Sprinting Vs Running: What You Need To Know

Before diving in… Today kicks off February’s Let’s Split Challenge. Have you signed up yet? It’s not too late!

When I went for my VO2 Max test a few weeks ago, I wasn’t all that surprised when the technician told me that according to my results, I was a good sprinter.

I love sprinting possibly more than I love going on a 10 mile run. It’s short, sweet, but makes my body burn like crazy.

And to be honest, I’m kinda good at it… for a 29 year old white girl. My friend Katie might beat me in EVERY SINGLE race we run, but put us together in a 100 meter sprint and I’ll take home the title… don’t worry, she knows it.

So what is it? What is so different about a sprint versus a run and how can knowing help you achieve results?

That’s what I wanted to cover in the show for today. To be honest, I had something else planned but with the sunshine and our 70-degree weather, I had running on the brain.

Sprinting Vs. Running: The Muscles


Have you ever stopped to wonder which uses more muscles? You would probably assume sprinting, right?

Well, that’s a trick question because they both use the same exact muscles.

Hamstrings, quads, glutes, calves, core… you get it. They all get used no matter if your sprinting full out or jogging 5 miles.

But here’s the difference…

The sprinting recruits more muscle fibers, the individual units that make up a muscle.

The more fibers recruited for work, the more likely muscle building and strength will be activated.

This is one of the reasons why sprinters are often very muscular and marathoners are not. Just one. Another reason is because the stronger you are, the faster you’re able to push off from a start. Some of the best runners in the world aren’t the fastest runners in the world, just the fastest off the block. Don’t believe me? Read this (seriously, it’s very interesting)!

But between sprinters and distance runners, it isn’t just the muscles… it’s also the hormonal shifts that happen during distance running.

When running/jogging for extended amounts of time a lot of stress goes on in the body. Because of that, the hormone cortisol is released which actually breaks down muscle mass. This is why I was my very weakest in 2013. I put such an emphasis on my running that I let my muscle literally melt away.


Sprinting = Muscular & Defined 

Distance Running = Lean, Very Lean

Sprinting Vs. Running: Calorie Burn


A recent study carried out at Colorado State University found that just 2.5 minutes of sprinting can burn upwards of 200 calories.

That’s not 2.5 minutes straight, but divided up into an interval. Sprint, rest, sprint.. until 2.5 minutes is accomplished.

I’ve also mentioned this study several times in the past: 2 hours of intense sprint intervals burns the equivalent amount of calories as 10 hours steady state (jogging) over a period of 2 weeks.

I don’t know about you, but 2 hours seems a lot more doable!

I know what you’re thinking… “Yes Taylor, but the slow and steady rate is more at the ‘fat burning’ zone.” 

Am I right? You would be correct. However, because you burn more calories overall with sprinting even though the percentage is lower for “fat burning” you still end up burning more.

Why Both Are Crucial


If the stats on sprinting are so great, then, why should you ever go for a long run?

Because when it comes down to it, both are crucial for a balanced workout.

Comparing sprinting and running is kind of like comparing yoga with Fit Womens Weekly. Both have their benefits, and both help the other.

Benefits Of Running Distance

  • Build endurance
  • Improve cardiovascular health
  • Stay mentally sane (there is no better way for me to clear my head than with a nice, outdoor run)
  • Fast recovery: you can run several days a week because the body can recover quickly. Not so much with sprints.

Benefits Of Sprinting

  • Increase overall muscle mass
  • Increase metabolism
  • Increase speed
  • Improve range of motion
  • Improve distance running (ask any runner and they’ll tell you how important speed work is for every single distance)

Cons Of Running Distance

  • Takes a long time
  • Breaks down muscle mass due to cortisol release
  • Decreases resting metabolism (because of muscle loss)
  • Increased risk of injury (the longer you’re running, the more at risk you are for an injury)

Cons Of Sprinting

  • Not great for brand new runners due to intensity
  • Requires a really good warm-up because of the increased range of motion and flexibility required
  • Intensity means that you need more time to recover between workouts. At least 48 hours.

