Sprinting vs Conditioning: What’s the Difference?

While sprinting and conditioning may seem similar, they are two different modes of training that are done to achieve two different goals. When sprinting, the goal is to maximize acceleration and top-end speed capabilities by rapidly producing and putting force into the ground. This is also known as an athletes Rate of Force Development (RFD). When conditioning, the goal is generally to increase maximal aerobic capacity. Knowing the difference between these two modes of training can make or break an athletes development in regards to improving their sprint speed and performance. In this blog, I will discuss the key differences between sprinting and conditioning.

When going into a sprinting session, an athlete should typically expect to go through several movement preparatory drills, technique drills and then about 4-10 total max effort sprints depending on distance. Now, the key for this sprint session to not turn into a conditioning session is the rest times that are placed between each sprint. A good rule of thumb is to rest at least 1 minute for every 10 yards that is sprinted. For example, if an athlete runs a 20 yard max effort sprint, then his/her rest time would be a minimum 2 minutes.

As I said before, sprinting requires an athlete to rapidly and repeatedly produce force, making sprinting a highly neural activity (nervous system focus). Highly neural activities require longer rest periods to ensure that the athlete is adequately recovered to perform their next sprint. If the athlete does not abide by the rest periods, they will not be optimizing their sprint work since they will not be adequately recovering sprint to sprint in order to reproduce maximal sprinting speeds. In order to get FAST, you need to TRAIN FAST.

Now, when going into a conditioning session an athlete can expect a variety of things. An aerobic conditioning session could consist of long distance running, tempo running, interval training or high intensity interval training (HIIT). While all these methods have their time and place, the training mode that is most relevant to our situation is HIIT. A sprinting session can quickly turn into a HIIT session if the rest times for the sprints are not followed correctly. With that being said, a HIIT training session, that uses high-intensity exercise bouts with brief recovery periods. An example, would be performing a 400m run with a work to rest ratio of 1:5. So, say the athlete runs the 400m in 60 seconds. This would make the rest period 300 seconds or 5 min.

Now, you may be asking yourself, I thought that athletes needed to rest longer while sprinting and not conditioning? That’s a fair question but the answer lies in the work to rest ratios. As was just mentioned the work to rest ratio for HIIT is 1:5. Now, let’s use the 20 yard sprint example from the previous paragraph. Let’s say an athlete runs this 20 yard sprint in 3 seconds. With the previous recommendation, of 1 minute per 10 yards of sprint that would be 120 seconds or 2 minutes. To figure out this work to rest ratio I would divide 120 by 3 and that would give me 40. The work to rest ratio is 1:40 for the 20 yard sprint, which is much greater than the 1:5 work to rest ratio for the 400m run.

With all of this being said there is a time and place for both of these modes of training depending on the demands of sport. If you play a sport, like soccer, lacrosse, field hockey etc, mixing both conditioning and sprinting sessions into your training could be extremely beneficial because of the constant movement throughout the game in those sports.

Overall, the key to differentiate sprinting and conditioning is the work to rest ratios that are being used. So, when sprinting be conscious of your rest periods so that you are not turning your sprint sessions into conditioning sessions.

- Coach Shawn

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