Sunday, August 13, 2017

Hill Sprints. Do Them!

In short: find a hill, run as hard as you can up it, rest, repeat a few times then run home. Feel better, look better.
Hills sprints are a great addition to your training.
They are not just for runners who want to improve their speed in shorter distances like 5k. But for anyone who wants to improve power and strength.
And for leg development (quads and glutes my friends). Have you ever seen a sprinter with poor legs!
They are also great for improving conditioning. I would also use them at the start of a phase for a long distance athlete (10k, marathon, and ultra distances).
If you don’t have access to a prowler or sled, hill sprints are the 'go to' for field athletes that need power and strength.
Of course, I didn’t invent hill sprints. I first became aware of them from running coach Brad Hudson, and by his own admission he took his approach from coach Renato Canova, who in turn took them from sprint coach Bud James.
According to Hudson (2008), hill sprints will
  • Strengthen running muscles
  • Make the runner less injury prone
  • Increase power and efficiency of stride
  • Take little time
  • are fun to do!
But they also have benefits for the non runner.
Power is about recruiting more fast twitch muscle fibres. It is about building fast strength, not grinding strength. It is what makes athletes explosive.
A maximal hill sprint is about maximal muscle fibre recruitment in one of the safest and least technically demanding ways.
Traditional training for this would include the Olympic lifts, plyometrics (jumps, bounding) and medicine ball throws.
However, many of these methods are technically demanding. To get the most out of Olympic lifts, you need someone to coach you to make sure you are competent. And you need access to the equipment. Plyometrics are also technically demanding and there is a large amount of force going through joints and tendons when you land.
Hill sprints require no equipment. As you are running on a steep hill you are not absorbing force in the same way as when you jump off a box.
Power is the missing element in many peoples training. They may lift weights and work on strength in lifts such as the deadlift and squat. They may do hypertrophy training. They may do steady state endurance training. They may even do some conditioning – but this is not power.
As you get older power gets more important to train. And of course, for athleticism you need some power training.
Hill sprints are part of the training puzzle.
Hill repetitions help build the ‘fitness bridge’between strength and speed.” (Hudson, p.81)
Of course, there is no reason why your training can't consist of Olympic lifts, plyometrics and hill sprints.
Why not flat sprints?
Many years ago a myself and a colleague ran a boot camp. As part of it we incorporated some track sprints. We had screened all the participants before hand to make sure they were injury free, did a long warm up and some build up sprints. Then we got them to sprint a bit harder, and 8 out of 10 of them suddenly grasped the middle of their quad.
What had happened? It was a rectus femoris strain. As their psoas muscle wasn’t used to having to flex the hip, suddenly the rectus femori was trying to flex the hip and straighten the knee fast, while putting in a near maximal effort. The muscle was pulled in 2 different directions and the middle of the muscle couldn’t cope and got strained.
As strength coach Mike Boyle says in is his book Functional Training for Sports
The athlete will use the rectus femoris to create hip flexion. This can result in the mysterious quad pull seen in sprinters or on forty-yard dash day in football.”
(A similar thing can also happen in the hamstrings, where the hamstring tries to bend the knee and extend the hip as the glutes aren’t doing their job, this can also result in pain at the front of the hip, that the person attempts to correct by stretching, when in fact it is not tight. Thanks to physio Shirley Sahrmann for that!).
Flat sprinting is more technical than hill sprints. Hill sprints actually make your technique better, it is making you drive into the hill with the front part of the foot and use the posterior chain, it is making you lean, there is less shock absorption going on. There is less impact.
Plus on tracks, everyone feels the need to sprint 100 or 200m. And if you are putting in maximal effort, this is actually a very long way! Usain Bolt may make it look easy, but not until you’ve tried it do you realise it is hard to keep form, technique and effort over those distance.
It is much better to think of the shorter sprints of American sports like the NFL, where the 40 yard dash (36 metres) is the staple. A much shorter distance and time under tension.
Or if you are doing hill sprints, think about no more than 8 seconds to begin with.
Why not use the treadmill?
On the one hand you can control the exact gradient and speed on the treadmill.
However, I don’t find treadmills very good for very short maximal sprints of 8-10 seconds.
It takes too long to increase the speed up to where you want it. Or for extra danger, you can try jumping onto it after you have built it up to the speed you want to go. The first method makes the sprint too long and you are not going at max effort at the start. With the second method, all the benefits of driving hard to overcome inertia are loss, so some the muscle adaption is lost.
I would only use the treadmill for sprints of 30secs or longer interval work.
First of all build up!
If you are a beginner they will put a massive amount of load and stress on your joints and muscles. And as a beginner you may not be able to sprint at all, but can do some faster efforts.
Yes, in the long term they should help prevent injury and improve muscle recruitment, but you have to gradually progress.
Hudson recommends starting on a hill with a 6-8% gradient, and then going to a hill with a 10% gradient. In practice, you probably just have to find the steepest hill you can near you.
My preferred format is:
  • jog, easy run to the hill you are going to use. About 7-12mins for me depending on the hill I’m running to.
  • A couple of easy build up ‘sprints’, really more like striding out (pushing slightly above your coomfortable pace), for about 8-10 seconds. If you’re are a beginner, this might be all you do.
  • Use the arms, lean in to the hill, visualise the glutes firing as you drive into the hill. Relax the face and shoulders.
  • Walk back down to start, nice and easy between each effort. Or if it is a really long hill, I gradually make my way to the top, resting by walking across the hill between each rep.
  • Then increase the effort, now near maximal for 2 x 8-10secs.
  • Err on the side of caution, less time is better, 6-8 seconds might be enough.
  • Then jog/ run home.
  • Total session time is 20-30mins.
I would then increase the number of sprints by 1 or 2 a week.
Most runners will achieve as much strength and power improvement as they can get by doing 10-12 hill sprints of 10-12 seconds each, twice a week.” (Hudson, p82)
Personally I think for the general athlete, once a week is enough. And 5 or 6 sprints might also be enough. Of course, it depends on how much time you have. Its also about listening to your body, if I start to lose speed and intensity on the sprints I stop, its no longer a maximal effort session.
You can also use markers us the hill such as trees, and sprint between them, gradually making your way up the hill, again making sure these are very short sprints. A kind of short burst hill sprint fartlek.
You could also be doing once every 2 weeks as part of a general training plan.
Even for an ultra runner I would still sprinkle them through a training cycle to stop them adopting the classic one speed, one gear, ‘ultrashuffle’, and problems of over use of the same muscles.
For a runner, you might then start to use longer hill repeats, 30-60seconds. Or if training for very long distances, I used hill repeats that were 1k or 1 mile long. (Of course, these are no where near maximal effort, and are about endurance and technical efficiency for mountain/trail running).
But I think these benefits go beyond runners. For the general athlete, and general population they are great for building strength, power, developing the legs and I believe do help with injury prevention. (and of course help you lose weight and tone up, joke).
But mostly you do them to go maximal, at the end you are stooped over with your heart beating hard and unable to catch your breath, your are in the moment, there isn't anything else to think about.

No comments:

Post a Comment