... ... Hill Sprints - the best workout ever?
Nov 112011

After getting slowly back into running over the last month I decided it was time to step it up a notch in today’s run by sprinting up a hill a few times. Having done so I wish I had done it earlier. There can’t be a better type of aerobic training to increase fitness, lose fat and tone up. One of the great things about hill sprints is that anybody from an Olympic athlete to a couch potato can do them. Whether you are training for a marathon, a hit of tennis, running around the football field or even just to get fit it’s a great workout that gives fantastic results. If you want to get fit and shift some excess pounds quickly then hill sprints are tailor made for you.

I hear alarm bells going off in your head. You are thinking that the words “hills” and “sprints” are bad enough separately but put together and you have a recipe for pain. Bear with me, it isn’t as bad as you think.

However if you are out of breath after a 10 minute brisk walk then they are definitely not for you. For everyone else this workout is without doubt the best cardio workout you can do (insert disclaimer – ok if you have heart problems or other medical condition then don’t try this and as always, if in doubt get medical advice)

Before we get into the nitty gritty of how to do it let me explain why they are so beneficial

1. Increased metabolism

Unlike a steady paced cardio workout, after hill sprints your metabolism will stay elevated for up to 24-48 hours after your workout. This means you burn more calories whilst you aren’t even exercising.

2. Less pressure on your joints

Running or walking fast up hill puts less pressure on your joints than walking or running on the flat. One reason for this is that on the flat your foot has to fall further to hit the ground whereas going uphill it hits the ground sooner. Compare the impact on your joints walking up stairs compared to downstairs. Obviously you work harder going up but the impact on your joints is less. The second reason is that when you run (or walk) uphill you will obviously be going slower than if you were on the flat. Slower speed means less stress on your joints. The great thing about hills is that although your joints have an easier time your heart and lungs are working much harder than on the flat.

3. Short workout

Hill sprints take very little time to perform to get maximum benefit. Even as your fitness improves all you have to do is walk/run faster, not exercise for longer. In normal aerobic training as you get fitter you need to increase the amount of time you exercise for.

4. Improves all round fitness

Even though you are only working for short intervals it improves your fitness for longer durations as well.

5. Maintains and improves your baseline fitness level.

As we age our maximum fitness potential decreases for all kinds of reasons some of which are largely preventable. Think of this as your top speed and unless we blow the cobwebs out every now and then and reach close to that maximum fitness level we start to lose it.

6. Improves running power and efficiency.

Hill running forces your gluteal muscles to work harder to create more push off and lift. When you take this strength back onto flat ground you find you are running faster with no extra effort.

Hopefully by now you are convinced of the benefits but I sense that those two words “hill sprints” are still striking fear into your heart. Let me try and convince you it isn’t as bad as you might think by describing how you go about it.

Find a hill that takes somewhere between 30 seconds and 3 minutes to run/walk up. Depending on your fitness level “sprint ” up the hill at a steady pace. Don’t go all out. The first one should feel a little easy at the start and start to get harder at the top.

At the top turn around and slowly walk/ jog back down to the bottom.

That’s it !
Ok it’s not quite that easy, you’ll need to do this for 10 – 20 minutes to make it worthwhile. So if for example it takes 1 minute to run up the hill then aim to do between 5 and 10 of them.

Try and keep the time you take to get to the top fairly consistent.If you find yourself getting slower then you went too fast at the beginning.

By the end of the session you should be feeling like you’ve had a pretty good workout.

Do this twice a week and watch your fitness levels soar, your running speed increase and the fat drop off.

  11 Responses to “Are Hill Sprints the best workout ever?”

  1. Great article Andy. How would this session go with cycling and what would you suggest re distance and times of the sprints.

    • The advantage of cycling is that it places much less stress on the body compared to running so you dont need to do it uphill. For a workout that stresses your cardiovascular rather than your legs choose a high RPM. A great workout would be 5 x 2-3 minute hard 2-3 minute easy. Doesn’t sound like much but the 2-3 minutes hard should be done at a very high intensity. The idea here is to raise your VO2max which as we age starts to decrease. The higher we can maintain this the faster we can go at lower intensities since they are a percentage of our maximum.

  2. Andy great article! quick question though.. I have had previous achilles issues.. they seem to be resolved now.. but would this kind of training set me up for a reinjury?

    • You would need to be careful if you have a previous history of an Achilles injury. If you are coming back of a period of not much exercises and find a hill steep enough then simply walking uphill may be enough to get the heart rate high.

  3. great article Andy, but I think your last sentence has a little Freudian slip. It should say ‘soar’ not ‘sore’

    Very funny !

  4. Hi Andy

    Nice article I love a hill sprint session, however without sounding negative or contrite introducing hill sprints should/must be introduced carefully into any runners program. There is growing evidence that one of the most common running injuries, the proximal hamstring tendinopathy is caused by a sudden increase in up hill running due to the increased compression between the tendon and the ischial tuberosity caused by the higher knee lift needed in up hill running. I’d recommend no more than one session a week for 4-6 weeks to get the tendons accustomed and increase there capacity before adding 2 sessions per week

    Cheers Adam

  5. […] I have discussed in an earlier blog, uphill repeats are a great way to increase fitness. But what goes up must come down and the downhill section can […]

  6. Great article Andy, I have been looking into incorporating hill running into my training and this seems the best way to go about it, will do only 1 session per week to start.

    • Thanks for the feedback John – 1 session a week to start with is definitely enough – progress slowly as tendons and ligamenta take longer to adapt than muscles .

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