Campus recreation at Towson University prides itself on being innovative. Burdick Hall, the campus's main recreation facility, houses an "American Ninja Warrior"-inspired course, the first of its kind among collegiate recreation centers.
After unveiling a new renovation of the facility in January, the team at Towson wanted to offer students a unique programming experience. That's why Towson this fall became the first university to host a Sprint 8 workshop.
"We really pride ourselves on being innovative and kind of carving a path for other universities," says Eric Barron, assistant director of fitness with Towson recreation. "There are other universities that we look up to in other areas, but we really strive to push the envelope and be innovative and stay ahead of the trends that are coming."
Sprint 8, a science-based high-intensity interval training concept developed by Phil Campbell, is available as a training protocol on many pieces of fitness equipment at Towson, which is how Barron got the idea to host the workshop on campus.
"With my background being in fitness, we were really intrigued by it," Barron says of the Sprint 8 program. "We wanted to know more. Since we have 65 pieces of equipment with the Sprint 8 protocol, it was kind of a no-brainer that we'd want to educate our staff. We want to be able to answer questions. What better way to do that than to go through the protocol and experience it for ourselves?"
Barron approached representatives from Matrix Fitness, which manufactured much of the Towson equipment that is pre-programmed with Sprint 8, about learning more. Matrix helped coordinate with program creator Campbell, while Towson got the word out to area fitness professionals, including those from other universities and YMCAs. In all, about 30 professionals took part in the workshop at Towson.
The Sprint 8 workshop is heavy on exercise science, something Barron found particularly valuable. "What I really liked about it was how we started out with the foundations of science," he says. "We talked about the research studies that have incorporated the training protocol."
While high-intensity interval training has come increasingly to the forefront of fitness, the science supporting this particular kind of training has been well documented and long known. As for Sprint 8, the program calls for three minutes of warm-up time, followed by intervals of 30 seconds of intense work between 90 seconds of active recovery time. "It's not just a trend or a fad," Barron says. "It's been around for more than 20 years, so it's stood the test of time."
The science portion of the Sprint 8 workshop details evidence gleaned from hospital-based clinical trials, and even dives to the cellular level, explaining the benefits of the particular training protocol on ATP-producing mitochondria and telomeres. Participants learned the difference between levels of exercise intensity, and how the protocol can benefit virtually anybody — from professional athletes to deconditioned individuals.
After learning about how it works, participants at the Towson workshop had the opportunity to test out the Sprint 8 protocol for themselves.
"All 30 of us were either on treadmills, ellipticals or bikes going through the protocol at the same time," Barron says. "It was really motivational, but also completely exhausting."
It's meant to be. Campbell, in explaining how hard an individual should be working during the 30-second sprint interval, says that anybody with gas in the tank after a sprint interval probably isn't working hard enough. "If you can go longer than 30 seconds, and you just stopped at 30 seconds because we're talking about 30 seconds, then you probably don't want to count that cardio sprint," says Campbell. "That means you haven't recruited all three muscle fiber types, and you've not worked hard enough to get the benefits of Sprint 8. It has to be so intense that you just barely make the 30 seconds."
After the workshop, Barron was able to take what he had learned and share it with his staff at Towson. "I did a miniature version of the training to all 60 of our employees," Barron says. "It actually served as something like a team-building exercise, so it was really successful."
Among the Towson staff are several students who have been implementing the Sprint 8 training as part of their own fitness routines. Barron says that the enthusiasm for the program his staff members have reported, as well as the results they're seeing, have led them to implement some changes to better incorporate the training method into Towson's facility.
First, Towson reconfigured the fitness floor. "We're creating what we're calling a Sprint 8 zone," says Barron. By pulling a few different pieces of cardio equipment into a dedicated Sprint 8 HIIT zone, the facility can provide space for both these intense exercisers and others. "What I've noticed in a line of cardio, you have a couple of people doing this crazy high-intensity training next to someone who's doing steady-state cardio, and it can be a little bit intimidating at first."
Next will be bringing the protocol to the student body at large.
"Next semester, we're looking to put a Sprint 8 class on our group fitness schedule," Barron says. "We currently offer more than 70 classes a week, but this is a niche we don't necessarily hit right now. I think that students are really going to gravitate to this once they learn about what it is and how to do it."
This article originally appeared in the January | February 2019 issue of Athletic Business with the title "Towson University workshop revs up rec center programming." Athletic Business is a free magazine for professionals in the athletic, fitness and recreation industry. Click here to subscribe.