The Flash Workout: How to Gain Superhuman Speed

This is a guest post from Mike Inscho of AlphaMaleFTS.

Growing up, I lived next to the local airport.

Naturally my ideal super power was the ability to fly…until I tried it by jumping from a picnic table.

Result: broken arm.

Ouch…lesson learned. This dude can’t fly, no matter how hard he flaps his arms.

Once I got out of the hospital, arm covered with a sweet neon blue cast, I thought maybe I should focus on a super power that was:

  • realistic for a mere mortal
  • less likely to result in catastrophic injury.

“Why hello there super human speed, you’re cool and meet my criteria. Do you want to be my super power?”

From that day forward I was running around pretending to be Sonic the Hedgehog (I was 8 and my arm was still in the blue cast, at this point it made sense…no judgement please).

Stealing bases during little league, being the only chubby lineman sprinting down the field in flag football, and just running from my Grandpa’s porch to the fence in the backyard because it was straight up fun.

Eventually I got older and joined the track team. If there was ever a time that I needed to level up my speed it was then. As a lil ole’ eighth grader taking on Seniors in the 100m, 200m and eventually the 400m, I was way out of my league. I might as well have been Raphael on the roof taking on the entire Foot Clan.

From then on, my love for sprinting and being super-humanly fast only grew. I leveled up again and again, even winning a few races along the way. Then, all of a sudden…I graduated high school.

Game over man. There are no more levels to complete!

Or so I thought. Five years later I had the opportunity to compete again. Mixed in with the mass amounts of running clubs and weekend 5k’s, I found what to me looked like a golden ring.

A track meet. With real sprinting events.

OH HAPPY DAYS!

I showed up in my uniform, which was nothing more than a couple of pairs of compression shorts and an old workout shirt that was a few sizes too small. All strategically chosen to reduce the drag caused by the wind as I sprinted flawlessly around the track, showcasing my superhuman speed for all to see.

Wrong.

This time I was the 25-year old getting smoked by a bunch of youngsters. I was the Tails to their Sonic, always one step behind.

A new game had begun, I needed to level up and reclaim the ability I once had.

Cue the montage…

Just Sprint Baby

the Flash action figure

Since then it’s been three sprint workouts per week.

One short, one medium and one long. No over thinking optimal running distances coupled with perfect rest periods interlaced with a nutrition plan straight out of Ivan Drago’s meal journal.

Just sprinting.

Why you ask? Because it’s freakin’ awesome, that’s why.

Need more than that? Okay fine!

When you sprint, you are contracting more muscles with more power. We have all read about how the best way to make progress in the weight room is to lift heavier weights for less reps instead of light weights for thousands of reps. Yet, for reasons beyond me, too many people can’t fathom that this approach would also work when running. Simply put, by running shorter distances at faster speeds you will build muscle and burn fat just like lifting heavy weights in the weight room.

You might be worried about your endurance.  Theoretically, it makes sense that if you switch all of your endurance building runs for sprints you will be less able to run long distances. Well, in reality, that’s not always the case.

By sprinting, you are able to build strength in the same muscles and movements patterns you use when running distance. After adding sprints you can actually cover more ground with the same effort, or cover the same ground with less effort leaving you plenty of energy for the kick to the finish line. Bottom line, by replacing a some of your longer runs with sprints you won’t suddenly lose the ability to complete a 10k, you’ll more than likely run it faster and/or easier because you’ll be stronger

Sprinting will also increase your overall endurance. When you workout at higher intensities (whether it’s weights or sprints) you create an oxygen debt that you’re body must recover from. This is called Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption (EPOC), or the Afterburn effect, and can last up to 72 hours after you end the workout. This extended, low level energy is supplied by the aerobic system. So now instead of working on your aerobic capacity by pounding pavement, you can work on your aerobic capacity by watching the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie and singing along to Turtle Poweras the credits roll. I call that a win-win.

Between the building of muscle, cultivation of power, and honing of the aerobic system there is no reason to not be sprinting.

Runners To Your Marks…

sprinter lined up on the starting blocks

It’s almost too easy to get started with adding sprints to your training.

A bit of open space is all you need.

For the sake of this article I’m going to assume that you’re doing some type of exercise already. Maybe it’s distance running, or maybe it’s weights. No matter, a few days of sprints thrown into the mix is going to help you level up in less time.

If you’re a complete newb and haven’t done anything resembling exercise in a while…don’t worry – we’ve got you covered in the next section. Just don’t think about sprinting near 100% effort. Sprinting is simple, but not necessarily easy. Depending on your ability you’re going to have to ease your way into sprinting.

Even then, you should stay at around 80% of your top speed to get the most out of your training. Running at 100% effort is only necessary if you’re competing in a track meet.

Get Set…

Getting set in starting blocks

Now that we’ve gotten all of that out of the way, here is the how part that compliments the why.

These are a few of the simplest and most effective sprinting workouts that you can do.

Hills

Hills. Are. Awesome.

