Cardiovascular Improvement by Running and Sprinting

Running and Health

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The Basics:  What are the quick essentials to improving your cardiovascular health?

Running builds endurance, but it doesn’t build your cardiovascular health as well as sprinting.

Sprinting challenges your heart muscles to accelerate to full activity and then relax.  By adding sprints your your running program you can improve your overall health.

Dedicated sprinting days can be an effective replacement exercise to build cardiovascular health and to minimize the time required for exercise that day.

The Details:  If you want to really understand why sprinting is a great option to add to your running program – or – to replace your running program, continue reading.

For those who know me and have read my blogs in the past, they know I prefer to do fartleks than to jog.  I used to jog for years, actually decades.  I started jogging in earnest in the 70s – started running 5K (or equivalent) road races on weekends.  In the 80s, I ran a 2-mile race every Wednesday afternoon at Audubon Park in New Orleans; and, ran races every Friday, Saturday and Sunday – many times two in one day.  I didn’t run to win the races; I was beyond that capability – too many young studs out there running with me.  I ran for cardiovascular exercise because I truly enjoyed it.  I run during the summers and go on sabbatical during the colder months.  I love hot and humid weather for running or sprinting.

I was introduced to fartleks in the 90s.  A fartlek is a sprint – you run as fast as you can for as long as you can and then recover.  You do that cycle over and over again.  I would incorporate fartleks into my running schedule – an afternoon run after work, or a run during lunch – about one or maybe two times a week.  I would pick a starting point and an ending point and run between those two points as fast as I possible could.  Your heart rate goes up and then comes down as you recover – walk (or run) slowly while you catch your breath and time your pulse.  The timing of your pulse is very critical.  It gives you a quick assessment of your physical condition.

I am getting ready to start up my ‘summer’ running program.  Here are some insights into adding sprints or fartleks to your running program.  Stretch you legs before and after any running event.  I pick my starting point, slowly start running, and begin saying to myself, ‘zero’ every time my left foot hits the ground.  I start this mental process about twenty feet before I begin sprinting.  As soon as I reach my starting point, I crank up my speed and count every time my left foot hits the ground.  I start out at about 50% of my fastest speed and gradually work my way to higher and higher speeds with each fartlek.

My first fartlek is usually 30-35 steps of my left foot (about a hundred yards).  After I stop, I measure my time for the fartlek and my pulse rate.  (Note: I expect to run each fartlek faster than my previous one – and, I expect that my recovery rate will be the same or faster each time also)  I walk back to the starting line and continue taking my pulse rate.  I wait for it to fall below 120 before I begin the next fartlek. This exercise can be done while running longer distances – pick out a section of your course and make that your fartlek phase – continue running until you have recovered from the intensity of the fartlek.  Once you are stable, then do another fartlek.  In long-distance running I will run six to eight fartleks over a 5K course.  On a static course that I am just running sprints, I will run 10-15 repetitions.

I can vary my course length also.  I usually start out at 30-35 steps until I have mastered that distance.  I can then extend my fartlek distance to 40-45 steps and then to 50-55 steps.  It all depends on the goals you have set for your running program.  Measuring your pulse every minute during your recovery phase is very important.  A quick recovery – under one minute is indicative of excellent physical fitness.  Early in the season my upper pulse is measured between 150 and 160 beats per second.  A measure of performance is to have my pulse rate below 120 beats per second in less than a minute.  As the season progresses and the temperature ramps up to around 100 degrees, the readings vary by very little.  By that time I’ve built up my endurance and I start extending my running distance to 60-70 (steps on my left foot) or more.  If it’s a good day and I feel really good, I will extend my last fartlek to 100 steps on my left foot.

I drink whole-fruit mangosteen juice to eliminate, or minimize and running related sore muscles.  I’ve found that whole-fruit mangosteen juice actually eliminates any muscle fatigue or soreness, even after not running for months.  I hydrate very well and listen to my body at all times.  I’m no longer pushing just to push.  If I run a really good fartleks one day and the next day it doesn’t feel right, then I truncate my run after three or four fartleks rather than running a dozen or more.

Why is a fartlek better for you?  A jog will keep your heart rate fairly consistent –whether it is at 150 or more beats per minute (I typically run in the 150-160 beats per minute range).  A fartlek causes your heart to race upward and then it comes back down.  You are cycling your heart muscles – it puts a lot of stress on that muscle.  In less than a couple of miles you can get an exceptional workout.  Sprinting at full speed is less damaging to your knees.  I’ve never had a knee injury while sprinting, but I’ve had several knee and other leg-related injuries over the years with the constant grind of jogging.  My objective is to get the best cardiovascular exercise in the minimal time allowed.  Why go out and run five, six or eight or ten miles and come back and have no real time to do other things?  At one point in my life I was running 8+ miles daily after work routinely during the week just to keep in shape.

You heart is able to handle the stress and when cycle it up and down by sprinting, and you get a better cardiovascular workout than by simple jogging.  My daughter and grandson used to run three 5K races a year with me – around Memorial Day, around Independence Day and around Labor Day.  Before my grandson turned a teenager (several years ago) he would usually beat me.  I had been jogging and not doing anything different.  I could finish a 5K race in a reasonable time, but it’s hard to compete with youth.  On one Memorial Day race he beat me by four minutes.  I started doing sprints up hills – a variation of fartleks.  I would sprint uphill and then walk down hill and do it over and over again.  There’s not much time between Memorial Day and Independence Day, but I managed to beat him by four minutes on that race and I did not other training other than uphill sprints.

If you are like many of us who do not have the time to spend jogging for an hour or more a day, you might consider adding fartleks to your routine, even if it is just one day a week.  It’s hard to wean yourself off jogging, but you can.  Different running programs improve different aspects of our healthSprinting improves your cardiovascular health.  Long distance running improves your endurance.  You need both.

Red O’Laughlin  aka The Prosperity Professor

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