Hit the hills, reap the rewards!
Whether you love them or hate them, doing hill sprints is a sure way to improve your your running performance - working against gravity, forces your muscles to work differently from what they’re used to.
Key gains can be made in your speed, strength, stamina, power and running technique by incorporating hill sprints into your training, even if you’re returning from injury.
HERE’S HOW HILLS SPRINTS WILL IMPROVE YOUR RUNNING
> SPEED - fast-twitch muscle fibres are involved in any activity that includes a quick explosive movement or the rapid development of power, as they contract 10 times faster than the slow-twitch fibres. Some people are born with more fast-twitch muscle fibers than others but with training, you can change your ratio of fast-twitch to slow-twitch muscle fibers by running at maximal intensity. Short fast hill intervals of 20-90 seconds are great for developing speed.
> STRENGTH - the faster pace and maximal intensity builds speed, but it's the hill that provides the strength benefit. Running up an incline places the same demand on your muscles as weight training but it’s running specific as your glutes, quads, hamstrings, and calves must ‘lift’ you up the slope. That’s not to say you should cut out your strength sessions as they compliment your run training and help to minimise injury risk - but maximal reps can help to develop run specific strength.
> POWER - speed x strength = power, so it’s not surprising you gain power from hill training but hill sprints also demand a lifting of the toe (ankle dorsiflexion) prior to landing. This movement is associated with power generation and increase in stride length.
> STAMINA - running at a higher intensity, maximises your oxygen uptake (VO2max) and a high VO2max is important because it is closely correlated with distance-running performance. There are two major factors that contribute to a high VO2max: one is a strong oxygen transport system, which includes a powerful heart, hemoglobin-packed blood, high blood volume, high capillary density in the muscles, and high mitochondrial density within the muscle cells. The other is speed, or the capacity to contract a large number of muscle fibers simultaneously, as the more muscle tissue is active at any given moment, the more oxygen the muscles demand.
Hill intervals of 2-3 minutes are great for training VO2max and it will boost your running fitness more than any other type of run training.
> MINIMISE INJURY RISK - Uphill repetitions are easier on your joints and connective tissues than similar efforts on flat terrain because the slope shortens the distance you have to "fall" or land, reducing impact. Also hill sprints allow you to push your body and generate high leg turnover (cadence) without actually running that fast minimising the risk of hamstrings strains which are associated with speed work on a flat terrain. Plus running uphill helps to strengthen muscles, bones, tendons, ligaments, and other connective tissues which will help to minimise future injury risk.
> IMPROVE RUNNING TECHNIQUE - Sprinting up a steep hill at 90 to 95 percent maximum effort recruits the fullest range of fibers possible. It also demands the widest range of motion from our stride as we have to lift the knee higher and kick up behind which stimulates form improvement - resulting in a smoother, longer, faster stride.
TOP TRAINING TIPS FOR HILL RUNNING
INCLINE - hill sessions are focused on pushing yourself at a higher intensity for a set amount of time. You want to find an incline that is challenging (around 10%) and run at a pace that is hard but also achievable to maintain for the full interval length.
NO HILLS - if you don’t have a suitable hill near you then either do the session on a treadmill or find a hill which is slightly shorter. If you run shorter hills, please reduce the time of each interval but increase the number of reps so the total session time is the same.
If neither of those are an option then substituting the session for a flat speed session and strength and conditioning will help to improve your strength, speed and ultimately power.
KEEP YOUR RHYTHM - A lot of coaches talk about ‘attacking the hill’ because you need more focus and determination during a hill climb. But essentially running uphill is all about rhythm; if you let the hill break up your rhythm you will slow down dramatically. To maintain your rhythm as you start to ascend either count in your head, or focus on the tempo of your arms pumping back and forth. BE CONSISTENT - Aim for the same effort going uphill as you do on the flat but vary the pace. Running uphill at the same pace you were when running on the flat will leave you exhausted later on. So keep the focus on your rhythm and don’t worry about how fast you are travelling.