When it comes to sprinting vs. jogging, you might be wondering which is a better workout – and the answer is that it truly depends. There are benefits to both modalities, and the right answer varies based on your fitness level, training goals, and injury history. Here’s a complete breakdown of how each one stacks up, and how to choose the right one for your workout regimen.
Disclaimer: This information is provided by a USAT Level I Triathlon Coach and running coach. It is for informational purposes only. Please consult your doctor prior to beginning any new exercise regimen.
What’s the difference between sprinting vs. jogging?
There’s no official definition for what speed is considered a jog and what is considered a sprint. Let’s take two individuals who are both on the treadmill – one is a brand-new runner and the other is an experienced athlete.
For the brand-new runner, their jog might be 4.5 miles per hour and their sprint might be 6 miles per hour. But for the experienced runner, that jog might be at 6 miles per hour and a sprint might be at 9 miles per hour.
Instead, here’s a better way to classify these: a jog is a conversational pace you can sustain comfortably for 20-30 minutes, while a sprint is a pace you can only sustain for seconds to minutes (depending on the type of sprint). Sprint workouts typically have recovery periods – either complete rest, walking, or jogging – that occur in between each intense interval.
Which is better for your muscles?
Both sprinting and jogging activate the same muscle groups. You’ll work your quads, hamstrings, calves, glutes, hips, and core muscles in your abdomen and back.
However, they target different types of fibers within those muscles.
Jogging will recruit more of the slow-twitch (Type I) muscle fibers. These fibers are smaller with lower force production, but are more resistant to fatigue. They’re primarily used for prolonged submaximal aerobic exercise.
Sprinting, on the other hand, will recruit more of the fast twitch (Type II) muscle fibers. These are larger and can provide more force production, but fatigue much more quickly. They’re used in sprints, power lifting, jumping, and strength training.
Untrained individuals have a fairly equal balance of both types of muscle fibers, however this can vary based on genetics. In addition, training modalities can impact the breakdown. An athlete that’s focused on training for a marathon with a lot of long endurance workouts can enhance their slow twitch fiber development, for example. (If you want to read more about muscle fiber types, this journal article and this blog from NASM are great reads).
So, what does this mean? Either type of exercise can challenge the muscles.
However, once a seasoned runner has adapted to steady state jogging, it’s unlikely that this is going to cause any additional strength gains. And while running doesn’t “eat away” at muscles as some claim, long distance jogging can slightly breakdown muscle tissue as the body uses a small percentage for fuel. This can be alleviated by fueling correctly before, during, and after exercise, and also mixing in strength training workouts each week.
Sprinting workouts appear to be more conserving of muscle mass by working those larger Type II fibers and utilizing different fueling pathways, so that is one potential benefit of incorporating sprinting workouts. (You can often see these muscular differences by comparing the body types of elite sprinters versus elite endurance runners – though much of that is genetics).
Which is better for calorie burn?
It’s probably pretty clear that running faster is going to burn more calories compared to an equivalent time running slower. For example, according to Harvard Medical School, here are the calories burned for a 155-pound person in 30-minutes of running at the following speeds:
- 4.5 mph (13.3 min/mile) = 186 calories in 30 minutes
- 5.2 mph (11.5 min/mile) = 335 calories in 30 minutes
- 6.0 mph (10 min/mile) = 370 calories in 30 minutes
- 7.5 mph (8 min/mile) = 465 calories in 30 minutes
- 8.6 mph (7 min/mile) = 539 calories in 30 minutes
- 10 mph (6 min/mile) = 614 calories in 30 minutes
However, the comparison here isn’t perfect, for two reasons:
- When people do sprint workouts, they’re generally alternating between the sprint and recovery time
- We also need to consider EPOC – excess postexercise oxygen consumption – which is the increased calorie burn that occurs after an exercise.
An interesting study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research looked at these issues. They compared three different workouts – keep in mind these were cycling workouts, but the same principles likely apply to a running modality:
- High intensity exercise, consisting of four 4-minute tough intervals with 3 minutes of active recovery
- Sprint intensity exercise, consisting of six 30-second all out sprints, separated by 4 minutes of active recovery
- Steady state exercise, consisting of 30 minutes of consistent cycling at a moderate pace
The calorie burn in the three hours following the workouts was higher among the sprint group. However, the overall calorie burn (of the workout + EPOC) was actually a smidge higher in the steady state group.
Overall, even though there is an increase in EPOC after sprint exercise, it’s important to look at the total calorie burn of the workout plus the EPOC – and in most research, that appears to be fairly similar.
Which is better for fat loss?
Despite the ample number of internet articles that claim sprinting will lead to more fat loss – the peer reviewed research has not universally supported this. As you noticed above, calorie burn counts are fairly similar when both the workout and EPOC calories are considered.
When you dig into the research, you’ll see that either form of exercise can help reduce body fat – but neither appears superior to the other.
For example, a systematic review and meta-analysis in Obesity Reviews concluded that there was no difference in any body fat outcome between steady state exercise compared to high intensity or sprint interval exercise. Similarly, another meta-analysis found no difference in the total body fat percentage differences between moderate and sprint exercises. And a third review found that low volume high intensity interval training did not have any additional benefit on body fat mass.
