Hill sprints easy. I have read many hardly findable papers from Canova, all the Lydiard books, looked at of course the Uphill Athlete, listened to Phil Maffetone and also learnt a lot from coaching videos. Of course Canova is giant advocate of short hill sprints. He is not going to neglect that workout ever. He is absolutely right.
Why hill sprints ?
Short hill efforts are short enough to not to interfere with the periodization, with any workout, with a race or with anything. Heart rate stays low and the hill reps are very short with big recoveries. The impact is super low. The goal of the workout is max power output, but with only perfect form. There is no progression needed to be followed in this workout. You are not going to race or run better, just because you covered 1meter more during a 7sec uphill run. It is about maintenance and the nootropic effect.
If you understood the biomechanics and stick to it, practice it weekly or even bi-weekly, injury risks are totally eliminated.
Benefits ? Stimulating the fast twitch fibres, without compromising your aerobic system. Of course we are focused on lower leg, but actually the fast twitch muscles of the whole body. Even arms. This little stimulation will make your body able to release and utilise sugar stored in fast twitch fibres by being aerobic.
We talk also about joint stability. The balancing and stabilizing act of the ankle joint and actually of the entire body, while propelling yourself forward, requires very high-end work from the brain and the muscles, therefore these tiny hill efforts reinforce neuromuscular connections towards core-stability. Core stability is not just abs and spine !!!
As I said the goal of the session is max power output, but only in the presence of PERFECT FORM !!! This means again neuromuscular and proprioceptive training. Not training like working out, but as stimulation and a reminder, just like a nootropic. You reinforce knee-drive and the lean from the ankle, you work on proprioception while on the ground and the feeling of how you transfer power to the push-off. You also work on cadence, posture, breathing and landing a lot, as you’ll see, perfect technique will propel you faster, than pure glut-quad contractions.
Finally of course one of the most important facets of uphill sprints. Ankle mobility, achilles tendon and calf strength, resistance and neuromuscular function. The latest is very important. Very often injuries do not come from lack of anything, just simply timing. How, in which order and at what time sections at what rates muscles should be fired at what breathing sequence. This should come naturally, except it is not. A very high percentage of out-of-sport injuries come from timing issues. Like when you lift an axe to chop wood, you brace yourself and forcefully exhale while keeping the guard up and chop. Then you think that a top shelf 2kg box cannot hurt you, you get sloppy and win a slipped-disk or a pinched spinal nerve.
The how to
It is not complicated at all. 7 x 7sec is one of the best middle grounds. We talk about sprints and accelerations. It can be from 5 to 12 sec max. When we look at 15 sec efforts or any longer, that is a workout on it’s own and recovery will be needed. Also more than 10 x 12sec in case of number of reps will change the perspective and the upon discussed will not be true anymore.
As an example, I like to do this stimulation workout before a race or before an important track interval session. For sure I won’t engage in the max option of 10 x 12 sec the night before a 10km road race. More likely do (10 x 6sec) or (6 x 10sec) or the (7 x 7) classic. It really depends on how I feel and how I feel about the race. If I wanted to prime a workout a bit more precisely in the knowledge of my own training history, I might do a (15sec + 6 x 10 sec + 15sec) hill effort. That will elevate the heart rate a bit more. So recovery would be needed. That can be nice addition to the long run of Sunday morning at the end, before the cooldown. I will have Sunday afternoon, full Monday and Tuesday morning to recover before the 6pm Tuesday track session.
Coaching is not exact science it needs the knowledge of the individual itself.
Secondly, I always change the hill angle. Always. It can be very steep, less steep or medium angle. I also can for instance prepare a 2 x (4 x 10sec) variable set. The first section will be full on hill repeat work, than second 4x repeats would start 4sec flat, before you hit a 6sec slope. Neuromuscular confusion is good, but the body not always likes chaos. So do not create a mess every single time you workout. Remember, right now we talk a routine what will not interfere at all with training if placed correctly in the cycle.
- 10min mobility and run prep
- 5min speed walk
- 5min jogging
- 10min running
- 15min focused run drills, leg swings, mobility, 2 accelerations
- 7 x 7 sec hills r50sec
- 15min cooldown
Enjoy your hills. Do not neglect them. Tendons forget very fast. After 3 days they start weakening. When you are on holidays for a week, for a month, for 2 months, keep on doing hill repeats.
I had 40days in Guadeloupe as big family holiday. I had 2x 45min hill work containing shorter repeats and a weekend long hike-run of 2 to 2.5hours in the local jungle. I came back to France and went on to get a 4th place in a 5k trail race. I like to train around 15 to 20hours a week. Instead of 60 hours, this time I was around 12h. I still did not lose a lot of fitness, still did not lose elasticity. Hill reps work !!!