Coaches Kelly Matthews & Tim Riley Showcase Their Favorite Sprint Warm-Up Drills

Hybrid training — performing high-intensity strength training and vigorous, often sport-specific cardio — is having a moment right now, thanks in large part to coaches and content creators like Fergus Crawley and Kelly Matthews. Matthews, a powerlifter and strength & conditioning coach at Ladder, is on something of a mission to pump out as much high-quality hybrid training content as possible.

To that end, Matthews took to her newly established YouTube Channel, Strong With Kelly, on Feb. 25, 2024, for a full walkthrough (or, rather, run-through) of one of her favorite training modalities sprinting. Alongside NFL strength & conditioning coach Tim Riley, Matthews broke down everything a beginner should know to put their best foot forward during a sprint workout. Check it out below:

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Kelly Matthews’ Sprint Workout Warm-Up

“Before you sprint, you need an extensive dynamic warm-up,” Matthews notes. She’s right — studies repeatedly show that a specific warm-up that prepares the athlete for the unique demands of the workout that follows produces better results and reduces the perception of difficulty. (1)

However, all warm-up routines should begin with a few minutes of low-intensity movement to raise the body’s core temperature and promote blood flow. Examples include five to 10 minutes of treadmill walking, a light jog, or skipping rope before advancing to sprint-specific drills.

Best Warm-Up Drills for Sprinting

Matthews and Riley recommend implementing progressive overload from the beginning.

Sprinting is one of the most intense things you can do, so you need to prepare your body for those intense impacts.

Begin with slower, more deliberate movements before gradually working toward explosive plyometrics or preparatory sprints. Here’s what a breakdown of each drill looks like:

1. Walking Lunges + Reverse Lunges

Credit: Strong With Kelly on YouTube

“Bring your back knee all the way down to the ground to get a full range of motion in your hips,” Riley notes. 

After performing several reps of forward lunges, take a breath and perform reverse lunges back to your starting point.

2. Lateral Lunges

Credit: Strong With Kelly on YouTube

Riley suggests performing five lunges on each leg during the warm-up phase.

Lateral lunges activate the glute medius, one of the most important muscles for stabilizing the hip joint when walking, running, or sprinting. (2)

3. Pogo Hops

Credit: Strong With Kelly on YouTube

Riley advises to keep things “light and springy,” bouncing off the balls of your feet.

Matthews and Riley suggest performing five forward hops, five lateral hops to the left and right, five forward diagonal hops, and five reverse diagonal hops.

This drill prepares the tissues around your ankle to absorb the explosive forces that occur during a sprint. 

4. High Knees + Butt Kicks

Credit: Strong With Kelly on YouTube

Perform 10 yards of high knees, driving your kneecap up until it is parallel with your hip.

Reverse the motion with butt kicks, contracting your hamstring to drive your heel toward your backside with each stride. 

5. A-Skips

Credit; Strong With Kelly on YouTube

“Think skipping, but raise your knee higher than you normally would,” Riley suggests.

Perform A-Skips for 15 yards then walk back to the starting position. 

6. Quicktimes + Primetimes

Credit: Strong With Kelly on YouTube

“Your knees remain locked, and arms stay low, next to your hips, while your feet move fast,” Riley notes of the technique. 

Quicktimes focus on short strides and contacting the ground often. Primetimes focus on lengthening your stride. Perform each for 10 to 15 yards.

Matthews says that some sprint drills may look and feel silly but are essential for warming up adequately. 

7. Prime Skips

Credit: Strong With Kelly on YouTube

The goal of this drill is to skip vertically, launching in the air with each stride. 

Most of the height should come from contracting your calves, quads, and glutes.

8. Long Skips

Credit: Strong With Kelly on YouTube

This is the final sprint drill during this phase of the warm-up.

Work up to max-distance skips if you’ve never done this drill before.

Cover as much ground between each skip as possible. 

After completing all eight plyometric drills, Riley moved Matthews into the final stretch of the warm-up. They performed three “primer” sprints: 80 percent max speed, 90 percent max speed, and 100 percent max speed for 10 yards each. 

You can do all of these things on a treadmill if you don’t have access to open space.

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Is Sprinting Anabolic?

