Run For Your Lives

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For the past month or so I have been running a Sunday S.O.A.S Session, S.O.A.S standing for $#!t off a shovel. This delightful phrase come from the days of steam powered rail. For the train driver and his fireman, the fella shovelling the coal, leaving their designated workspace was not an option. So if one needed to answer the call of nature in a big way, they would do it on the fireman’s shovel. The fireman would then, for politeness and hygiene reasons, quickly toss the offending substance in to the fire. The shovel being coated in coal dust avoided any adhesive issues, further speeding up the process.

And thus the adage $#!t off shovel was born as an expression of awe inspiring speed.

So what is S.O.A.S training? Quite simple it is just moving as fast as you can.

This will of course conjure up images of the  Olympic sprinter, hurtling down the track at breakneck speed. And whilst I am more of an Eddie ‘The Eagle’ Edwards type rather than a Usain Bolt when it comes to running, I still love to sprint.

the eagle
The Eagle

Human beings are designed to run. A whole host of physiological adaptations have brought about this ability. The Nuchal Ligament extends from the base of the skull to the spine and is there to stabilise. It only exists in animals that run. Deer, yes; sheep yes; humans, yes; other apes, no.

The plantar arch of the foot and the Achilles tendon are all perfectly formed to convert kinetic energy to elastic energy. We are coiled springs made flesh.

Then there are the Vestibulo-ocular reflexes. Shake your head from side to side whilst looking at this. You can still read it right? A perfect adaptation for the constantly shifting motion of running. For more fascinating incite into this check out Christopher McDougall’s book Born to Run.

The ability to run really fast had obvious benefits to our ancestors. The need to to evade that sabre-tooth stalking up to you and your neighbours would be pretty good incentive to shift into high-gear. You wouldn’t necessarily need to be able to out run a sabre-tooth either, only your neighbour.

Sprinting towards prey in order to catch it could also have been a matter of life and death for our ancestors.

But thankfully life for much of us in the western world has few of theses issues any more. Sprinting for prey now is reserved only for Black Friday and the new  iPhone 7. And our predatory feline population generally are the dealers of pissed off disdain rather than death.

pissed of cat

But despite our relative modern comforts and threat free lives, sprinting is still of great benefit to us. There is of course the obvious advantages to moving quickly. Avoiding danger, rushing to someone’s aid, or for the pure damn joy of it.

There are a whole host of other positive outcomes from sprinting including the following:

Improves insulin sensitivity

Increases energy and alertness

Helps delay ageing process

Improves cognition

Promotes muscular development

Enhances fat loss

Improves blood lipid profiles

Helps increase bone density and strength (when performing high impact sprints, like running)


Several scientific studies have confirmed  that high intensity sprint sessions are more effective at promoting fat reduction than other forms of exercise, due to the acceleration effect of fat metabolism and improvements to insulin sensitivity.

Sprinting helps to increase levels of positive adaptive and anti-ageing hormones into the blood stream and enhances protein synthesis helping both men and women build or maintain lean muscle mass.fitness_pyramid_bw

The other advantage? It take very little time to perform.


So how do we go about a S.O.A.S session?

This is my general sprint session protocol –

For the sprint session to be optimal we need to be sprinting for between 8-30 seconds. Any less than 8 seconds and it won’t be intense enough, any more than 30 and the effort needed can’t be sustained. We usually do 100m, but this will be too much for many, so scale it back.

We start warming up with some light jogging back and forth at out chosen location, usually on grass.

This is then followed by some dynamic stretching, ie active stretches that move through the whole range of motions. Movements like high knees, walking lunges, walking knee grabs, kicking the heels up to the bum etc. We do a couple of theses forwards and backwards each for about 20m. Stop before you start getting tired.

Next up are ‘wind sprints’. These are runs over our designated distance that start at about 50% intensity and increase to about 90%. we do between 2 and 4 of these.

Now that we are primed and ready to go, we can start our full sprints. These will be focused at around 90% maximum intensity, just short of an actual sabre-tooth attack. We do anywhere from 4-6 repetitions of this. Don’t start from a dead start, give yourself a few metres run up. Definitely don’t come to an abrupt stop! Slow down gradually over at least a 10m distance. Walk back to the start line.

The important thing is adequate recovery between each sprint, enough to bring breathing back to normal. Pay attention to how you are feeling throughout your session. Any pain (as opposed to muscle fatigue), especially in the hamstring area, stop.

Also, this is not a session where we keep going until we’re spent. As soon as your form starts to falter, or the time taken for each sprint starts to increase, then it’s time to call it a day.

It doesn’t matter how fast you are going as long as you are going as fast as you can (90% max or more). So even if this is ‘only’ brisk walking, it will still be doing the same work.

Knee pain or any other previous lower limb injuries may call for some modification. Up hill sprints are probably a safer alternative to running on the flat as there is far less impact to the legs.

Not in to running? No problem. Sprints can be done in a number of ways:

Swimming pools – either swimming or aqua running

Cycling – Road or stationary bike


Elliptical cross trainers

Don’t sprint on treadmills though as it can increase the risk of injury.

Check out Mark Sisson’s article on injury prevention for sprinting.


And that’s it. I repeat this session every 7-10 days. It really feels like a total body workout. I feel tired but invigorated by it, and whilst I can’t always say I’m looking forward to it, I’m always glad I’ve done it.

So give it a whirl. Reconnect with your hunter gatherer ancestors and try perhaps the most primal workout in history.



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