Gold Medal Workout: How to Train Like A Summer Games Sprinter

Last Update: March 11, 2020

Years of daily, hours-long training sessions have sculpted Summer Games competitors’ bodies to meet the demands of their sport—every muscle, tendon, and ligament serves a purpose. That’s why top-level athletes look crazy different from sport to sport.

The Body Issue of ESPN Magazine is always a great reminder of how finely tuned athletes’ bodies are: lithe, fragile-looking marathoners share the page with thick, muscle-bound judo fighters (aka judoka), and it’s almost hard to believe that either are the best in the world at what they do. After all, shouldn’t every pro athlete look like David Beckham, all rippling abs and bulging biceps? Not really.

To run 26.2 miles at an almost 5-minute mile pace, runners will want to be as light as possible—that means no extra bulky upper-body muscles, which can slow down their times. And judoka need strong core muscles to bring their opponents to the ground quickly, and being a little heavier makes it more difficult for them to be manipulated to defeat.

Specialized training, like long-distance running or repetitive take-down drills, is what chisels important muscle groups to perfection. Training like a Summer Games competitor improves specific athletic skills that you might not focus on in regular gym workouts, and as an added bonus boosts overall fitness.

Today we’re taking inspiration from the Track and Field team, sprinters in particular. One of the most exciting events to watch, the 100-meter sprint races are over in less than 10 seconds, as runners leverage every muscle in their bodies to propel themselves over the finish line without wasting even a millisecond.

To get ahead of the pack as soon as the gun fires, you need explosive leg power and strong pumping arms. Both of these muscle groups need to be worked with weight-bearing exercise in order fire quickly and efficiently. On top of weight training, sprinters focus on short-distance speed work, usually on a track or soft grass, to improve overall speed and aerobic capacity.

Try this hybrid of weight training and high-intensity drills for an effective sprinting session. Start with a gentle warm-up like a light mile-long jog or an easy yoga flow to get the joints and muscles warm. Then, get moving. Alternate five 50-meter sprints with three minutes of a different recovery movement. You can pause for 30 seconds between exercises, but try to squeeze in as many reps as possible.


Sprint: 50 meters

Sprint as fast as you can for 50 meters on the track.

Bounds (for height)

Recovery: Skip bounds (for height)

Skip just like when you were a little kid, except a little more aggressive. You’re trying to get as high as possible as you push off the ground. Drive your knee up and in towards your stomach and pump your arms to help you gain height.

Sprint: 50 meters

Bounds (for distance)

Recovery: Skip bounds (for distance)

Instead of focusing on getting air, try to cover more ground. Drive your knee up and away from you, and push off your back leg to move forward.

Sprint: 50 meters

Pike push-ups

Recovery: Pike push up

This push up variation directly targets the shoulders, biceps, and triceps. Plus, it will stretch the hamstrings, a notoriously tight area for runners. Start with your hands right under your shoulders. Walk your feet up a wall until your thighs are parallel to the ground. Slowly lower yourself down, and press back up to the starting postion.

Sprint: 50 meters

Toe touch crunches

Recovery: Toe-touch crunches

Start laying flat on your back, with knees bent and the soles of your shoes pressing into the ground. Then raise your upper body into a crunch position with your shoulders off the ground. Tap your right fingers to your right heel, activating your right oblique muscles. Repeat to the other side.

Sprint: 50 meters

Squat jumps

Recovery: Alternating split squat jump

Start with one foot in front of the other, both knees bent in a lunge position with most of your weight on the front foot and balancing on the ball of your back foot. Depending on how tall you are, there will be about 2 to 3 feet between your front heel and your back toes. Jump up as high as you can, switching legs and landing again in the lunge position. Repeat on the other side.

Try this workout once all you’ll seriously admire all the hard work that athletes put in to make it to the games. And don’t forget to tune in to watch Team U.S.A. sprinters Marvin Bracy, Trayvon Bromell, and Justin Gatlin as they take on world champ Usain Bolt—it’s bound to be a nail-biting finish!

Photo credit: Alicia Cho

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Michelle Pellizzon

Certified health coach and endorphin enthusiast, Michelle is an expert in healthy living and eating. When she's not writing you can find her running trails, reading about nutrition, and eating lots of guacamole.

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