They are a fantastic workout for beginner or advanced sprinters. You’re not only working against a constant resistance (gravity) but you’re also ingraining the forward lean and lower body mechanics of good sprinting form.

If you don’t have a hill nearby that you already know of, just google “your city name” and “sledding hill” or “reservoir.” Most of the time you’ll be able to find something nearby. Even if you only find one that is a bit of a drive away it’s 100% possible to pick a day, make the trip, and then do a hill sprint and park workout or body weight workout.

Since you’re limited to what hills are nearby, it’s worthless to prescribe a distance. Be resourceful and use what you have available. If you look at the hill and think it’s steep enough and long enough to have you huffing and puffing by the time you reach the top, you’ve found a keeper. Do 6-20 sprints depending on the steepness, length and if you’re doing just sprints or if you’re doing sprints and resistance training.

Flying 30m

A flying 30m is just an 80% max effort sprint of 30m with a 10m running start. You’ll run 10m as you build up to 80% effort and then hold that 80% effort for 30m. These can actually be done for any distance, but usually are maxed out at 150m. The goal of these types of sprints is to work on max speed and proper form. Before you even reach 150m at or around 80% max effort your form will start to break down. Mike Smith (author of High Performance Sprinting) sums it up nicely by telling his athletes “speed before fatigue.”

Start off with 30m and work your way up to 150m as you get faster. Anything from 4-12 reps is worthwhile. Keep the total distance around 400m-500m (i.e. 30m x12 or 90m x4) and rest for 2-4 minutes between sprints. As soon as your form starts to break down stop the workout.

Corners and Straightaways (C&S)

If you have a 400m track close by this workout is very handy. C&S is an interval workout with a 1:1 work to rest ratio. In this case sprinting 100m and then walking 100m for your rest. On a 400m track this means you’ll sprint on the corner and then walk on the straightaways. You can switch it around so you’re sprinting on the straightaways and walking the corners too.

The most common approach to this training is to do 2 laps sprinting the corners and then 2 laps sprinting the straightaways. That way you end up doing 8 100m sprints and they are evenly split between the corners and straightaways.

60/120s

60/120s are another method of playing with work to rest ratios. All you need is an open area and a stop watch of some sort. After warming up, you will sprint for 60 seconds and then walk or slowly jog as a recovery for 120 seconds. This gives you a work to rest ratio of 1:2 and will allow you to recover a bit more in between sets. Personally, this is my favorite method when on a beach or when I can’t find a track.

Don’t False Start…

Picture of Leroy Jenkins

Don’t go Leroy on us.

When is the last time you ran?

How much extra weight are you carrying?

Are you just starting to get into fitness or have you been in the game for some time?

If you’re new to running, start here.  If you want to not suck at running, read this.  

Just like you wouldn’t walk into gym for the very first and try to squat 1000 pounds, you shouldn’t head out the track/field/beach and start doing 1oo meter time trials. Sprinting requires you to put a lot of force into the ground, and if you’re not strong enough or conditioned enough you can hurt yourself before you get any of the benefits. A good sprint workout will leave you feeling refreshed, not beaten down, so don’t chase soreness or judge the effectiveness of the workout by how hard it is to walk the next day.

Sprinting is simple, but you can still get injured if you skip the warm up or take the wrong approach. Follow these tips and you’ll be playing tag with The Flash in no time.

High Intensity, Low Volume

Sprinting is high intensity. Please don’t leap out of your chair and go do 15 sprints of 100m with only 30 seconds rest. That amount of volume right away is unrealistic and unsafe. You wouldn’t run a marathon without working up to it, so don’t go crazy with sprinting until you’ve built a base. 75%-85% intensity is enough to give you a workout while still allowing your muscles and nervous system time to recover.

Speed before fatigue

The majority of a sprint workout is going to be spent resting in between sets. This is hard for some people to grasp at first (my self included) but is necessary for getting the training benefits. The longer rest periods allow your muscles to replenish the locally stored energy and your nervous system to work efficiently. When you decided to take shorter rest periods between sprints you don’t allow either of these two things to happen. Incomplete rest can cause you to compensate for tired muscles, reinforce bad running mechanics and if you’re very unlucky, cause a muscle pull. These workouts are just as much of a test of patience as they are a test of your speed.

Get Loose

Without a proper warmup you’re asking to get injured. Sprinting is a full body movement and to do it efficiently requires the whole body to be warm, loose and primed to do some serious work. Jumping jacks, seal jacks, bodyweight squats, squat-to-stand, mountain climbers, push ups, push up pluses and Xs are the least that I do before any type of training. Steve has already hit this topic too, so there is no reason to not warm up before hitting the track.

Ease into it

Jumping rope is a safe alternative if you’re hesitant to jump into sprinting. It’s low impact, but still plyometric, and a fantastic full body workout. From there you can mix in slow striders (gradually accelerating for 50m-150m) until you feel comfortable doing a full sprints.  You can start with interval training too.

