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What’s Better — Three Minutes of Sprinting or Three Miles of Jogging?

One is obviously faster and the other is obviously longer, but which will make all that gasping for air most worth it?

Gym scripture says that quality defeats quantity every time. That is, extracting every last ounce of value from whatever you’re doing trumps doing that thing for a longer period of time at a lesser effort level. But let’s put this principle to the test by asking a very simple question: Are three minutes of “suicide sprints” more beneficial than a three-mile run?

I sure hope so! I would love to cut my cardio time down to three minutes a day!

To get the comparison started properly, it’s important to note that most trained runners can manage roughly an eight-minute mile during steady-state distance training, so most conditioning rounds of this nature will land them in the 24-minute range. The number of calories burned will vary based on height, weight and gender considerations, but it’s safe to affix an average figure of 10 calories burned per minute to this sort of effort, meaning 240 calories will be burned during a three-mile run at an eight-minute-mile pace.

As for suicide sprinting, it’s intended to be a pedal-to-the-medal exercise that leaves you feeling completely enervated and brutalized. If your objective is to provide your body with an experience that it will need to recover from so that you can return from it even stronger, three straight minutes of suicide sprints will certainly test that theory.

Is there any chance I can burn as many calories in those three minutes of suicides as I can during my three-mile run?

Dream on. 

Even if you start at a face-melter pace that could conceivably triple your caloric burn, you’re not gonna maintain it for much longer than a minute. Because when you attempt to go all out for too long, your sprint eventually devolves into steady-state cardio’s evil cousin: the Death Drag. While you’re in the throes of it, your body can no longer create the type of motion required to burn through calories at anywhere near what it was capable of during that first minute. 

And so, realistically, that 30-calorie first minute is going to be followed by a 15-calorie second minute, and if you haven’t begun to walk by minute three, you might conclude that “sprint” by trotting around at an eight-calorie-per-minute rate. In the grand scheme of things, 53 burned calories in 180 seconds is nothing to sneeze at, but it’s nowhere near 240.

But which one will leave me in better condition?

That totally depends upon what you’re training for. If you’re relying solely on your cardio to create the caloric deficit required to lose weight, a three-minute suicide sprint isn’t going to get the job done. Moreover, without combining a suicide series with distance training, it’s also unlikely to generate the sort of endurance that steady-state running at a moderately challenging pace eventually produces. 

Honestly, suicides are far more of conditioning tool than a training tool, and the type of conditioning they provide is most applicable in a sports environment. They allow you to gauge your ability to get up to speed quickly, as well as to rapidly change your direction. Aside from that, they’re not the most efficient form of sprint training you can implement. 

If the plan is to truly test how long you can sustain your topmost sprinting speed without decelerating, there are far better ways to meet that goal, including authentic Tabata training where you go 20 seconds on and 10 seconds off for four minutes at a time, and also Fartlek drills where you vary the speeds at which you cover a set distance, while apportioning certain segments of your run for all-out sprints.

And so, in the matter of three minutes of suicides versus three miles of running, it’s not blasphemous at all to stray from gym scripture and the idea that quality defeats quantity. It’s just the way it is.