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Short sprints to improve your VO2 max

Adding some very short, high-intensity intervals into your training program can make you a faster runner

For many runners, the words “VO2 max workout” leave them shuddering, imagining themselves running 400m track repeats at their top speed until they puke. While long, hard workouts do have an occasional place in your training plan, new research shows that short-sprint interval training is very effective at improving your VO2 max.

Short sprint interval training

New research, published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Sports Science, aimed to find out how short sprint interval training with all-out sprints of about 10 seconds affected runners’ VO2 maxes. They analyzed 18 studies that compared this type of training with other types of high-intensity interval training and continuous training protocols and found that across several different sports (running, cycling, paddling, etc.), and found that short sprint interval training was highly effective at increasing the VO2 max, aerobic and anaerobic performance of young, healthy athletes.

Short sprint workouts

There are plenty of ways you can introduce short sprint workouts into your training program. The key for distance runners who want to get the most benefit from this type of training, however, is not to reduce your weekly running volume by more than 10 to 30 per cent. So, if you’ve got a short sprint workout in your weekly training schedule, make sure to make up at least some of the lost distance (since these workouts tend to be shorter) either in your warmup and cooldown or elsewhere in your week. Check out these workout examples to start including some short sprint training in your program:

Hill sprints

Hill sprints are great for developing strength, speed and power. They can range from 10 seconds up to 20 seconds, and should be performed at your all-out max. The number of hill sprints you do is less important than ensuring each interval is high-quality.

Warmup: 10-15 minutes easy jogging, followed by drills and flat strides

Workout: 6-10 x a 10-12 second hill, with 2-3 minutes of easy jogging or walking rest between each

Cooldown: 10-15 minutes easy jogging, followed by light stretching

Flying 30s

These are a bit longer, which brings in an element of speed endurance to the workout, but the long rest allows you to run each interval at your max speed. These can also be done at the end of a longer interval workout or tempo run.

Warmup: 10-15 minute easy jog, followed by drills and strides

Workout: 6-18 x 30s with 2-3 minutes rest

Cooldown: 10-15 minutes easy jog, followed by light stretching

Short sprints

These can also be done following a longer aerobic workout, or as a standalone session. Like the previous two workouts, doing each interval at a very high intensity is more important than doing a large number of intervals.

Warmup: 10-15 minutes easy jog, followed by drills and strides

Workout: 8-10 x 50-100m with 2-3 minutes rest between each

Cooldown: 10-15 minutes easy jog, followed by light stretching