Hill sprints are a staple in the training regime of many sprinters and team sports players. However, they can also provide a range of benefits for distance runners. In this short article we explore some the most notable benefits that can be derived from sprinting up a short hill.
- Enhanced Speed
Speed can be viewed as how quickly we can get our legs to turn over. By sprinting up a hill, we can get our legs to turn over at a quicker rate, the very same as we would when sprinting on the flat.
- Power Development
Power is defined as force x velocity. Hill sprints are one of the best methods of developing lower body power. The velocity component comes from our intent to run fast or the speed of leg turnover, while the force component stems from having to overcome the resistance provided by the hill’s gradient. While power isn’t always integral to distance running performance, especially as we go further up in distance, it does lend itself to optimal neuromuscular patterning. Moreover, retention of power has been proven to play a crucial role to our well being as we age.
- Prime the Body
Due to way in which hill sprints can optimise the output of the nervous and neuromuscular systems, it can be very advantageous to perform them the day before a race or a key workout (provided that by doing so, you are not attempting them for the first time).
- Improved Concentric Strength
Concentric strength can be defined as our body’s ability to generate force while our muscles are contracting. The opposite of this is eccentric strength – which is our body’s ability to generate force as our muscles lengthen. One feature of uphill running is that our muscles are shortening to a greater extent than they are lengthening, due to the nature of an ascending gradient. Hill sprints are an excellent method of enhancing concentric strength, but in order to recruit additional muscles fibres and motor units, you need to run fast. The associated reduction in eccentric loading also lends itself to the next two benefits (but do not think of eccentric as a bad thing).
- Reduced Fatiguing Effect
Eccentric loading leads to greater muscle damage than concentric loading. As a result, sprinting up a hill is less fatiguing than sprinting on the flat.
- Reduced Risk of Injury
Eccentric loading also poses a higher risk of injury than concentric loading. Consequently, uphill sprinting is actually safer than sprinting on the flat
- Improved Running Economy
Hill sprints confer improvements in tendon stiffness, in much the same way as plyometric training. Increased tendon stiffness in the lower leg is a crucial component of running economy, which in turn is a leading marker of distance running capability. You can check out a previous blog post for a deep dive into this intriguing concept of running economy.
If you are looking to include hill sprints within your training schedule for the first time, then aim to pick out a consistent gradient of around 10 degrees. Start with a maximum of 4 short sprints at no higher than 85-90% of top speed. Also, ensure that you are well warmed up beforehand or that you undertake them after an easy run.