances and paces for your speed training sessions.

Most importantly, when you first start with any type of speed training or sprint workouts, you need to start with just one or two sessions per week with plenty of rest in between each sprint interval, and limit the total distance.

A peron on a track.

For example, beginners might start with just a couple of strides after a distance run or try doing a handful of 15-second all-out sprints followed by a minute of walking for a basic high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workout.

Then, you can gradually add a second sprinting workout per week, gradually becoming more structured in your sprint interval training.

All of your sprint training workouts should have a full warm-up with gentle cardio, dynamic stretches, and sprinting drills.

After the interval training sprints, you should also do a full cool down.

Sprinting is a very high-intensity exercise, so it is important to give your cardiovascular and musculoskeletal systems time to warm up and cool down properly to prevent injury and maximize the efficiency of your neuromuscular system.

Here are a few example sprinting workouts for beginners:

A person sprinting on a track.

Sprinting Workouts For Beginners

#1: Ins and Outs

Running coaches often recommend ins and outs for sprinters to work on building speed.

For this sprint workout, you want to sprint the straightaways of the track and jog each curve.

This means that you will be sprinting 100 meters, then jogging 100 meters, then sprinting 100 meters, then jogging 100 meters, and so on.

Each straightaway should be run at essentially 95 to 100% effort, and the recovery jogs can be as slow as needed.

Beginners can start with just two full laps or eight ins and outs.

Build up to 4-8 laps, depending on your fitness level and the goals of your sprint training plan.

A person sprinting on a track.

#2: 200 Meter Accelerations

Accelerations can be a great sprint training workout to improve speed.

As the name describes, an acceleration involves starting at a relatively fast speed and progressively increasing your running speed until you are at your top speed by the end of the interval.

Here’s an example of an acceleration interval workout for beginners to build speed, turnover, speed, endurance, and anaerobic capacity.

  1. Do a full warm-up by running 800 to 1600 meters (2-4 laps) and performing a dynamic stretching routine.
  2. Run 4-10 x 200 meter accelerations.
  3. Run the first 50 meters at 400 meter race pace or 90% of your maximum effort. 
  4. With 100 meters to go, increase your pace to 95% of your maximum effort, and by the time you hit the 1500-meter mark, you should be at your maximum sprint speed.

Take a complete recovery of 400 meters of very easy jogging between intervals.

People runinng on a track.

#3: 300 Meter Accelerations

You can progress your beginner sprinting workout by extending each sprint interval to 300 meters.

Instead of adjusting your speed every 50 meters, crank up your speed every 100m so that you are hitting your maximum speed in the final 100 meter sprint.

Begin with 4 x 300 meters, and as your fitness improves, work up to 6 to 8 repeats.

Take 200-400 meters of very easy jogging in between each interval.

#4: Hill Sprint Workout

You don’t have to do all your sprint sessions on the track. Hill sprints are a great way to combine speed training with resistance training.

Pick a short hill and drive up and over, sprinting as fast as possible. Keep your stride length short, your turnover quick, and your hip drive powerful.

Complete 10-20 reps of a 50-100m hill.

Drive your arms and focus on fast turnover and a powerful stride. The goal is to increase the force of ground contact at push-off to maximize acceleration and power.

Cool down after your hill sprints.

A person sprinting on a track.

#5: Pyramid Interval Workout

After a thorough warm-up, head to the track for sprint intervals that will get progressively longer and then shorter.

Sprint 50 meters, 60 meters, 100 meters, 150 meters, 200 meters, 300 meters, 400 meters, 300 meters, 200 meters, 150 meters, 100 meters, 60 meters, and 50 meters.

Focus on fast turnover and decreasing ground contact time. Use good posture, keep your chest up, and use a short, swift stride, pushing yourself to near max effort.

Take a complete recovery in between each interval.

Overall, even if you aren’t training to become the next Usain Bolt or 100m Olympic champion sprinter, adding sprinting to your training program can help bring your distance running performance and fitness level to the next level.

People sprinting on a track.

References

  • 1
    Monte, A., Muollo, V., Nardello, F., & Zamparo, P. (2016). Sprint running: how changes in step frequency affect running mechanics and leg spring behaviour at maximal speed. Journal of Sports Sciences35(4), 339–345. https://doi.org/10.1080/02640414.2016.1164336
  • 2
    Gómez-Molina, J., Ogueta-Alday, A., Camara, J., Stickley, C., & García-lópez, J. (2017). Effect of 8 weeks of concurrent plyometric and running training on spatiotemporal and physiological variables of novice runners. European Journal of Sport Science18(2), 162–169. https://doi.org/10.1080/17461391.2017.1404133
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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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