Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Gearing up for spring sprints

Sprinting is a fun, motivational, and efficient training technique, and I always look forward to the first "interval session" of the Spring. Not only do they have a positive metabolic effect (more on that below), they indicate right away how fit you are, so sprinting is useful for setting benchmarks for the season. There's no hiding from sprints, in determining how fast and fit you are at a moment in time; you can't fudge them.

These techniques are also referred to as sprint interval training (SIT) or high-intensity interval training (HIIT).

March 15 will be my first set, and I'll report all the stats afterward (I'll record it on Endomondo). I'm planning to go to a soccer field, and if that's too wet underfoot, a track. What protocol will I use? Certainly not Tabata right off the bat. I will use the so-called Wingate Test, which is 4 to 6 all-out 30-second sprints with 4 minutes rest between them. I'm going to be running, but you can do these on a bike, Nordic skis, in a swimming pool, or whatever your preference is.

You want to fashion a benchmark that you can compare yourself to later in the season, involving objective and subjective measurements. The former involves how many of the sprints you actually finished (let's say you only could get through four). Since the Wingate is an easier sprint protocol with its long rest period in between reps, then it's probably much easier to do all six of the repetitions. In this case, you could measure the distance covered during each sprint (i.e., the stronger reps will cover more distance).

With or without a heartrate monitor (a device you wear around your chest that sends heart-beat measures to a sports watch), you can measure how long it takes your heart rate to recover from a maximum effort, and go back beneath 120 beats per minute.

This is sometimes referred to as "heartrate recovery," and the faster your heartrate recovers from a maximum effort, the fitter you are.

A fancy term for how whipped or baked you feel subjectively during the sprints is "perceived exertion." Sometimes coaches use a scale of from 6 to 20, or the "Borg Rating of Perceived Exertion Scale." See this article for more detail on this Borg scale.

It's considered a fairly accurate nontechnical or intrusive method for determing how hard you are working physically. A set of sprints that is associated with a lower number on the scale means you are getting fitter. However, it's not as simple as that; you might just be more rested or having a better day. At any rate, your exertion level is one of the subjective parameters you want to measure, and compare with next time.

What's healthy metabolically about sprinting? All-out (or close to all-out) intervals have some special qualities. You're depleting the glycogen in your Type IIx leg muscles (the faster-fatiguing, power-oriented fibers in the quads and hamstrings), and as a result your body will pull glucose in the bloodstream into the skeletal muscles to make more glycogen – a dynamic that helps keep you insulin sensitive and with a healthy-fasting glucose level. Besides, the sprints overall are comparable as a cardio-training tool to much longer-in-duration and slower endurance workouts.

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