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Sprints & Distance Runs: How the Two Stack Up Against Each Other

Elaine Standohar's picture
Spring and Distance Running

Sprinting and distance running are both effective workouts for runners; however, that’s essentially where their similarities end. The results your body experiences from a long-distance run are vastly different from the benefits offered to your body by a series of short-distance sprints.


The difference between these two workouts is expressed by how your body operates and performs during them and can be simply defined as either an anaerobic or aerobic workout.Both anaerobic and aerobic types of workouts, though starkly opposite of one another, offer remarkable benefits to your health.

From the “after burn” effect of these workouts, to the muscles engaged during them, sprints and distance runs each offer their own unique set of differences and benefits (as illustrated below). Use the information to educate yourself, spice up your workout routine, and achieve your health and fitness goals.

Minute for minute, more calories are burned during distance running than during sprints. That is due largely to the fact that more time is spent in movement during a distance run than during a sprint workout.

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Despite the fact that more calories are burned during a distance run than during sprints, the high intensity nature of sprints results in a much greater "after burn" effect post workout.

A typical sprint workout can be completed in as little as ten minutes, whereas a distance run can range anywhere from 30 to 90+ minutes long.

There is more flexibility in where you can engage in a distance run, vs. sprinting, where terrains are limited. Rugged trails and treadmills are in no way ideal sprint locations.

Distance runs are very rhythmic, low-intensity workouts. Because of this, the muscles of the lower body are engaged the most. The core and back do participate in posture and stabilization during the duration of the run, but minimally. Sprints, on the other hand, require full participation of almost every muscle group. The lower body is engaged, with the addition of the glutes. The core and back keep the body upright, and the pumping of the arms (propelling the body forward), pull the biceps, triceps, and chest into the mix.