Sprint Your Way to a 6 Pack

It’s almost time for the summer, and you’ve got everything except the beach body.
Many people start sprinting to get awesome thighs, a great butt, and a fat-free physique all the while keeping their muscle intact.


A quick internet search shows that sprinting is one of the most talked about things in online fitness articles. It’s up there with other trending fitness topics like intermittent fasting, supplementation and thigh gap.

The problem is, most of the sprinting articles I come across are written just for the “fitness” component. They aren’t written by people who have been coached on sprinting! Not to toot my own horn, but I’m one of the few who has, and for years. So I’m here to tell you how to do it, and then give you a workout that isn’t only safe, but realistic too.

The truth is, being an efficient sprinter has prerequisites:

  • Ample flexibility and mobility
  • Technique
  • The ability to think intuitively

If you’re missing even one of these attributes, you’re on the road to major muscle imbalances, joint stress or even an injury.  Read on if you don’t want to be one of those guys.

Step 1: Learn How to Move

Sprinting is kind of like Olympic lifting.

If you’re lacking flexibility or mobility, or have lagging muscle groups, it will be obvious when you go to perform such complex movements. The result? An embarrassing disaster like this:

If you thought those guys were demonstrating good running form, you might want to check your head.

Point blank – if you’re not flexible, you’re selling yourself short and risking injury.

You don’t need to be an acrobat, but it’s important to have full range of motion, especially in your shoulder and hip joints. Mobility training is for another article, but here’s a quick checklist to get you started:

  • Focus on opening up the hip flexors. Foam roll the quads, lacrosse ball roll the TFL, and stretch the hips to reduce tightness and unwanted knee stress. These will all help you keep a high knee drive when sprinting.
  • Pec tightness is the enemy of a full arm swing. A lot of weight lifting trainees already have thick upper backs with wider lats, which can limit the full backswing of the arm. Adding a tight chest to the mix further decreases the shoulder’s ability to move.  Speed and range of the arms has a major effect on how your legs move, so releasing their tightness is essential to your success as a sprinter.  Foam and lacrosse ball rolling the outer chest is a good place to start, along with standard stretching.
  • Always go through a basic warm up before beginning your sprinting workout. As a guide, here are three of my favourite mobility drills to get you started on the right foot:

Cradle Walks 

Spiderman Walks 

Shoulder Dislocates 

Step 2: Learn the Technique

Just like anything else, sprinting takes plenty of practice.

For some reason a lot of people think they can ignore their body’s cues and go balls to the wall with no ramifications. Sprinting might not be a loaded exercise, but it’s still important to pay close attention to form.  Let’s start from the ground up.

Feet and Knees

It’s might seem strange, but sprinting with your toes flexed upwards (dorsiflexion) allows you to run as efficiently as possible.

sprint workout

Sprinting with your toes flexed upwards (dorsiflexion) allows you to run as efficiently as possible.. Image courtesy of Top Velocity.

As a varsity sprinter, this was the absolute hardest thing for me to master, but it rings true. Letting the toes drop may create the illusion of lightness and speed, but it actually creates more friction as your toes “chip” into the ground with every stride. That slows you down and creates knee stress over time.

Dorsiflexing your feet allows you to complete your stride and keep your movement kinetic. Don’t worry – you won’t land on your heel. Rather, you’ll land on the ball of your foot (where you should) and continue moving smoothly forward.

Your knees should travel straight down the track. Avoid letting them bow outwards or cave inwards when you run. Also, there should be a high knee drive. A runner should aim for a nearly parallel angle to the track with the leading thigh. Try having someone film your sprints, even once, to self-critique your form and notice your weak points. If you notice this happening, it may be indicative of more hip tightness and immobility.

Hips and Core

Just like weight training, running requires your hips, knees and shoulders to stay in full alignment as much as possible.

It’s inefficient and risky to allow the body to twist while sprinting.  Sprinting requires hip mobility, but your core and lumbar spine should be stable and immobile. Remember – the primary function of the abdominal muscles is to stabilize the spine and resist unwanted external forces.

sprint workout

Remember – the primary function of the abdominal muscles is to stabilize the spine and resist unwanted external forces.

With that said, you will sprint most efficiently when your trunk stays still as your extremities move around it.

Arms & Shoulders

Think “cheek to cheek” when considering your arm swing.

This means that at the start and finish of each full stride, your hands should line up with your face cheeks and the butt cheeks, respectively. This motion requires a fully mobile swing and strong elbow drive back, which directly affects your leg speed and stride length.

sprint workout

At the start and finish of each full stride, your hands should line up with your face cheeks and the butt cheeks, respectively. Image courtesy of Mobility 101

From the front view, the arms should naturally swing towards the midline on the upswing, not across the body. If your hands reach across to your opposing pec muscle or shoulder, you need to clean up your form.

The same rules apply to the shoulders.  Avoid staying tight, which will reduce your arm swing and mobility. At the same time, don’t allow the shoulders to roll around or compromise your orientation. In sprinting, the abs and shoulders are the powerhouses of the upper body, so use them right to ensure your energy is being put to good use.


This one’s simple. Stay relaxed!

Tension through the neck and face will resonate through the entire body and you’ll end up running stiffer than the Tin Man on Winstrol.  Tune in and keep your eyes focused on the finish line.

Step 3: Use the Drills

It’s one thing to read about sprinting technique. It’s quite another to apply it.

I don’t expect you to be able to jump onto the track after reading this article and crush a 10.3 in your next 100 metre. You need to practice the movements in a controlled fashion – ingrain the techniques you’re looking to use.

Even the most elite sprinters practice using drills.  These were my bread and butter drills when I competed:

A Skips

Emphasize a high knee lift with a rhythmic “bounce” in each step. Stay on the balls of your feet and remember to use a full arm swing and stay tall. Complete 3 sets.