Injuries are No Bueno

Trying to come to a complete stop within two feet of crossing the finish line is the second fasted way to injure yourself (right after skipping the warmup). If you’ve ever watched a collegiate or Olympic sprinter, they run through the line and gradually slow down. Sometimes taking as much as 75m extra to come to a complete stop. Do the same.

Unless you’re attempting to break a world speed record, there isn’t much reason to worry about an explosive start like you see in competition. Use a standing start or take a few lead in steps in place of starting from a dead stop.

BANG!!!

sprinters at the start of a race

There is nothing more natural then feeling the air rush past your face as you pick up speed.

On the beach, in the woods, on the field, on the court, up the side of a massive hill…it’s too easy to find a place to knock out some sprints and make it part of your routine.

Don’t over think it.

Pick a day or two each week and just run fast.

Mike Inscho is an Army Officer and Strength Coach. You can find his writing on speed, strength and power at AlphaMaleFTS.com or connect with him on Facebook and Twitter.

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Quick note: My buddy Kappy is raising money to send kids with cancer to summer camp.  I honestly can’t think of a more worthwhile cause to give a shout out to.  If you or somebody you know has been affected by cancer, check out the site and consider donating a few bucks.  Absolutely no pressure, just wanted to help out a friend doing great things!

Today’s rebel hero: Heather T. rockin her NF tank top in Machu Picchu, Peru!

In Heather’s words: “Today I’m super pumped to be sending you a photo of myself in my Nerd Fitness tank top (woohoo!) taken two days ago on the top of Machu Picchu mountain which is 600 vertical meters above the Machu Picchu ruins.  You can see the ruins behind me to the right of my hip where the light green “saddle” between the mountains is.  Almost no one climbs Machu Picchu mountain because it’s so damn high and the air is thin (Huayna Picchu is the smaller peaks in the background) so we almost had the mountain to ourselves.  It’s like climbing stairs of insanity (with a killer straight-down drop off) at light speed for an hour and a half.

Have a cool photo of you in a NF hoodiest-shirts, or tank top?  Please send it in to [email protected] so we can get you up here on the blog!

Resources:
High Performance Training for Track and Field – Bill Bowerman
High Performance Sprinting – Mike Smith
Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning, Third Edition – NSCA

Photos: the flash action figurethe flash logo, sprinter, sprinters start, sprinter on the marks, leroy jenkins

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  • Dontavious

    Thanx I read this a couple of weeks ago when I used to run with my brother I was always the the last one but now I’m so fast they call me panther at football practice because of my famous spaceship attack which is on defense and my zero gravity run which is on offense in addition to know I play on the shuttles so thank you

    Excuse me for my bad grammer I have problems my doctor told me that I have to go to speech classes so sorry and bye and thanx

    P.s. I’m 11 years old

  • dido

    75%-85% of effort is not really sprinting.. (although it is enough to switch to sprinting-like form) but if you dont want to get hurt, it is realistic. Nothing worse than some new-baked coaches that work with high level athletes recommending recreational runners do 90-100% effort 2 or 3 times a week. (You could maybe do it every 4th week or so, but you will overtrain a bit, and the next week you ll be weak)

    Number 1. concern- do not pull your ham string and/or a quad.. you eventually will anyway, but postpone it by cancelling your sprinting session for at least 2 weeks as soon as you feel an uneasy pulling in any of these.. if you have a gym available, it is a really good idea to work on your hamstrings with weights for a month or two before you attempt a serious sprint… (no need to go heavy)

    For me personally, and I think it goes for most reasonably in shape people.. a limiting factor in reaching top speed is insufficient flexibility, rather than insufficient power or slow legs.

    If for some reason you dont especially care what your 100m time is, I would rather recommend uphill running. 50,100, 200m it dont matter, you will get the benefit. No risk of going too slow..

    Take as much rest as you need in between sets, and than some more.. do not be concerned with 1.19:1, or 2.15:1 or whatever rest to work ratio anyone recommends you.. And if you do your runs with adequate intensity, 3-6 sets is the most you can expect, and need to do.. A proper warm up for the sprint will already pre-exhaust you somewhat.. If you feel you have some strength left, finish it off with a 400/800 meters run.. After that, you re done, I promise..

  • Suri Perez

    I so agree with you. Sprinting is AWESOME. Hills are AWESOME. We’re totally n-sync.

    I do sprint training 2/3 times a week and it really is a great workout and
    grants wonderful satisfaction.

    Thanks for the article.

  • John

    It’s good to go all out, not 80%, but 100%. Run like hell for as long as you can then stop to catch your breath, then do it again. This is a great workout to relieve tension, build muscle, get exhilarated and youthful. Longer runs are not required.

  • Shannon michael Matthews

    Hey Mike I’m Shannon 18 years of age and I’m doing 10.78 to be exact but I believe there is room for improvement with what you said so thank you very much.

  • Bon Jovi

    You’re a fucking homo…..