Run faster, burn fat, and improve your athletic performance with hill sprints.
I’m often asked what the best exercise someone can do is. And while there are many answers depending on the individual’s goals and ambitions – one exercise that always makes my shortlist, regardless of goal, are hill sprints. Why? Because hill sprints will make you faster, better conditioned, and noticeably fitter as you'll burn fat rather quickly.
Why are hill sprints so good?
Hill sprints offer a vast array of mental, and physical, benefits but here are a few of the reasons I hold them in such high regard...
When I coach people to get faster, I try to get them to be comfortable with moving their centre of gravity out in front of them. On the flat surface athletes have to consciously think about this. On a hill, they do it without thinking. A hill forces you not only to lean forward, but most importantly it forces you to get your hips out in front of your feet which is crucial for maximizing acceleration.
Running fast on the flat ground also poses an injury risk. While I recommend people perform sprint work, you need to manage this risk. A hill allows you to run at 100% effort, but the incline prevents top speed from being reached, thus decreasing the risk of any injuries. When in season or prepping for a competition, being able to train hard while minimizing injury is an important consideration.
Have you ever seen an exhausted runner completing a marathon? How was their technique? Awful, right?
A pet peeve of mine is seeing tired athletes pushing ahead even after their technique has broken down. Yes we need to push ourselves, but the goal should be to practice proper movement patterns without undoing all that hard work with mindless conditioning.
This is where hill sprints come in. They demand good technique, as it’s almost impossible to run up a hill without proper form. Hill sprints force you to maintain leg drive, a good arm swing and correct body positioning. Beautiful, isn’t it?
They say nothing in life is free but I beg to differ. A hill doesn’t have a monthly membership fee or a sign up cost. I’ve also never had to wait in a queue to use my hill either. Even if you don’t have a traditional hill, consider running up a sloped street for the same effect... just be aware of oncoming traffic and you'll reap the benefits of this total body exercise.
How to Incorporate Hill Sprints in Your Training
Firstly find a hill, but don’t worry too much about how long or how steep it is. The important thing is to run them. Of course, ideally the hill is 60 yards long, with an even 1:4 gradient. Depending on the weather I’ll wear either cleats or track spikes, but any running shoe should work just fine.
The hill should preferably be a short walk or drive away from where you live, work or go to school – that way you have no excuses about getting there regularly. Aim to get a group together to do them.
Warm up by performing some simple bodyweight drills and mobility exercises like those found in this 5 min warm up article. Then run the hill at 50% and 75% before starting your repetitions for the day.
Start out with one session a week. Aim to run between 4-6 hills with walk back recovery. Don’t worry; you will get better. After a few weeks, you can either sprint faster, add a repetition, or decrease the recovery period to continuously burn fat and increase your cardiovascular capacity.
I generally rotate between two sessions. One session I run 3-5 hills with longer rest periods to focus on quality. My aim is to run the hill as fast as possible. The second session I perform involves more repetitions with shorter rest to work on conditioning.
But how do you know what to do? Two things:
1. What does your sport require from you?
2. What aren’t you very good at?
Answers those questions, run hills, and I promise you will get better.
A Final Point
I remember training with a good friend and fellow coach and we were running hills in awful weather. I started to bitch and moan about how bad it was. My friend stopped me and asked me to look around. I wasn’t sure why, as the park was deserted.
He went on to explain that this is champion’s weather. The guy in second place is in a warm dry house. Winners are outside getting better, despite the weather.
So, next time you’re outside in the freezing rain running hill sprints, look around. You’ll then realize why hill sprints are going to make you a better.
To get the most our of your hill sprint workouts 1R would recommend the following supplements: