Hill sprints

In recent days there has been an interesting discussion on the Fetcheveryone ‘Polarised training’ thread about the value of the short intense hill sprints that Renato Canova and Brad Hudson recommend for distance runners.

Typically these take to form of 6 or more short (6-8 second) intense uphill sprints with adequate recovery between each sprint.  They can be done at either the beginning or end of a training session.   Canova recommends them up to twice a week. I have never done them more frequently than once per week.   Although 6 hill sprints do not add greatly to the training load of a ‘serious’ athlete, I have always been concerned to avoid the risk of excessive stress.   It is more important to maintain good form that promotes optimum muscle fibre recruitment

One of the immediate benefits is a feeling of speed in your legs that can make subsequent fast pace running feel relatively easy.   Some athletes do intense hill sprints in the 24 hours before a race for this purpose.  Although I have not habitually done this, I usually do  ‘bounding’ drills during the taper for a target race to achieve a similar result.  In fact hill sprints are probably safer than bounding drills as they present little risk of injury provided you warm up adequately.

I think that the feeling of ‘having speed in your legs’ is based largely on the sensation of recruiting fast twitch fibres.  However, you might wonder why this is helpful for a long distance runner, since fast twitch fibres are poorly adapted for aerobic metabolism.  I suspect the reason is that fast twitch fibres are good at capturing the energy of impact at footfall as elastic energy.  Provided you have developed the ability to recycle lactate from fast-twitch fibres to slow twitch fibres that can use the lactate as fuel, the fast twitch contractions do not lead to increase in blood acidity.

4 Responses to “Hill sprints”

  1. Ewen Says:

    Canute, I did those Brad Hudson 10 sec hills for a month or so a number of years ago, but only once per week. Perhaps not often or long enough to see the benefit? I’d be worried about the potential for injury now. I wonder if simple strides on flat ground or a slight decline would have the same benefit of “feeling speed in one’s legs” during runs on subsequent days? Although a long time ago, I do remember that feeling when I used to run fast 100s, 150s and 200s one day a week.

    • canute1 Says:

      Thanks for your comment. I remember you describing Brad Hudson’s hill sprints a few years ago.

      At least with regard to risk of musculoskeletal injury, I consider that hill sprints are one of the least risky ways for an older athlete to develop leg muscle power, because stride tends to be short and impact forces lower compared with sprinting on the level or downhill. It is the impact forces that do the damage. The challenge for the older athlete is keeping the trype2 fibres strong enough to capture impact energy as elastic energy, while avoiding undue stress on these fibres. I think hill spins are a good way of achieving this.

      However it is important to ensure that the hill sprints do not generate undue overall stress on the body. The strategy is to make each sprint short – typically 6-8 seconds. Nowadays I cover a noticeably shorter distance in 6-8 seconds than I did in my younger days.

      • Ewen Says:

        Thanks for that explanation Canute. I think I should try those short hill sprints again as my achilles and calves are okay now. After a good warm-up of course!

    • canute1 Says:

      You make a fair point. Hills tend to stress the achilles.

      It is good that your achilles troubles have settled well.

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