What Should You Do?


To get the best of both worlds, if you are runner, add both styles of training into your running. Each helps you to succeed with the other.

I know that I have gotten faster in races because of my track work. Just like I know I am stronger on the track because of my distance runs.

Here’s a disclaimer with sprinting: it’s tough and intense. If you haven’t been running somewhat regularly do not jump straight into sprints. Allow your body to adjust to running.

Once you’re comfortable and ready to of for it take time to stretch and warm up before. Going from rest (cold muscles) to sprints is a very bad idea! Practice lunges, kicks, and jogging for 5-10 minutes prior to getting started.

Sprinting & Running: The Workout

With all that being said, here’s a workout program to try this week! This particular program combines both running, sprinting, and strength training. The best of all worlds! Need a strength workout?


Q: Which do you prefer: Sprints or Steady Pace? 

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  • I like both sprinting and steady state runs. Sprinting is great for getting a quick and tough workout but steady state is great for stress relief and me time. I definitely agree with the little bit of each mentality.

  • I laughed reading this simply b/c, well, I have NO fast-twitch muscles. None. So I work on them with intervals. Long live the long run! ; )

    • Haha! Nice job with the intervals! Long live the short spurts! 🙂

  • Obviously I like both kinds of running :). But, when I sprint, I do prefer longer intervals (as you’ve probably figured out!). I like how you mention that you should do both because that’s something many runners don’t do. On one end, you have the people who are more into Crossfit/circuit work who run during their workouts, but it’s usually 400 meter sprints. Then, you have some half marathoners and marathoners who don’t think they need speedwork (then wonder how their races are all about the same finish time…). To be good at running, you must do both!

    I try to work in at least one speedwork/interval session per week but also a tempo run of steady state but faster. There is a big difference in doing a 10 mile run at an 8:15 pace and doing one at 9 minute pace too… crazy tough! I feel like doing long slow runs (slogs?) too much just makes me tired and doesn’t benefit me much, so pretty much all my runs now are fast but not as long. It’s paying off with my race times too!

    • You’ve been posting amazing times lately!

      • Thank you! I really owe it to training hard with you, Katie, and a lot of other people. Y’all really push me and that has helped.

        And to the girl wanting the Carmelita Jeter booty… those 100 sprints we did that time *really* hit my glutes hard! It was pretty obvious with soreness that next day ;).

  • First, I have to say that I’m on a mission for a Carmelita Jeter booty 🙂 Second, I’ve just started incorporating sprinting into my “routine” and I love it!

    Awesome post!


    • Thanks and I am right there with you!

  • Great post… just found you on FB… glad I did. I prefer sprinting but I do both. I am coming back from injury so not doing either at the moment 🙂 But I’m working my way back. I just finished a marathon in November.

    • Thanks for finding me! Welcome back from the injury world (I was just there myself). Congrats on the marathon!

  • Kim

    I’m pretty much slow twitch all the way but I do try to pick up my pace in some of my shorter runs!!!

  • Cristina

    Would this apply to Spinning as well? Fast twitch for sprints vs slow twitch for climbs?

    • Yes, for sure! Though the climbs (adding resistance) will activate both slow and fast twitch. The tempo ride would be more equivalent to a steady state slow twitch

  • Sheena

    I prefer sprints because I get SO BORED on distance runs! Plus sprints take less time so it’s harder to justify skipping it 🙂

    • One of the reasons I love them too!

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  • Gary Geiger

    Being a sprinter for over 50 years I feel you left out a couple of things about it; sprinting carries a high risk for injury especially to the lower part of the body; i.e. hamstrings, calves, achilles and quads, sprinting also puts a great deal of pressure on the cardio system, heart rates can easily max out, if anyone has current heart problems this can be dangerous. Sprinting also requires great flexibility, stretching is crucial especially after workouts, my advice is to compromise and run middle distances, i.e. 800-5k where the risk of serious injury is a lot less and the workouts are fantastic for over all cardio fitness lean mass and good blood pressure.

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