Hill Sprints: An Uphill Battle Worth Fighting
Analogous to having a five tool hitter implanted on a baseball team’s postseason roster, hill sprints provide athletes and lifters unequivocal versatility.
Before the benefits of hill sprints are expounded, let’s first examine some of the fundamental differences between hill sprints and sprinting on the ground.
– Hill sprints require a forward body lean, even as peak velocity is reached.
– The ground reaction forces associated with hill sprints are significantly less than sprinting on flat surfaces (1). Additionally, peak propulsive forces are noted during hill sprints (1).
– Hill sprints do not tax the hamstrings nearly as much sprinting on flat surfaces do, as the recovery leg which would ordinarily swing further forward during sprints conducted on flat surfaces, is now more restricted in its movement due to the incline associated with uphill running. As such, the eccentric control of the hamstrings by way of elastic domains is diminished, thereby mitigating fatigue and soreness.
Hill sprints encompass numerous benefits, which include:
– Establishing technique which is correlative with the acceleration phase of sprinting, such as requiring an anterior weight shift, encouraging greater propulsive action of the rear leg occurring during the late support phase, thus forming a “power line” position, in which the back leg is directly beneath the torso and the thigh of the front leg is perpendicular with the torso.
– Hill sprints also encourage the relaxation of the muscles which govern the craniocervical region and upper extremities, particularly the shoulders, which are apt to tensing up amid novice athletes during the acceleration phase. And alluded to above, since the recovery leg does not swing in front of the body like sprinting on flat surfaces, overstriding, a common error noted among novice athletes, is largely prevented. Further, hill sprints encourage that the eyes are in focus with the ground, instead of up, which prevents the eliciting of a premature upright posture via vestibuolocular reflexes. Remember, the body follows the eyes.
– Hill sprints also activate the hip flexors as they require comparatively greater active end range hip flexion than sprinting on flatter surfaces. Keep in mind that the iliacus and psoas muscles of the hip flexor group become engaged at 70 and 90 degrees of hip flexion, respectively.
– Individuals engaging in hill sprints also incur a greater energetic demand versus sprinting on flat surfaces (3).
– And when combined with downhill sprinting, uphill sprinting elicited greater improvements in maximum running speed than traditional sprint training transpiring on flat surfaces (4).
– Hill sprints are also effective in conferring strength gains similar to traditional resistance training (2).
– Lastly, hill sprints serve as an appropriate transition between strength training and speed training as they reside in the middle of the force-velocity continuum.
Now that the differences between sprinting uphill and sprinting on flat surfaces have been reviewed and benefits have been presented, programmatic considerations will be provided.
– The grade of the slope should range between 20% and 30% (3). Slopes too low will elicit fewer performance enhancing and metabolic effects provided by hill sprints. Conversely, slopes which are too high will interfere with sprint mechanics as they will require individuals to alter their form to scale steeper hills.
– Prior to engaging in sprint training, aerobic fitness must first be addressed. Literature has indicated correlation between aerobic capacity and repeat sprint performance, as recovery is largely dependent on oxidative pathways (5). Individuals with compromised aerobic fitness will accumulate greater amounts of intracellular byproducts associated with anaerobic training. The subsequent clearance of these byproducts will be reduced in those with diminished oxidative capacities.
– It is recommended that those considering sprint training, perform exercises to activate and strengthen the muscles of the hip flexors, which include deep squats, pause squats, duck walks, and monster walks.
– An appropriate protocol for those foraying into sprint training would be performing 1-2 non-consecutive days of hill sprints, before strength training sessions. Effort should be capped at 90% or an RPE of 9/10 as to prevent taxing the Central Nervous System.
– Work to rest ratios should range from 1:12 to 1:20 depending on the goal. If improved body composition is desired, 1:12 is appropriate. If technique and force production is the objective, a ratio of 1:20 is sufficient.
Joe Giandonato, MS, CSCS, hails from a working class section of Philadelphia and is a formerly a manual laborer himself, working in warehouse and landscaping during college to pay his tuition. Joe is an avid Craigslist dater, “swag surfer”, and coupon clipper. He prefers deadlifting and finding money on the ground. He is an extremely private person and does not keep a blog, website, or push products, because he’s not an “expert”, instead he does what he loves – writing, training people, and deadlifting.
A great plan requires the right mindset.
1. Gottschall, J.S. & Kram, R. (2005). Ground reaction forces during downhill and uphill running. Journal of Biomechanics, 38, 445-452.
2. Klinzing, J. (1984). Sprint training: improving sprint speed for all athletes. NSCAStrength and Conditioning Association Journal, 6, 32-33.
3. Minetti, A.E., Moia, C., Roi, G.S., Susta, D., & Ferretti, G. (2002). Energy cost of walking and running at extreme uphill and downhill slopes. Journal of Applied Physiology, 93, 1039-1046.
4. Paradisis, G.P., Bissas, A., & Cooke, C.B. (2009). Combined uphill and downhill sprint running training is more efficacious than horizontal. International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, 4, 229-243.
5. Tomlin, D.L. & Wenger, H.A. (2001). The relationship between aerobic fitness and recovery from high intensity intermittent exercise. Sports Medicine, 31, 1-11.
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