Sprinting is one of the most powerful and dynamic of all human movements and will do wonders for your muscular power, cardiovascular fitness and body fat percentage. But what happens when you throw a hill into the mix?
I won’t sugar-coat it, hill sprints suck. Fatigue ripples through every atom of your being, your legs feel like anchor chains and your heart pounds away like Thor’s hammer inside your chest. After each workout you vow it will be your last, yet for some reason you continue to return. Why?
In this article I explore the benefits of hill sprints which have kept fitness enthusiasts across the globe strangely addicted to these cruel exercise sessions.
Little explanation needed here. Hill sprints create a huge demand on your anaerobic and aerobic energy pathways which sends your cardiovascular system into overdrive as your physiology tries to keep pace. Suffer enough on the hill and few things will ever leave you short of breath again. Jerry Rice is famous for scoring more fourth quarter touchdowns than any other player in NFL history and he puts this amazing accomplishment down to the endurance he built sprinting the hilly trails of Edgewood Park.
Targeting almost every muscle in the body, in particular the large and powerful muscles of the legs and hips a sustained effort on the hill will burn a lot of calories and create a biochemical environment in your bloodstream conducive to fat oxidation. Furthermore, the high intensity of hill sprints will keep your metabolism elevated for an extended period of time after you have finished the workout. For the fitness geeks like me this is known as EPOC (Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption.) Others refer to it as the afterburn effect of high intensity exercise. Whilst probably not as significant as some fitness marketers would like you to believe, it all counts when cutting excess body-fat.
During a prolonged session on the hill your body wills you to slow down and quit. Resisting the easy option and fighting on requires a victory of mind over matter. Culturing this mental toughness is a valuable asset which goes beyond the world of working out.
Due to the high intensity of hill sprints the workouts are typically much shorter in duration than traditional steady-state cardio workouts. An extremely useful quality in a world where no-one ever seems to have enough time.
The gradient of the slope applies natural brakes to your body keeping you from hitting top speed, whilst this has its drawbacks from an athletic standpoint it does decrease the likelihood of tweaking a hamstring or suffering a similar muscle tear. Furthermore the total distance covered in a hill sprint session is relatively small. This means the likelihood of acquiring an overuse injury (which plague long-distance runners) is greatly reduced.
SUNLIGHT, FRESH AIR AND NATURE
From a wellness standpoint there are many reasons to spend more time outdoors in nature. Increased vitamin D levels, increased endorphins, increased immune strength, reduced stress and anxiety to name but a few. By their very nature hill sprints force you to get outside into the elements and enjoy the invigorating benefits this brings.
Find a hill, sprint up it then use the walk down as your recovery. From a general fitness standpoint there is no need to make it any more complicated. However, if you want to play around with more variables here are some examples to get you started.
- Shorter, power orientated sprints
- Longer, endurance orientated sprints
- Combinations of shorter and longer sprints
- Shorter rest periods / longer rest periods
- Steeper gradients / shallower gradients
- Progressively completing more sprints per workout
Whilst each variable has its own unique twist, all will provide an exhilarating challenge. One word of caution, if you are a complete beginner and/or very unfit then I would stay away from all-out sprints and long distances to begin with. Start with some short, brisk hill walks and progress steadily upwards from there. Before long you will be conquering all the slopes before you.
So there you go, a whole host of reasons to incorporate hill sprints into your fitness routine. You will probably hate them, but you will also learn to love them.