The Benefits of Hill Sprints

Why Sprint up a hill? For many of us, hill sprints bring back bad high school memories of punishments meted out after a lackadaisical practice. Naturally, we should be forgiven for not wanting to go back.

Fortunately with age comes perspective, and that perspective should allow us to take a second look at the merits of this horrible torture. As it turns out, there’s a lot to like about running hard up hills. Here’s a short list of reasons why I’m a fan, and why you should be too:

Increased force output

Moving your body up a hill as fast as you can requires a lot of power to be directed into the ground. The increased ground contact time means that your glutes, hamstrings and calves have more time to exert forces into the ground. You’ll be surprised just how quickly their ability to move improves.

Decreased joint stress

During normal sprinting, the impact of your body crashing into the ground is distinctly damaging to the joints, muscles and tendons. Since the slope continually brings the ground up to you, impact forces are decreased significantly, leaving everything feeling good while still keeping the work intensity high.

Increased activation of Type 2 (fast twitch) muscle fibers

We’ve talked about how we lose our fast twitch fibers at a much faster rate than our slow twitch fibers as we age, leading to disproportionate loses in strength, power and functional capacity. I’d argue that this is largely a function of disuse – most people just don’t incorporate any high power activities into their workouts. Sprints such as these fit that bill for having a positive impact, without devoting a ton of training time to it.

What’s the best way to start?

Well, the first thing is to find a good hill. I generally like a hill that’s steep, but not so steep that you can’t maintain relatively normal running mechanics. The optimal slope and distance always depend on your objective, but that basic guideline is a good place to start. 

Once you’ve selected your hill, be sure to warm up thoroughly and hold back a little bit on the first sprint or two. Like anything that’s out of your normal activities, be sure to quit while you’re ahead. That means not sprinting full out and ending the workout before you’re exhausted – you’ll need a few workouts in order for your body to adapt to the forces you’ll be applying. After all, an injury the first time out is the opposite of what we’re looking for. However, once you’ve spent a few weeks building a base, you can then increase your sprint intensity.

A reasonable expectation for adding these to your program would be to do the following:

  • 5×75 yards. 75% effort up the hill, walk down, repeat. As the weeks progress, you can change any of those variables (number of reps, distance, slope and speed).

Looking for more information on running or general training? Make sure to reach out to us with any and all questions you’ve got!