If you’ve seen Tom Cruise in a movie from 1983, you’ve seen him in one from 2023. He’s got another Mission Impossible film coming out next week, and he looks the same as he did in his 20s. And so, a quick multiple-choice question.
Tom Cruise stays so young by:
- Drinking the blood of the innocent
- Following Scientology
- All of the above
The answer, of course, is #3. He’s never claimed as much, but it feels like a more plausible explanation. And unlike drinking blood smoothies or reaching deity status in Scientology, we can sprint. And we should. It’s one of the best activities you can do to burn fat and build muscle now and stay out of the retirement home for longer.
Our muscles contain slow- and fast-twitch fibers. The former help us do slower movements, and the latter help with powerful movements.
“As you get older, you maintain some of the slower fibers but the faster-twitch fibers tend to die off sooner,” said Mike Reinhardt with Resilient Performance Systems in New York City. “Once those fast-twitch fibers disappear, you can’t get them back. Sprinting is really good for preserving those fibers. The faster you can move, the lower your risk of all-cause mortality. You need to be maximizing these fibers earlier in life to maintain them later on.”
He’s right. Research shows that people who typically walk slowly at midlife have an increased risk of early death. Our takeaway: Sprint now, die later.
But for now, you can’t go into sprinting so fast.
“Getting into sprinting with years or even months of a sedentary lifestyle is definitely a high risk for injury,” said Reinhardt. “You don't run to get in shape, you get in shape to run. That's kind of the same with sprinting.”
How to prepare your body to sprint
Sprinting is running. So it might look like cardio. But it’s more of a power exercise that requires your muscles to generate significant forces.
“So you need to make sure you build a baseline level of strength before you sprint,” said Reinhardt. “That can be done from body weight training and [classic weight] training.” This need not be complicated. Do push-ups, squats, lunges, rows and Romanian deadlifts. Try three sets of 10 reps each, a few times each a week. Do that for two weeks.
“And then I would do a couple of weeks of introductory lower-level plyometric exercises,” said Reinhardt. Plyometrics are moves designed to help you generate more speed and force. The idea is to start small so you can get into big sprints safely.
Try exercises like pogo hopping, skipping and bounding. Do them a few times a week for a few sets that last 20 seconds each.
After a month of preparation, your rust will be mostly clear. Your joints won’t emulsify if you try to sprint. But you also can’t pretend to be Mr. Cruise sprinting from a burning building in Mission Impossible 19. You don’t have the thighs for it, and your teeth aren’t white enough.
“It’s safer to start with short distances,” said Reinhardt. “Go about 10 yards.” Do that 10 times.
If you can, do this on a hill with a mild incline. “Essentially, what the hill does is it forces you to get your foot up higher. So it actually decreases the amount of impact forces you have to deal with,” said Reinhardt. “So if you haven't sprinted in, like, 10 years, doing hill sprints is kind of a naturally limiting way to reintroduce that movement.”
Sprint only once or twice a week. “Doing too much too soon is one of the biggest things to avoid,” said Reinhard. It ups your injury risk by ruining your form.
Add more rounds of sprints over time. Add four rounds each week until you hit 25 rounds. “Then you could increase the distance to 20 yards, but drop the rounds back down to 10 and start building back up.” Repeat until you’re at 30 yards. Then cap it off there, continuing to sprint once or twice a week until you look like Tom Cruise or die.
Of course, continue to weight train and stay generally active. That’ll help keep your body durable and ready for anything. And maybe check into the whole blood smoothies thing.