Could a quick daily sprint be the key to better fitness? Silke Weil tries to keep up with New Zealand's fastest woman, Zoe Hobbs.
Sprinting is considered one of the best ways to burn fat. It also increases your anaerobic threshold and burns calories for a long time after you've stopped running. It's often incorporated into fitness classes such as High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). By utilising the best sprinting techniques, you'll be able to accelerate faster, which will assist you in sports and other fitness pursuits, and of course come in handy should you find yourself in a perilous situation. I joined a training session with Zoe Hobbs, 21, to learn what sprinting is really all about.
In early humans, sprinting had its place as the adrenaline response to predator danger. It was a survival mechanism to fight off foes and compete for food, land and mates. In 1896 it became an official Olympic sport. Since then, the physics have been studied and health benefits realised, beyond running to save your life. It is now considered an efficient way to work out, offering the same health benefits as other forms of exercise in a much shorter amount of time. It's also an important performance component in many sports.
Sprinting requires the development of strength, power transfer and flexibility, and uses a variety of muscles to help make the body lean. Sprinters have to deliver maximum thrust to their feet during the start phase, which no singular body type in particular does the best. Although long legs help to propel runners, a sprinter shorter in stature is able to move from a crouched position to being upright faster, meaning they can be quicker off the starting blocks. A study by Heriot-Watt University, published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology, found that to improve fitness, lower risk of cardiovascular disease, lose weight, strengthen skeletal muscle and help control blood sugar, short sharp bursts of exercise seem to be as effective as much longer periods of moderate exercise. Associate professor of medical sciences at the University of New South Wales, Stephen Boutcher, notes in his study published in the Journal of Obesity that the surge in your body's levels of growth hormones and other organic compounds "can increase fat burning and energy expenditure for hours after exercise".
Every day Zoe Hobbs completes a 45-minute warm-up followed by an intense training session with her coach James Mortimer. It includes a mix of weighted exercises in the gym and time on the track.
I put my spikes on and gave the warm up my all. One lap around the track - meant to be at half my fastest speed - had me gasping for air. The moves I was instructed to do were completely foreign. Instead of running, I looked like I was doing a jive. One was called the "dribble", which the coach explained as being like riding a little bike. It's supposed to help with some of the technicalities of sprinting, such as motor learning, ankle stiffness and modified sprinting. The weird hop-skip-step became pretty fun and soon I felt the energy build - I thought I was flying. But I had to let out a big laugh at myself when I realised Hobbs was far, far ahead of me. Hobb's sheer power was well beyond mine. A fair description of our performance would be to picture Hobbs as lightning and me as thunder. Whereas I'm a confident long-distance runner, my skills did not translate to short distance. Sprinters are lean and muscular, which makes sense given the key to a strong sprint start is strength. My legs looked pathetic next to Hobbs. When I blinked she was already halfway down the track.
The diligence of a sprinter is incredible. With a focus on carrying sufficient muscle, Hobbs' regime is specialised to ensure she doesn't lose any. It's so crucial that everything outside of training, from what you eat to how you spend your spare time, needs to be taken into consideration to maintain an ideal sprinter's physique. Hobbs trains every day. It's clear elite sprinters are a special breed and are expertly conditioned to maintain peak performance. For someone like me on a health and wellbeing journey, I think the occasional sprinting session would be beneficial and undeniably fun. But unless I was playing a sport where my performance could be improved by sprinting skills, I don't see myself getting back on the track any time soon.