Maybe Sprint 8 Should Be Sprint 4?

I recently got a comment that got me thinking again about Phil Campbell’s Sprint 8 protocol. For those unaware, here is a Sprint 8 summary from the article Sprint 8 Workout from Ready, Set, GO! Synergy Fitness:

…the Sprint 8 Workout means you progressively run 8 sprints for 60 meters (70 yards) in 8 to 15 seconds with a 1.5 to 2 minutes walk-back recovery between the sprints.

I stopped running in 1995. Too much pain. About two years ago, I started sprinting using the Sprint 8 template. It was still too hard on my body. Then I theorized that if I only ran uphill, I could get the benefits with less pain. And it worked, for a while.

Eventually, I stopped running. At first, I blamed my shoes, but I think the problem is that Sprint 8 is too much for the average person. Running all out for 8 sets is most likely ideal for athletes looking to develop their speed. Is it too much for the rest of us, just interested in being a little more healthy?


Runners in Belltown, Seattle

I went back to Phil Campbell’s bio (JAN 2024: now offline) and read he has trained 12,000 athletes. My guess is there is a huge selection bias with this group. These are individuals who are both capable and interested in developing their speed. Interested enough to reach out to a top performance coach. I’ll also wager that most of these runners are young with many being college age.

Of course, not every runner in this group would have completed the protocol successfully. Some would get injured or quit for a variety of reasons. One of those reasons could have been recoverability or even lack of results. I doubt the failure rate is high, but I bring it up because we don’t know what percentage of those who follow Sprint 8 stay with it.

Putting it all together, I think the Sprint 8 protocol might be too much for many of us. Once fall arrives in Seattle, I want to start sprinting again. Only this time I’ll shoot for Sprint 4, not Sprint 8. My guess is I have half the potential and recoverability of the average Sprint 8 success, so 4 might be a more realistic goal. I couldn’t care less if I get faster. I want to be able to run once or twice a week pain-free.


Add yours

  1. Mark J. Cooper

    Sep 10, 2013 — 9:40 pm

    Hi MAS,
    4 sprints is better than none. I do 6– 100 yards sprints once per week.
    Sprint to finish line and walk back to start line. No stopping. Under 10 minutes
    and that is the workout. Just turned 59 and that IS my most important workout
    of the week. It is fast twitch muscle targeted.
    Thanks, Mark

  2. there was a study referenced (on Matt Metzgar’s site I think) a while back using the Wingate testing bike and looking at glycogen depletion in some of the leg muscles; they found that much of the glycogen depletion occurred after only one 15 or 20 second sprint and the rate of depletion was reduced considerably after that. If I remember right, he was proposing that maybe one or two sprints gets a lot of the job done.

  3. Yes, let’s think about the ancestral environment:
    One all-out sprint for 3-10 seconds, then climb a tree or hide in a cave.
    Then rest for 1-10 minutes.
    Normal humans haven’t evolved for repeated sprints with minimal recovery.
    I’d recommend to warm-up sprints of about 50 yards at 75% of maximum speed, with two minutes rest, then *one* 100% sprint for 50 yards.
    Here’s a good warmup routine of lunges:

  4. I started out doing 6 to 8 a few years ago and have slowly progressed down to 2 or 3 now.

  5. Thanks Glenn and Aaron. You two are more go to for sprinting wisdom.

  6. Forget a fixed numbers of sprints. Consider a progression instead. For instance, the 1st run you simply trot. The 2nd, you actually run but not that fast. The 3rd you actually go fast. The 4th you go as fast as possible without sprinting. The 5th (and as many more as you like) you go all out in a true sprint. This way, your body will tell you how it feels on the particular day and what it is willing to put into it. More me, 6 generally does it and more than that implies I’m feeling peppy.

  7. Mas, how sound is your sprinting form? Running is a skill, and without solid running mechanics the stress of all out sprinting can be too much.

  8. @Glenn, how often would you recommend for someone starting out?

  9. @Txomin – That makes perfect sense. Use a more fluid intensity, like I do for weight training.

    @Geoff – Beats me. It probably could be better. I would need someone to watch me. Running uphill does make it easier on my body, but I likely could improve with a coach.

  10. @norlee I would start out with sprinting once a week, and only if you can do this warmup comfortably:

    Then I would slowly progress to twice per week (three days of rest) and eventually (sometimes) three times per week.

    Better to sprint three times per week, but only three or four 10 second sprints each session than do lots more sprints each session and then need a week to recover.

    Again, think of the ancestral environment – Our ancestors needed to be ready for at least one all-out sprint at least once per day, if necessary.

    Warm up properly and then focus on intensity rather than volume.

  11. thanks Glenn…. going to give it a try

  12. By looking at this graph, it appears that the Sprint 8 does not recommend 8 all out sprints. It is structured as a peaking program with only 3 out of the sprints being all out.

  13. @JM – Interesting that the text recommendations don’t match the bar chart you located. The bar chart does show 3 peak runs, but the recommendation is “8 30 second high intensity sprint intervals”.

  14. I did some additional reading. The different heights of the gold columns in the graph represents your heart rate. Mercola states that it takes most people 8 rounds to hit the HR sweet spot in order to maximize the gains. That is why you see the columns growing over time. Although he does seem to imply that if you are well trained, you can do it in fewer rounds. Also, he states that if you’re free running the duration of work is 10 secs vs 30 secs on a machine.

  15. @JM – Thanks for clearing that up.

  16. I thought the blog post was amazing, but the comments have a lot of excellent analysis too, particularly Glenn and JR.

    Just to add my two cents – I’m usually puckered by the 3rd sprint and can’t go very fast at all. I’ll drop down to 1 – 2 now and focus on intensity. I use a recumbent bike by the way in hopes to avoid any sprinting related injuries.

  17. Glen and the others are correct-build into it, gauge your body
    I have been sprinting for a few years now
    One routine is 50 to 80 yards progressively faster 5 to 10 reps
    The shorter your sprint the higher you can explode Build HGH
    Optimal distance is 30 to 70 yards
    Suggested routines:
    5* 40 yds
    5*20 yds
    10*10 yds

    Workout #2 5 to 8 from 40 to 80 yds

    Build to 90 to 100%
    Warm-up Jog and Cool Down
    Sprint 2 days a week, allow your body to recover
    Avoid injury and overtraining, leave the workout feeling fresh with a little in the tank
    Gradually you will get faster and fitter

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