Hill Sprints 101

12 Jun

So you want to run hill sprints?

I don’t blame you, they are:

People have used them as a conditioning option for years. However, I noticed these uphill jaunts have become more popular over the last few years. I actually like that hill sprints are kind of a spontaneous option. When in doubt, go run up a damn hill 10 times. However, for those of you who want more, I came to deliver. Here are some reasons why running hills are boss, how to fit them in, how to alter their purpose, and some considerations on where to do them. Let’s get it!

“the hill, if you had to make a name for it, would be either the goal setter or the will maker.” Walter Payton

Why Hill Sprints?

  1. They promote better sprinting mechanics: This is good news for both athletes and general bad asses alike. Better mechanics mean better acceleration, but they also mean better efficiency, proper recruitment, and decrease the likelihood of injury. The grade of the hill places the sprinter in a better “forward lean” posture and promotes the correct shin angle.
  2. They decrease outputs, which makes them more repeatable: You just can’t sprint that fast uphill. Therefore, the overall demand on your body from a stimulus standpoint is less; even though your perceived effort is quite high. Because of this, you will recover from individual sprints, and sprint sessions, quicker; which makes each sprint and each session more repeatable.
  3. They are low impact: This one is pretty well known. Liken it to a box jump. Why do we jump to boxes (mostly)? Because they decrease the impact of landing. Sprinting uphill is easier on your joints, and the decreased impact of each stride is a large reason for point number 2 as well.

Where Do They Fit?

Hill sprints can be used and managed a few different ways, depending on your goals:

Sport performance:

  1. Due to the lessened outputs, and promotion of proper mechanics sprinting uphill is a viable option for upfront sprint work in a strength and conditioning program. I am a fan of the crawl, walk, run (literally) approach to sprint work. I program that in a few ways.
  • One way is to include multiple drills that break sprinting down. For example you can sequence drills to break the movement down like so:
A1) Wall March 2 – 4 sets (repeated or with holds)
B1) Forward Sled Drag 3 – 6 sets of 10 – 20yds
C1) Hill Sprint or Lean Fall Run (if hill is unavailable or depending on where the athlete is in preparation)
  • The other option, which I was introduced to by Charlie Francis, Chad Wesley Smith, and the writing of James Smith, is to include all sprint work uphill in the first block of a strength program. The reason being that an athlete is coming off a long season, their outputs are already diminished, and the grade forces them to keep outputs low while still allowing for sprint work to be included. This will allow you to build volume, work capacity and general preparedness back to a good level in order to introduce more true speed work in later blocks.

Recovery:

  • Playing into the fact that hill sprints are more repeatable, they are also a fantastic option for more “tempo” based recovery work. You do not need to run the hill at 100%. Instead you can run at a lower intensity of 60 – 70% for 40 – 100yds, allow for rest intervals of 1 – 2minutes and use the sprints to promote blood flow, and increased ROM.  This option can be used on off days for athletes, strength athletes and for general bad asses the day before a lifting session.

GPP and Fat Loss:

  • Because hill sprints are easily accessible for many populations they make sense to include in a program targeting the increase of work capacity and as a fat loss option. Like I said before, when in doubt, go run up hill a bunch of times. In this case I would include the work after intense lifting sessions, or on off days that fall before a complete day of rest or before an upper body focused lifting session. If you are running hills for GPP and Fat Loss chances are you are going more “all out” and doing so before a lower body day can be detrimental.

Where?

  • I highly recommend you find a hill that is grass or dirt. Because so much of the benefit centers around the lessened impact, running on pavement largely takes away from the point. Especially if you are doing hill work for recovery, or upfront as speed work, you should do them on grass.
  • I think I heard this tip from Jim Wendler, but I can’t remember. If you are looking for a hill just google “sledding hills” in your area. Other options are ski areas, many golf courses have nice grass hills as well.
  • The hill itself should be steep but not ridiculous. You want a grade that will force you into that nice leaning posture, but not so steep that it alters mechanics completely.
  • The distance should be a minimum of say 40yds, but I would look for something that is at least 100yds. This way you can alter distances depending on what your focus is. Acceleration work = 10 – 20yds, General sprint work = 40 – 60yds, Aerobic work = 50 – 100yds (as a general guideline).

Miscellaneous:

  • Get some cleats. They will make sprinting on grass and dirt more enjoyable
  • Rest! Allow for some rest between sprints. If you are working sprints for recovery, or speed work make sure you rest a minimum of 60s but more appropriately 90s to 2m+ is recommended. For fat loss and general conditioning, the walk back down hill may be adequate.
  • Don’t limit uphill work to sprinting. For the same reason sprinting uphill is more repeatable so is jumping uphill, and doing various drills (skips, bounds, shuffles, etc).
  • Sometimes a hill is the perfect place to get your mind right. I don’t advocate it all the time. However, sometimes you need to just go run yourself into the ground and build some mental fortitude. The hill is a great place to do it.

There you have it. Hill work is a great option for many different populations. Athletes to everyday gym goers can receive tons of benefit to including them in their approach.

Here is a call to action: do you have a favorite hill? Snap a picture, or a video and show me what you’re working with! You can post it on my Facebook page by clicking the “Facebook” icon on the top right of the page. I will get things started, here is my hill:

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8 Responses to “Hill Sprints 101”

  1. Nicholas St John Rheault June 12, 2012 at 11:05 am #

    Great article…. Please correct me if I’m wrong, but depending on the degree of the hill sprints 3 degrees to 30 degrees would have an direct impact on the lower lumbar….. I’ve seen under prepared/de-conditioned high school athletes complain about back problems….. Your thoughts???

    • gregtrainer June 12, 2012 at 9:16 pm #

      I think sprint work in general might not be a great choice for that population. Get them stronger, maybe include work on the sled, and then re-visit it.

  2. Mary Lou June 15, 2012 at 9:45 pm #

    Very helpful post. Thanks

  3. Michael Irr August 3, 2012 at 3:32 pm #

    Great article Greg!

    • gregtrainer August 3, 2012 at 8:00 pm #

      Thanks for reading, Michael, and for all the great info you put out there!

  4. Kaylene September 2, 2012 at 3:34 am #

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Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Balancing Training and Recovery « Greg Robins - July 24, 2012

    […] A favorite choice of mine, when the weather allows for it, are hill sprints. You can find out everything you need to know about hill sprints in my post: Hill Sprints 101. […]

  2. Physical Training Tests and How to Train For Them - Part 2 - Strength and Conditioning for the Tactical Athlete - August 8, 2012

    […] – Great for leg strength-endurance and building speed. Learn all you need to know about them in Hill Sprints 101. Start with a moderate length hill and low-level grade and build from there by finding a hill of […]

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