Before diving into the drills themselves, Matthews remarked that sprint training is a unique form of cardio in that it is inherently anabolic instead of catabolic. If you’ve never heard those terms before, you might wonder what they mean, and whether Matthews’ claims hold water scientifically.

What Do Anabolic and Catabolic Mean?

If you’re not a biology student, these terms might be foreign to you. Scientifically, anabolism and catabolism refer to two ongoing processes within your body — that of building or creating tissue (anabolism) or breaking tissue down (catabolism).

In exercise science, coaches generally use the two terms as stand-ins for the idea that an anabolic exercise builds or encourages muscle growth; in contrast, catabolic exercise may lead to muscular deterioration or wasting

[Related: Are Squats Really More “Anabolic” Than Other Exercises?]

The body carries out anabolism and catabolism at all times. Don’t think of it as a light switch you flip; it’s more akin to a current that, depending on your choices in the kitchen and weight room, flows faster in one direction than the other.

All exercise is inherently catabolic because it consumes energy, but you can still be “anabolic” overall if you eat enough protein and calories and perform high-intensity exercise. 

Does Sprinting Build Muscle?

Due to its brief but intense nature, Matthews suggests that sprinting is inherently anabolic. Does sprinting actually build muscle? Well, research on the topic is somewhat conflicting: 

One study from 2022 observed no meaningful increases in testosterone after performing a workout of sprint intervals. (3)

However, other data displayed greater anabolic responses in growth hormone as sprint distance decreased. (4)

Similarly, a 2009 study noted “exercise-related anabolic adaptations” to sprinting, particularly in elevations of growth hormone and IGF-1. (5)

Findings on sprinting and anabolism are mixed, leaning positive overall. However, elevating hormones such as testosterone or IGF-1 are just one piece of the muscle hypertrophy puzzle.

To build new muscle tissue, you need high amounts of mechanical tension, particularly during the eccentric phase of exercise (when the muscle is lengthening — think stretching your hamstrings when performing a deadlift). (6)(7)

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Sprinting workouts may be conducive to building lean muscle mass (along with a long list of other health benefits), but don’t expect to wake up jacked the week after you start sprint training. 

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van den Tillaar, R., Lerberg, E., & von Heimburg, E. (2019). Comparison of three types of warm-up upon sprint ability in experienced soccer players. Journal of sport and health science, 8(6), 574–578. 

Stastny P, Tufano JJ, Golas A, Petr M. Strengthening the Gluteus Medius Using Various Bodyweight and Resistance Exercises. Strength Cond J. 2016 Jun;38(3):91-101. doi: 10.1519/SSC.0000000000000221. Epub 2016 Jun 3. PMID: 27340373; PMCID: PMC4890828.

Zurek G, Danek N, Żurek A, Nowak-Kornicka J, Żelaźniewicz A, Orzechowski S, Stefaniak T, Nawrat M, Kowal M. Effects of Dominance and Sprint Interval Exercise on Testosterone and Cortisol Levels in Strength-, Endurance-, and Non-Training Men. Biology (Basel). 2022 Jun 24;11(7):961. doi: 10.3390/biology11070961. PMID: 36101342; PMCID: PMC9312330.

Meckel, Y., Nemet, D., Bar-Sela, S., Radom-Aizik, S., Cooper, D. M., Sagiv, M., & Eliakim, A. (2011). Hormonal and inflammatory responses to different types of sprint interval training. Journal of strength and conditioning research, 25(8), 2161–2169. 

Meckel, Y., Eliakim, A., Seraev, M., Zaldivar, F., Cooper, D. M., Sagiv, M., & Nemet, D. (2009). The effect of a brief sprint interval exercise on growth factors and inflammatory mediators. Journal of strength and conditioning research, 23(1), 225–230. 

Schoenfeld B. J. (2010). The mechanisms of muscle hypertrophy and their application to resistance training. Journal of strength and conditioning research, 24(10), 2857–2872. 

Pedrosa, G. F., Lima, F. V., Schoenfeld, B. J., Lacerda, L. T., Simões, M. G., Pereira, M. R., Diniz, R. C. R., & Chagas, M. H. (2022). Partial range of motion training elicits favorable improvements in muscular adaptations when carried out at long muscle lengths. European journal of sport science, 22(8), 1250–1260. 

Featured Image: Strong With Kelly on YouTube

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