Which is better for cardiovascular fitness and health?
Both types of exercise are good for heart health, though sprinting appears to edge out jogging a smidge.
For example, a study in Sports Medicine found that interval training led to a greater improvement in brachial artery function compared to moderate intensity exercise. And another study found that there were greater gains in VO2 max following high intensity interval training.
Similarly, for patients undergoing cardiac rehabilitation, a review found that interval training was more effective in improving cardiovascular fitness compared to moderate exercise (source).
Which saves more time?
Let’s go back to that study example from the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. The steady state group clearly had more total “active exercise” time – 30 minutes versus 16 (high intensity) and 3 (sprint). But when you look at the length of the workout with recovery, you’re at 30 vs. 28 vs. 27.
So while sprint workouts clearly require less active exercise time, they still require recovery in between that lengthens the workouts to a somewhat similar total time frame.
However, by doing a sprint workout, you may be able to increase the intensity and challenge on your body in a shorter time frame (compared to trying to achieve the same challenge by simply lengthening a steady state run). That is where a time-savings benefit can come in when it comes to sprinting vs. jogging.
Which is better for injuries?
When it comes to injury prevention or recovery, jogging is less risky than sprinting.
Anyone currently recovering from an injury is best served easing back into a workout routine. Jogging at a comfortable pace helps maintain cardiovascular fitness, and allows the muscles and joints to work under a lower-pressure scenario. With sprinting, you can wear the body out quickly, and achieving those last few sprints without perfect form risks injury.
Similarly, for those who are just starting to run, it’s best to get comfortable with jogging first before adding in any speedwork. The body needs time to process the neuromuscular adaptations that allow you to become a more efficient runner. Once you have a few months of comfortable running down, then it’s fine to start to add in speed work.
For those an established running base, sprinting can be an excellent way to continue to improve fitness level though. The injury risk can be mitigated to some degree with these tips:
- Always warm up prior to a sprint workout (typically including 10-15 minutes of jogging and some dynamic movements like high knees, butt kicks, and Frankenstein walks)
- Use the 80/20 rule – 80% of your running workouts should be at a comfortable pace, while 20% can be higher intensity workouts like sprints.
- If you experience pain that’s altering your stride, stop sprinting immediately.
Which is better for training for a race?
It depends on the distance of the race.
There’s a huge difference in training regimen for an athlete looking to achieve a personal best in the mile versus the marathon, for example. The former requires far more sprint interval training, while the later requires more long endurance training. It’s key to match up your training plan with the type of race (and you can find free training plans here that do just that).
Even within long-course racing, though, there’s value to speedwork. You need to run faster to increase speed, simple as that. It simply looks different than what we think of as a “sprint”.
For example, an individual training for a half marathon might do a 3×1 mile track workout (with a warm up of course) where those miles are run at goal half marathon pace and there’s 1-2 minutes of rest in between. Even though that wouldn’t be what many of us think of as a sprint, the pacing is faster than a comfortable short run.
Of course, the most important aspect for long-course racing is consistency and mileage. There are many athletes who just want to finish a half marathon or marathon, and do not have time goals. For those athletes, comfortable jogging several days a week with a gradual increase in mileage will be the most important factor in crossing the finish line.
But for athletes with time goals, sprinting or longer interval work (depending on race distance) has a clear advantage to increasing speed.
Which feels better?
Let’s just put it out there – a sprinting workout is hard! It’s not easy mentally to push yourself at a high intensity, even if it’s only for a short period of time.
For example, research has shown that going from a steady state 5K run to a 5K run with a 1:1 sprint/recovery intervals ends up increasing perceived exertion for that distance (source). In other words, it felt harder to do the 5K with the sprints compared to just running comfortably.
That said, some people like the challenge of the sprint, and feel better when their workout is done.
Overall, only you can decide which feels best for your body. If you hate doing sprints and you’re not training for any particular event, you can most certainly still maintain fitness by enjoying steady state jogs. If you love sprints and don’t have any injuries, by all means – work ’em in!
If you do decide to incorporate some sprinting or interval workouts into your running routine, here are a few options that might be good to consider. Some are pure sprints and others are technically more high intensity interval training, but for the purposes of this article and the points we’ve discussed here, it’s relevant to include both:
- 10-20-30 training – This is probably my favorite sprinting workout when it comes to improving 5K speed. It’s easy to understand and feasible for most people to incorporate into their workout plan.
- Fartlek workouts – Though the word makes me giggle a bit, fartlek is a Sweedish term that roughly translates to “speed play”. It’s a more unstructured interval workout, and can be a fun way to add sprints to your runs. You can find 9 different ideas in the linked post.
- 1 2 3 4 Pyramid Workout – This workout is a great way of incorporating both longer and shorter sprints, with equal amounts of recovery jogging.
- Hard/Easy Workout – This was developed as a postpartum running workout, but is applicable to anyone. You’ll alternate 200-meter intervals, so this is a great one to tackle at the track.
- 400’s – In this post, the author gives three different ways to utilize 400’s – as pure speed workouts, as 5k paced work, and as threshold work.
The Final Word
Both jogging and sprinting are paths to a healthier lifestyle. The right choice is what works for your body! Above all, be sure to choose exercises that you can stick with and that fit your fitness level and goals.
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