Saturday, 11 August 2012

The benefits of hill sprints



The benefits of hill sprints

Hill sprints have to be one of, if not the most challenging facets to physical conditioning and training there is. HIIT drills, kettle-bell repeats and burpee pyramids are real tests. But nothing is as sapping as a prolonged session on the hill. As such many avoid them or neglect to do them because they hurt. A simple hypothesis really. So it is no coincidence that those who don't avoid these taxing monster drills yield great rewards.

In this article I plan to discuss the benefits we can derive from these cruel but marvelous workouts.

Personally I have been reaching a plateau stage of late. I expected this and was prepared for it to hit me. The first cycle of 4-5 weeks of my training have been based around getting aerobically accustomed to running 4-5 days per week. Upping both my mileage and speed gradually as the weeks went on and improving my aerobic base. However now in week 7 of 12 of DoMore8.0 I am searching for something a little more potent to regularly incorporate into my routines.

The answer lies in hill sprints and here's why.

Change: Yes We Can

What we all want to hear. "You will quickly drop fat and gain muscle". Not a fad because you have to work bloody hard for it. I think I would be hard pressed to find a form of training that is more effective at drastically improving body composition and better at torching fat than hill sprints. Pretty much every muscle in the body is called upon to power you up that hill (none more so than the big muscles in your hips, legs and bum.) The power, strength and speed required to get you up that incline triggers a release of lactic acid into the muscles which in-turn brings HGH (amongst others) into play, a mighty fat burning hormone.

In addition the high intensity of hill work also brings EPOC (excess post oxygen consumption) to the table. This is the effect that will keep your metabolism running high for a sustained period (up to 24-48 hours after the work is done). Often referred to as the "afterburn" effect.

Some hill sprints in conjunction with a solid diet, aerobic fitness and regular strength training (what we should be doing anyway) and the lean you will be here in no time.

Cardiovascular booster

There is little explanation needed really. Running is generally a cardiovascular tool (with the exception of a flat out 100m-200m sprint). So try running, then try running up a hill. Your heart and lungs will be in overdrive. Now do a set of 10.
Efficiency in fuel

In keeping with the simplicity of the previous point, hill work will create an enormous demand on your energy systems (both aerobically and anaerobically). The more you do the more efficient you body will become at converting and utilizing its fuel. Simple really.

Safety first

The technique involved in completing hill sprints will provide your hamstrings with a bubble wrap of safety. On the hill you can't reach maximum speed because tiredness and gravity are holding you back. This in collaboration with a forward leaning posture and the fact that only your ball and toes are hitting the ground means the hamstring is protected by the intense use of the calf. Not only does hitting the hill protect your muscles but it will save your joints too. The hill sprinting technique also gives us less opportunity to lift our feet as high off the ground and so saves on the pounding that flat sprints promote.

Overuse? Not an issue

Because of the high intensity that hill sprints provide, you can usually only perform a handful before you are toast (unless you are an athletic and genetic freak). Your muscles are required to work super hard but the briefness of the workout means that the overuse (and therefore, injuries) that both muscles and joints get in longer workouts such as road running, etc., don't occur here. You are still using your cardiovascular system to the max too, so getting the fitness aspect as well as the strength and speed is a great positive.

Fits just right

Optimising V-force velocity curve.

The following example was one I read online (source; powerlifting.com) and it just seemed like a simple and effective way to translate this.

If you try and throw a bowling ball as far as you can it won't go very far because the mass/force is simply too great.

If you try and throw a wiffle ball as far as you can it won't go very far because the mass/velocity is simply too minimal.

However a baseball offers the perfect mixture of both force and velocity and therefore travels far.

Hill sprints offer the same advantages. They provide an effective bridging platform between strength and speed. Easy-peasy.

So start hill sprinting

They are not the answer to it all, but there is no one answer. Fitness is a balanced and accurate mixture of nutrition, aerobic & anaerobic conditioning, strength training, rest and recovery. The benefits are clear and should be incorporated into a balanced, stable and advanced training schedule. Aerobic stability is needed before higher intensity anaerobic work should be undertaken.

Although not the Holy Grail, they are the brutally effective routines you hate to love.

Thanks for reading.

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