Hill Sprints are gaining popularity, but not everyone appreciates their benefits for enhancing athletic performance beyond improved conditioning. Athletes looking to stay strong and healthy during the season or boost their off-season training should be using Hill Sprints for more than interval workouts.
There are three major benefits—speed, mechanics and low skill.
Every athlete in the world can benefit from being faster. Two critical components of speed are addressed with the hill—force production and stride frequency.
The more force your legs can apply into the ground, the further forward you can drive your body. Due to the incline of the hill, you must generate more power to fight the increase in gravity. This power increase leads to greater acceleration.
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Gravity also plays a role in the speed of your stride turnovers, known as stride frequency. The quicker you can re-apply force into the ground to keep you moving forward, the faster you will reach your target.
An athlete's ability to resist gravity and create force translates to greater force output.
The angle of the hill also contributes to proper sprinting mechanics. When you perform Hill Sprints, the gradient promotes a natural forward lean, which is ideal for generating power in the acceleration phase of a sprint. Furthermore, the angle of the hill forces you to exaggerate your arm swing and leg drive to overcome the additional resistance of gravity.
Running uphill reinforces moving your body in an optimal range of motion at the hip, knee and ankle. The improved range of motion contributes to hip extension, which is essential for explosiveness, recruitment of the glutes for greater power production and ankle flexion (which gives you an extra bit of spring off the ground).
While getting to the top of the hill is most important, don't overlook coming back down. Deceleration—teaching the body to slow down and absorb force before changing direction or accelerating once again—is a key component of speed and agility training. As you make your way down the hill, fighting gravity, you are teaching your body to decelerate.
Many great exercises can improve an athlete's speed, power and explosiveness, but you must weigh the costs against the rewards. As a training tool, Hill Sprints are low skill but yield high reward. Athletes can incorporate hill training with little to no risk of injury. The impact of running and sprinting on flat ground is reduced when you introduce the incline of the hill. There is less landing impact on your hips, knees and ankles, so your muscles are better able to absorb shock to protect your bones and joints.
Without question, Hill Sprints are an effective training tool for improving overall fitness in athletes and the general population. Incorporate hills into an interval workout to build aerobic capacity and improve your running economy.
If you are new to hill sprinting, use this interval workout as a starting point:
- Sprint to the top of the hill at 80-85% effort.
- Walk down the hill; this is your recovery time.
- When you reach the bottom, sprint right back up.
- Perform 5-8 sprints, then rest 2-4 minutes.
- Repeat 3-5 times.
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