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As much as you'd like to see your belly fat melt away, your body burns fat for energy throughout your body, not just in one body part. Both sprinting and long-distance running can help you metabolize more fat throughout your body, however, the amount of fat you burn from doing these exercises varies. Current research shows that sprinting can help you burn fat quicker than long-distance running.
Spot Reduction Myth
Spot reduction refers to a process in which body fat is reduced by exercising a specific body part. However, a 1984 study published in "Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport" showed that subjects who performed 27 days of situps showed no reduction of fat cell size or any fat mass reduction in the abdominal region compared to other body parts that weren't trained, such as the glutes and shoulders. Full-body exercises, such as sprinting and long-distance running, have been shown to significantly reduce body fat and increase your body's ability to use fat as fuel more efficiently. A 2004 study published in "Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness" demonstrated that men who performed long-distance running had more muscle mass and less fat in their legs compared to men who run shorter distances or do not run at all.
Sprinting and Long-Distance Running Comparison
You don't always need to perform long-distance running to burn fat. Bouts of sprinting can be just as beneficial as long-distance running to improve cardiovascular health and fat oxidation -- or breakdown. A 2012 study from the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada, showed that bouts of two-minute sprints elicit similar levels of oxygen consumption improvement as 30 minutes of continuous running. However, sprinting elicits a higher metabolic rate than continuous, steady-pace aerobics because the exercise intensity in sprinting is higher than steady-pace aerobics. A 2008 study published in the "American Journal of Physiology" showed that men who performed eight weeks of interval training -- performing a bout of high-intensity exercise followed by a period of lower-intensity exercise -- had a higher fat oxidation rate than those who performed continuous, steady-pace aerobics.
Your metabolism and the rate of oxygen consumption are factors that contribute to how much fat your body uses after exercise. After a bout of exercise, your body undergoes a process called EPOC -- excess post-exercise oxygen consumption -- in which your body uses fat as the primary source of fuel to repair damaged tissues, reduce body temperature and balance hormones, according to exercise physiologist Len Kravitz of the University of New Mexico. This increased metabolism can last between 15 minutes to 48 hours. As exercise intensity increases, the rate and duration of EPOC also increases. In a 2012 study published in "Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness," overweight young women who performed interval training had a significantly higher body-fat reduction than those who performed continuous aerobics.
Although sprinting and other forms of high-intensity exercises generally burn more fat than continuous, long-distance running, not everyone can handle strenuous exercise, especially if they're unfamiliar with exercise. Even elite athletes can suffer injuries from overuse and training. In a 2012 study published in the "Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research," elite rugby players who performed bouts of high-intensity sprinting had a higher risk of soft tissue damage in their lower body than those who performed lower-intensity, longer-distance running. A review of high-intensity exercise training in "Australian Family Physician" recommends that certain populations may need special health assessments and instructions before starting any high-intensity workout. Work with a qualified exercise professional if you're new to sprinting or interval training before training on your own.