Running A

This time, remove the bounce and increase the stride frequency. It’s like sprinting on the spot, but instead, gradually progress forward. Cover a distance of around 15 metres. Again, do 3 sets.


Try to cover a significant amount of ground and maintain a forward lean. Work to take off from a straight leg extension on each stride. This exercise emphasizes forward intention and a linear force output down the track. These cover more ground per stride, so travel 40 metres. And you guessed it – do this for 3 sets.

Step 4: Put it All Together

Now it’s time to sprint.

Since you’re not a pro, I recommend using a falling start (you’ll see an example of falling starts in my sprint videos below).

Starting from a completely still position can encourage tightness, which, as you’ve learned through this article, is the enemy when it comes to sprinting. Plus, you’re not going for Rio 2016. You just want to run lightning fast and torch some fat.

For the first 15 to 20 strides of your sprint, you should focus on generating your momentum and reaching top end speed. Just like a car, this takes time. The more efficient the machine, the less time it will take to reach.

Most sprinters refer to this speed generation as the drive phase. During this phase, you should focus on three things:

  • Keep your head down and chin tucked. Having your eyes focused on the track will help you to emphasize…
  • A strong forward lean. Don’t pull yourself down the track by “reaching for the track” with your legs. Push yourself down the track by driving to full extension (think of the bounding drill above). Counter this on the front with a strong, high knee drive.
  • A powerful arm drive. This is the phase where building speed matters, so drive hard with the arms to set the tone. Don’t cut your range of motion!

If you don’t get to max speed by using a strong drive phase, you never will. Maintain the forward lean and the slight feeling of falling forward for 15 strides, then slowly raise your head out of the drive phase.  

Now that you’ve reached top speed, it’s time to stay there for the rest of your sprint. Welcome to maintenance phase. It’s time to turn off the “jets” and let kinetic energy and momentum do their job.

You should be as relaxed as you can get during this phase, running tall, and not expending much additional energy. Every element we’ve mentioned should still be there, but now it’s just a matter of maintaining your speed.  

The Best Damn Sprint Workout, Period

I’m not gonna give you one. I’m gonna give you two.

The first will emphasize drive phase sprinting, and the second will emphasize maintenance phase.

Remember to precede your workout with all of the warm-ups and sprint drills listed above. That includes the mobility work, foam rolling, stretching and track drills.

Don’t be stupid – just do them! In the case of the sprint workouts I did in university, the prep work normally took as long as or longer than the workout itself.

Day 1

  • 3x15m (focus on your falling start and a proper takeoff into your first few strides).
  • 3x30m (full drive phase)
  • 2x50m @ 95%**(drive and maintenance phase)
  • 2x60m @ 95%
  • 1x80m @ 95%
  • 1x100m @ 85-90%

** 95% refers to speed relative to your max effort sprint. A 95% sprinting speed should look like a full speed sprint to an onlooker, but should feel like you have one gear left in reserve if needed. Holding back like this will encourage relaxation and remove tension and anxiety from your run. It allows you to focus on form.

NOTE: At distances greater than 50m, rest a minimum of 3 minutes between sprints. Too many articles tell you to rest for short periods of time for ultimate training results. To be blunt, crossfit recommends the same methods, and we all know the risks involved there.  To get the most out of your actual sets of work, allow your muscular and nervous system some time to recover before pushing it again.

Day 2

  • 3x15m
  • 3x30m
  • 2x60m @ 80%
  • 5x150m @ 80-85% (focus on maintenance phase and speed endurance. Open up your strides and hold on to your high knee lift.)

To cool down from both workouts, add a 5 to 10 minute walk to the end and finish with static stretching of all major muscle groups. Don’t rush this.

You’ll likely be sore from Day 1, so arrange these workouts with time to rest in between. And don’t do either of them after leg day (and definitely not ON leg day!).

One More Thing – Should You Do your Sprint Workouts on the Treadmill?

Only as a last resort. If you can avoid it, I would.

The thing about treadmills is that most of them don’t go fast enough to actually simulate your top speed. It may feel fast, but it just isn’t the same.

sprint workout

Only as a last resort. If you can avoid it, I would. Image courtesy of Life Fitness.

More importantly, the treadmill operates by way of a moving belt on a platform. This prevents key posterior chain muscles from doing any work because you’re not using them to push your body forward. Instead, your foot hits the belt and the belt pulls your leg through – it’s your job to simply keep up with the tread.

This is why treadmill zealots always get rocked during their first outdoor running workouts in the summer. It might be the same mileage, but their posterior chain has become untrained from spending the entire winter season on the treadmill.

The moral of the story: Get outside!

Sprint to Lean

There you have it. The best damn sprinting article you’ll ever read.

Sprinting is one of those workouts that can’t lie to you because there’s no cheating. You’re either running fast or you’re not.

Elite-level athletes have the bodies to prove that it’s arguably the best training method for spiking metabolic demand and shedding body fat by the pound.  You’ll also train the fast twitch muscle fibers (which helps maintain your existing muscle), blast your cardio, and become much more athletic than you could with any gym workout.

Say hello to a new beach body – and when you get to the beach, challenge a few meatheads to a friendly race to see who gets the girl.

About the Author

Lee BoyceLee Boyce is an internationally recognized Fitness Writer and Strength & Conditioning Coach based in Toronto, ON. His work is featured in the industry’s largest publications, like Men’s Health, TNATION, Esquire, SHAPE, Bodybuilding.com, Muscle & Fitness, Men’s Fitness, The Huffington Post, and more. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook. Be sure to visit his website for his blog, more articles and media.