Train Harder With Hill Sprints

STACK Expert Stephen Hooper II describes the benefits of Hill Sprints and shows you how to add them to your workouts.

Walter Payton and Jerry Rice had a secret weapon in their training arsenals: Hill Sprints. They force you to use your body weight as resistance while you run on an incline. Add this exercise to your workout to maximize gains in speed, acceleration and explosiveness.

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Benefits of Hill Sprints

Running uphill forces you to shorten your stride length and lift your knees to improve your speed. It also helps you avoid shin splints. You should run on the balls of your feet—this forces you to move more efficiently and can reduce your overall risk of a knee or ankle injury.

The risk of injuring your hamstrings is also low when you run uphill, because your hamstrings are more balanced with your quadriceps, and your glutes propel you more as you accelerate. This shifting of balance to other muscles can also improve your speed.

Finally, Hill Sprints are free and convenient—they require no special equipment. The short bursts of activity will keep your metabolism going after your training and burn fat and calories long after you finish your workout session.

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Mental Toughness

Hill sprints also build mental toughness, which is essential if you're juggling a big workload of games, practices and scrimmages in addition to school, work and other responsibilities. As you struggle to reach the top of the hill, you have to push yourself so you won't fall. When you reach your goal, you feel a sense of accomplishment, which builds confidence that can carry over into competition.

Here are some guidelines to consider when incorporating Hill Sprints into your routine:

Level I - Beginner

  • It's important to get your heart rate up to make sure you're nice and warm and ready to perform. After warming up with an activity that gets the blood moving to your muscles—such as running, walking or jogging for 10-15 minutes—perform a few active and dynamic stretches for 5-10 seconds each.
  • Be mindful of the different inclines among hills. If you feel uncomfortable, reduce the number of repetitions, so you can still perform and get a good workout.
  • Complete 1 to 5 repetitions, sprinting between 20 and 30 yards up the hill. For your rest period, walk down the hill. Take an additional rest if you need it. Safety is the most important aspect when you're a beginner.
  • Finish with a cooldown that involves walking. Allow yourself to relax and lower your elevated heart rate.

Level II - Intermediate

  • Follow the Level I guidelines for warming up your muscles.
  • Complete 6 to 10 repetitions, sprinting between 30 and 40 yards up the hill. At this level, you're primed and ready to take your workout to the next level. Be mindful of hydration and remember to look straight ahead instead of down at your feet while sprinting uphill. Continue to use your glutes to propel yourself through the repetitions.
  • Your rest periods can vary. You can rest between 30 seconds and 5 minutes, if necessary. If you need additional rest before completing a repetition, take it.

Level III - Advanced

  • Follow the Level I guidelines for warming up your muscles.
  • Complete 11 or more repetitions, sprinting between 40 and 50 yards up the hill. You should only be at this level if you have progressed slowly and steadily for maximal gains versus progressing too fast and risking injury.
  • Rest periods at this level must be short. When you complete a repetition, walk back down the hill for your rest period. Assume the starting position at the bottom of the hill and execute another repetition.

Hill Sprints are a form of high-intensity interval training, but they should not be the only exercise in your workout regimen. Your workout should also include weight training and cardiorespiratory endurance.

Before you attempt Hill Sprints, get a physical assessment or visit your doctor to make sure you're healthy enough to take them on. Drink plenty of water, enjoy the scenery and be the best athlete you can be!

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