Hill sprints can be a great addition to any workout routine.
Although the concept of sprinting up a hill sounds simple enough, it’s far from easy… but for those brave enough to accept the challenge, it brings some seriously impressive benefits.
This guide outlines everything you need to get the most out of hill sprints, including workout tips, common mistakes to avoid and how to do them properly.
- Remember to warm-up before doing any high intensity exercise like hill sprints.
- Start with 10-20 second sprints followed by rest.
- Hill sprints increases muscle activation, especially in the glutes and hip flexors.
- Basic, pyramid and mixed hill sprint intervals are just 3 ways you can incorporate hill sprints into your workouts.
What are Hill Sprints, Anyway?
Hill sprints are a high-intensity exercise that involves sprinting up a hill as fast as you can, then slowly jogging or walking back down to recover.
Sounds simple enough, right?
Well, it might be simple, but that’s not to say it’s easy.
This type of workout is a form of interval training, which alternates between periods of intense effort and periods of lower-intensity recovery.
The beauty of hill sprints is that they can be done anywhere there’s a hill, making them a versatile and accessible form of exercise. Whether you’re an experienced runner looking to improve your speed and power, or a fitness newbie seeking a challenging workout, hill sprints can be a great addition to your fitness routine.
Recruiting those Glutes
How to do Hill Sprints Properly
Find the Right Hill
Look for a hill with a moderate incline. Over time, you may want to target steeper hills, but to start with, aim for something that will allow you to ease into things.
Ideally, it should be long enough that you can sprint up it for at least 10 seconds.
Don’t forget to warm-up.
Start with a 10-15 minute warm-up of light jogging or fast walking to get your muscles ready for the intense exercise and stretch out your whole body.
Unlike distance running, hill sprints will engage your upper body more too (as you naturally swing your arms back and forth).
Sprint up the hill as fast as you can. Your stride will naturally be shorter due to the incline, so focus on driving your knees up and pushing off your toes with each stride.
Your arms should be swinging in sync with your legs to help drive you forward.
Maintain Good Posture
Keep your body slightly leaned forward to counteract the hill’s incline, but avoid hunching over. Good hip mobility will play a fundamental role in this body positioning.
Your chest should be up, your shoulders back, and head up. This posture helps you breathe more efficiently and keeps your momentum moving forward up the hill.
Once you reach the top, turn around and walk or jog slowly back down the hill. This is your recovery period. Use this time to catch your breath and prepare for the next sprint.
Perform multiple sprints, adapting it to your fitness level. Beginners might start with 4-6 sprints, while more advanced exercisers might do 10 or more.
Intensity is Key
Hill Sprints Benefits
Hill sprints are a fantastic way to build explosive power. The incline of the hill forces your muscles to work harder than they would on flat ground, helping to increase your power output.
This can be particularly beneficial for athletes who need to generate a lot of power quickly, like sprinters or football players.
The explosive nature of hill sprints can help to improve your acceleration and speed, which can be beneficial in many sports and physical activities.
Running up a hill requires greater muscle activation than running on flat ground. Your glutes, quads, hamstrings, and calves all have to work harder to propel you up the hill… especially your glutes and hip flexors.
This increased muscle activation can lead to greater strength and muscle development over time.
If you don’t like lifting weights, this can be a really effective way at improving lower body strength.
The increased demand on these muscles can also help to improve your muscular endurance, allowing you to perform better in longer runs or other endurance activities.
Improve Running Technique
Hill sprints can also help to improve your running technique.
The incline of the hill naturally encourages better form, including a higher knee drive and a more powerful arm swing.
This can translate to improved form when you run on flat ground.
Fast-Twitch Muscle Development
Hill sprints are a form of high-intensity interval training (HIIT), which is known to target your fast-twitch muscle fibers. These are the fibers that are responsible for quick, explosive movements.
If most of your fitness routine focuses on slow-twitch activities, like distance running or long walks, you’ll find including activities that prioritize speed and power help make a difference to your overall fitness.
Burns More Calories
Hill sprints are a high-intensity workout, which means they burn a lot of calories in a short amount of time.
The effort it takes to sprint up a hill can increase your heart rate and metabolism, leading to a higher calorie burn both during and after your workout. This can be beneficial if you’re looking to lose weight or improve your overall cardiovascular fitness.
Running uphill can help to improve your ankle stability. The uneven terrain and incline of the hill can challenge your balance, forcing your ankle to adapt to maintain stability.
This can help to reduce your risk of ankle sprains and other lower body injuries… as well as providing practical benefits of reducing the risk of falls too.
Last but not least, hill sprints can be a fun way to mix up your workout routine. The challenge of sprinting up a hill can be a refreshing change from running on flat ground or just exercising in a gym.
Plus, if you’re running outside, you can enjoy the added benefits of fresh air and beautiful scenery.
Hill Sprint Workout Ideas
Basic Hill Sprint Workout
This is a simple workout that’s great for beginners. Start with a 10-minute warm-up of light jogging or fast walking and stretching.
Then, sprint up the hill as fast as you can for 10-20 seconds, walk or jog back down for recovery, and repeat. Start with 4-6 sprints and gradually increase as your fitness improves.
For this workout, you’ll increase the duration of each sprint to create a “pyramid.” Start with a short sprint, then increase the duration of each subsequent sprint. After you reach the top of the pyramid, decrease the duration of each sprint.
For example, you might start with a 10 second sprint, increase to 15 seconds, until you get to 30 seconds, then work your way back down.
This workout mixes hill sprints with other forms of exercise for a full-body workout.
Sprint up the hill, then at the top, perform a set of bodyweight exercises, such as push-ups or squats. Jog or walk back down the hill for recovery, then repeat.
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Common Mistakes to Avoid
Gradient is Too Steep
While it might be tempting to find the steepest hill around, a hill that’s simply too steep can actually hinder your form and lead to injury. Aim for a moderate incline and progress once you feel comfortable.
If the gradient becomes too steep, you’ll also probably realize you’re just rock climbing at that point!
Not Warming Up
As with any high-intensity workout, it’s really important to warm up before doing hill sprints. A good warm-up prepares your muscles for the intense exercise and can help prevent injury.
Loosen Up Those Hip Flexors
Not Adapting to the Hill Gradient
When running uphill, your stride will naturally be shorter. Trying to maintain your normal stride length can lead to overstriding and potential injury. Allow your stride to shorten and focus on driving your knees up and pushing off your toes with each stride.
Forgetting to Actually Sprint (Oops)
The key to hill sprints is the sprinting part.
You should be working hard and pushing yourself during the uphill phase. If you’re able to carry on a conversation, you’re probably not working hard enough.
You could try and use a countdown timer to help provide guidance on when to start/stop sprinting to help keep you on track too.
Workout is Too Long
Hill sprints are a high-intensity workout, which means they should be short and sweet.
A good hill sprint workout can be done in 20-30 minutes, including warm-up and cool-down. If your workout is much longer than that, you might not be working hard enough during the sprints.
Not Engaging the Arms/Upper Body
If you watch Olympic sprinters, their arms are moving as much as their legs… and yours should be too during a hill sprint workout.
This will help you generate power, and create balance as you fight the incline of the hill.
Hill sprints are a versatile and effective exercise that can boost your power, improve your running technique, and burn a lot of calories. Whether you’re a seasoned runner looking to improve your performance or a fitness newbie seeking a challenging workout, hill sprints can be a great addition to your fitness routine.
However, like any exercise, it’s important to do hill sprints correctly to get the most out of them and avoid injury. Always warm up before starting your workout, maintain good form during your sprints, and listen to your body to avoid overexertion.