Hill sprints are one of the most efficient, yet often overlooked, tools to help runners improve their efficiency during any training season.
Most runners automatically turn to intervals, tempo runs or strength training when they are looking to improve their performance – but hill sprinting can be just as effective, if not more, and takes minimal time.
What are hill sprints?
Hill sprints are exactly what they sound: sprinting up a hill. Runners often incorporate hill sprinting as a means to improve their physical and cardiovascular strength.
To complete a hill sprint, simply start from the bottom of a steep hill (aim for about 5-7% grade, which looks steep but not vertical). Sprint up the hill at maximum effort for about 10 seconds, and then walk or jog back down to the bottom.
Hill sprints are short, fast and repetitive. Runners usually go up and down the same hill multiple times either during or after an easy run to squeeze in a few hill sprints.
Benefits of Hill Sprints
There are many hill sprints benefits for runners and other athletes alike. Hill sprinting requires maximum physical effort, quickly increasing our heart rate and taxing the cardiovascular system.
This type of effort pushes the body to the limit for a very short period of time, providing a plethora of benefits without risking injury. Here are some of the main benefits of hill sprints.
- Increases physical strength
- Supports healthy connective tissues
- Reduces risk of injury during training
- Improves stride turnover and power
- Supports optimal running economy
While the benefits of hill sprinting certainly sound promising, learning how to properly incorporate and execute hill sprints is key to reaping maximum rewards and improving your running.
How to Run Hill Sprints
The concept of hill sprinting might sound relatively straightforward – and it is. However, proper form and execution of a hill sprint workout is crucial for avoiding injury and benefitting from the exercise. Here is what you need to know for running hill sprints.
Maintain normal running form.
Many runners unknowingly make the mistake of leaning forward or altering their stride when they attempt a hill sprint. For maximum success and injury prevention, you should always aim to maintain your normal running form.
Avoid looking down, even when you’re tired. Keep your chin up and shoulders back. Try to refrain from clenching your fists or creating tension in your shoulders or neck. Pump your arms back and forth and try to avoid swinging them across your body.
As you sprint uphill, push off the balls of your feet in explosive movements to reach maximum effort.
Push to maximum effort.
To get the most out of a hill sprint workout, be sure to actually sprint uphill. The hill sprints are short, which means that you’ll need to accelerate quickly to reach maximum speed.
Don’t shy away from giving it your all just because it feels hard. Remember that the sprint is short – you can maintain anything for 10 seconds.
Keep the recovery long.
While the actual hill sprints are quite short, it’s important to lengthen the recovery intervals. Walk or jog down the hill at a very comfortable, easy pace. Aim for at least a 60 second recovery in between, and don’t rush yourself if your body still doesn’t feel quite ready.
Aim for 8-10 second sprints.
The actual hill sprints are very short – usually no more than 10 seconds in length. Try to avoid sprinting at maximum effort for much longer in order to reduce your chances of injury. Give it everything you’ve got during that uphill sprint for about 8-10 seconds. After that, turn around and jog down the hill to recover.
How many hill sprints should I do?
The biggest question most runners have is how many hill sprints they should do. The answer will vary depending on your training, current fitness and end goals.
However, a general suggestion is to begin with just 3-4 hill sprints during your first workout. Focus on maintaining proper form and truly accelerating to full speed during each sprint. As you progress and your body adapts to the effort, begin adding 1-2 more sprints each week.
As time passes, you can continue adding until you reach anywhere from 10-15 hill sprints per workout.
When to Run Hill Sprints
A great time to run hill sprints is after an easy run or cross training workout. Completing a hill sprint workout when your body is slightly fatigued, but not so tired that form will be compromised, provides your body with maximum benefits.
How Often to Run Hill Sprints
As you begin incorporating hill sprints into your training routine, start out with just one hill sprint workout each week. Once your body begins to adapt and adjust to the added effort, you can increase the amount of hill sprint workouts you complete to meet your fitness goals.
If you’re simply looking to boost your running performance and run more efficiently, one hill sprint workout each week will provide plenty of benefit.
If you’re training for a tough goal or hoping to make maximum improvements, try running hill sprints 2-3 times each week.
Sample Hill Sprint Workout
After completing an easy run or workout, head to the bottom of a relatively steep hill with about a 5-7% grade. From here, you’ll begin your hill sprint workout.
- Hill Sprint (8-10 seconds): accelerate quickly to reach maximum effort as soon as possible
- Recovery (60-90 seconds): walk or jog down the hill at a slow, easy pace
- Repeat: 2-10 times
How to Make Hill Sprinting More Difficult
Once you’ve maxed out your hill sprints, you might be surprised to find that your body has adapted to the effort and they no longer feel as challenging. If you’re wanting to make hill sprinting feel more difficult, you can try a few different techniques.
- Increase the time/distance that you sprint – try increasing the length of your sprint to 15-20 seconds rather than 8-10
- Decrease recovery time – spend less time recovering in between each sprint
- Add some bodyweight exercises after each recovery, before beginning the next sprint – try something simple like push ups, lunges or squats.
Hill sprints are an effective, straightforward way to improve your running efficiency without spending hours completing tempo runs or interval workouts. Something as simple as adding a 10 minute hill sprint workout each week has the potential to drastically increase your physical, mental and aerobic capacity.