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Benefits of Sprint and Plyometric Training for the Distance Runner

Distance runners and endurance sport athletes find satisfaction in their longer, lower-intensity workouts and events for various reasons. It is common for people in endurance sports to avoid, limit, or not even consider participation in high-intensity exercise. Some don’t know how to implement these exercises and some feel it will negatively impact their endurance performance. It may come as a surprise to some that high-intensity exercise has been demonstrated to enhance performance in many “slow-twitch” sports.

The benefits of training in a “fast-twitch” manner on your “slow-twitch” performance have started to emerge more in the past decade. A 2019 study published in the Journal of Sport and Health Science cited at the end of this article showed the benefits of sprint and plyometric training for distance runners in a small population of moderately trained individuals. Not only did the expected improvements occur in the metric of relative peak power, but so did the participant’s 10 km run performance. And best of all, this was accomplished during a two-week period with reduced weekly training mileage! Studies such as this reveal the physiological hack of improving performance through intentional training variability.

High-intensity training such as sprints and plyometrics do carry some risk that should be considered, especially for an athlete unaccustomed to such intense efforts. Risk of muscle and tendon injuries are elevated with sprinting and plyometric exercise. And, just as a gradual progression is needed in your distance running, it is also important in higher intensity training. Other important factors to consider are the incorporation of a very thorough warm-up and cool-down with these workouts and making a subjective assessment of your readiness for such exercise. If you don’t feel up to it, are sore, or have had a recent injury, these exercises may exceed what your body is able to tolerate.  By all means, a distance runner needs to put in the work of logging long, slow efforts to build a strong aerobic base. However, once this base is established, research shows that additional gains can be achieved through a smart introduction of high-intensity exercise such as sprints and plyometrics. This can be a healthy dose of variety for both your physiology and your psyche if you find yourself in a stale training program.

If you are interested in learning more about how you can supplement your endurance training with sprint and plyometric drills, call Omaha Physical Therapy Institute today!

Matt Vetter, PT, DPT, CSCS


Lum, D, Tan, F, Pang J, Barbosa,TM. Effects of intermittent Sprint and Plyometric Training on Endurance Running Performance. J Sport Health Sci. 2019 Sep;8(5):471-477. doi: 10.1016/j.jshs.2016.08.005. Epub 2016 Aug 17.

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