Running Vs Sprinting: Is One Better Than the Other?

Nonstop cardio is the go-to for so many people looking to shed body fat, but is this really the best route to take? Let's hop right into the debate of running vs sprinting and talk about the benefits (and possible drawbacks) of each. By the end of this blog, you'll be able to determine if one is better suited than the other to help you reach your goals.

Running Vs Sprinting: How Are the Benefits Different?

The Benefits of Running 

person running outside

For the sake of this blog, when we're talking about running, we mean moving slower but for longer distances compared to sprinting, which we'll get to shortly.

As an aerobic exercise, running indeed offers its own health and fitness benefits. According to the Better Health Channel from the Victoria State Government, these benefits include:

  • Improved cardiovascular health. 
  • Stronger muscles. 
  • Better bone health.

Also, because you're in constant motion, your body is using energy and thus burning calories. Therefore, running can be an effective way to maintain a healthy body composition. To be clear, though, this alone won't help keep you strong and lean. Incorporating strength training is a must. The benefits of strength training vs cardio are important to understand.

While some might find the activity a little boring, you can't deny the benefits of running. (Side note: Don't forget the mental health benefits too, like a decrease in the symptoms of depression, helping fight aging in the brain, and reduced anxiety.)

Let's move on to sprinting as an alternative.

man tying shoe

The Benefits of Sprinting

Perhaps ironically, sprinting offers many of the same benefits as running — both physical and mental — but you accomplish them in a shorter period of time, effectively getting more "bang for your buck."

Not only will sprinting help with your cardiovascular health (although according to research, probably not as much as running) and strength, but because it's an explosive exercise, it will improve your speed and power. 

This, in turn, helps delay fatigue. And because fatigue will take longer to hit you, sprinting will actually benefit your running, helping you go for longer before you need to rest. 

Two birds, one stone.

Something else to consider? If you happen to be training in another sport that involves quick, explosive movements, sprinting is an excellent complement to that training. Think tennis, Olympic weightlifting, and gymnastics. When you sprint, you essentially teach your body how to move very quickly from a complete resting position.

Download this sprinting workout on Atlas Multi Trainer

(Psst! Want to try a sprint workout? Click the link to download the workout using your Atlas Multi-Trainer!)

One Caveat 

This is going off on a little bit of a tangent, but it's still important regardless. 

Worth mentioning is that while running and sprinting are ideal because there are so many easily accessible places to do them, not all surfaces are created equal. The general consensus is that running on earth is ideal. Think sand and dirt. 

running in the woods

Harder surfaces, like concrete, aren't your best friend. They're tougher on joints and can lead to strains and injury down the road. Running on harder surfaces a little bit won't kill you, but if you're considering doing this on a regular basis, it's worth exploring your options and finding a safer place to exercise.

Now, back to business. 

So, we know by now that both running and sprinting are beneficial to us, but is one better than the other? What about when it comes to losing body fat, specifically?

Let's go a little further into the discussion of running vs sprinting.

What Will Keep You Leaner?

To be clear, both running and sprinting can help keep you lean. Both get the body moving. Both burn calories. 

But we don't just want to exercise — we want to exercise efficiently. We want to get as much out of our training as we possibly can. That's where sprinting surpasses running. 

Let's look at one study published in the International Journal of Sports Nutrition, Exercise and Metabolism, for example. They found that two-minute sprint interval sessions done three times a week for six weeks caused the same fat-burning effects as 30 minutes of endurance exercise. 

In other words, you're doing less work for the same impact. Plus, as Livestrong points out, sprinting — not unlike strength training — burns more calories than steady running even after you've finished your workout. 

How's that for efficient? 

track

You burn fat during and after. This is something that running isn't very good at offering.

So, if you've got a busy schedule and limited time for training, you might be better off spending that time alternating between sprinting and walking, as opposed to nonstop running.

But! Keep This in Mind...

While sprinting might be your best bet if you're seriously short on time, ideally, you want to make time for both running and sprinting.

In general, doing the same type of exercises over and over again with no variety isn't typically a good idea. Variety is the spice of life, and it's going to keep your body guessing. Switching between varying stimuli means your body is getting a nice workout and a decent challenge.

Plus, when you incorporate both running and sprinting into your training programming, you cover all of your bases and get to enjoy all of the benefits. 

What If You Hate Running or Sprinting?

We tend to hate the things we're not very good at. We're all guilty of it! If you think this might apply to you, our first suggestion is simply to push yourself to spend time running or sprinting. You might very well find that as you improve, you grow to like them more.

woman swimming in lake

Bear in mind, though, that if you really just don't like running or sprinting — or if you have an injury or health condition that means you should stay away from them — there are many comparable alternatives. 

For instance, you can swap out the running for another type of endurance aerobic training, such as:

  • The elliptical. 
  • Cycling.
  • Rowing.
  • Jumping rope.
  • Dancing.
  • Swimming.

The point is to keep your body moving for long periods of time.

Similarly, you can exchange sprinting for another exercise that's also explosive and challenges your power outputs, like:

  • Box jumps.
  • Burpees. 
  • Jumping air squats.
  • Kettlebell swings.
  • Footwork using a rope ladder.
  • Med ball slams or wall tosses.

It's all about quick bursts of movement. You can even turn traditionally endurance-related exercises like rowing or cycling into a sprint by going all out for 10 seconds at a time.

man on rowing machine

With the right approach and a little bit of tweaking, a lot of drills can be turned into a "sprint."

These don't have to be the focal point of your workout, either. You can easily incorporate running and sprinting as a warm-up or cool-down. They do well in getting your heart rate up, loosening up the body, and priming you for exercise (and recovery, too).

Another idea is to sprint in between weighted exercises like squats. In fact, some might argue that this specific approach is a better way to manage your rest time and will ultimately help you perform better!

When your gym time is limited, it's all about making every second count. Don't forget to put on your Atlas watch before you break a sweat.