Hill Sprints

No Comments


Hill Sprints – Ultimate guide to hill Sprints

Hill sprints – Do you live near a beautiful landscape that’s dotted with braes, pikes and, tors? If that’s the case, you can start your journey to master hill sprints right away!

However, remember that your perception – which involves running up & down a hill – can be vastly different compared to the general running population when doing hill sprints.

Hill sprints present a number of different challenges. They are obstacles that prevent you from logging fast times. Running on them can be a lung-bursting, muscle-sapping exercise filled with pain and misery.

Yep, we’re not exaggerating! Hill repeats can be challenging and tough to overcome. They will break your running rhythm, strain your body immensely, and hinder your ability to run faster times.

However, they also have their own set of advantages. Hill repeats can improve the strength of your leg muscles, improve your stride and expand its length, enhance your cardiovascular muscles and better your running economy.

You can even prevent sore leg muscles by running on hills! To put it simply, hill repeats can transform you into a healthier, faster, and stronger runner.

Additionally, you can also derive these benefits in the shortest period of time. In less than 6 weeks, you will be able to observe a significant enhancement in your speed and muscle power.

hill sprints vs interval training

Why Are Hill Sprints The Best?

There is an increasing awareness among runners about the necessity to combine regular running with strength work. It can strengthen ligaments and tendons, minimize injury risks, and enhance your overall form.

Most runners usually perform their strength-training routines in a gym, doing shoulder and arm presses, squats, or leg extensions.

Although these exercises can enhance muscular power and strength, they aren’t being done with a focus on running. These exercises only focus on small muscle sets and individual joints.

However, hill repeats can force your feet, ankle, leg, and hip muscles to experience contractions in a well-coordinated manner while also supporting your body weight, similar to how your body works during a normal running session.

Additionally, your muscles experience more powerful contractions on uphill areas since they need to work against gravity. As a result, you can achieve more powerful muscles, which lead to faster and longer running strides.


The Science Behind Hill Sprints

Sweden’s Karolinska Institute was responsible for carrying out most of the research into the science behind hill training.

One such study found out that after twelve weeks of biweekly hill running sessions, the running economy of the athletes had increased by over 3%.

While these subjects were professional runners, this improvement would have aided them in shaving off over 2 minutes from their 10-mile runtime or over 6 minutes from their marathon runtime.

Dr. Bengt Saltin also carried out other research, where it was discovered that hill runners had greater concentrations of certain aerobic enzymes – which are chemicals that allow muscles to stay functional at high levels of intensity for a long period of time without feeling fatigued.

These enzymes were concentrated in their quadriceps in greater numbers compared to people who mostly trained on flat terrain.

Having increased aerobic power in the quadriceps muscles can improve your knee lift during a running session and accelerate the legs more quickly during a run, thus enhancing your speed and runtime.


Going Up

This is something every runner dreads. You turn only to find a massive, imposing hill in front of you. However, don’t wince.

Start focusing on the task ahead of you. Shift both your physical and mental gears and overcome the hill. Hill running is mostly about maintaining rhythm.

If you lose it during a running session, you will eventually slow down. However, if you maintain cadence and make necessary adjustments, you will be able to overcome the challenge at hand without giving up. Here’s how you do it:

  • During your uphill run, maintain a short stride. Don’t maintain the same pace that you had while running on a flat surface.
  • Your aim is to spend equal effort while you go both up and down. The pace is not important here. If you keep trying to run at the same pace, you will become exhausted sooner or later during the race.
  • Take small steps, should the need arise, and maintain your turnover rhythm at the same level you had while running on flat terrain.
  • Maintain an upright posture – No leaning back or front. Your back, shoulders, and head must be in a straight, perpendicular line. Ensure your feet remain low on the ground.
  • If you start breathing too hard, that’s a sign that you are moving way too fast, bounding way too far, or over-striding during your running session.
  • Use an ankle-flicking, light push-off in each step you take instead of explosive motion that will expend energy unnecessarily. If the gradient starts increasing or if it’s a long hill, shorten your stride, which will help you maintain an efficient and smooth breathing pattern. In case this gradient starts decreasing, elongate your stride. Your priority must be to maintain steady breathing and effort throughout the jog.
  • While you’re running an undulating course or a race, go all the way to the top. Do not crest the hill unnecessarily and pull back or slow down your effort.
  • Start accelerating gradually as you go downhill.


Going Downhill

Runners make a few obvious mistakes during their downhill running sessions.

They either start sprinting, which causes their muscles to get sore later, or start hesitating to surrender themselves to gravity and constantly keep braking all the time, which causes their quadriceps muscles to become fatigued.

The ideal pace lies in between. Ensure that your feet don’t slap the ground during your running session. Move lightly and do not reach out using your feet.

As slapping is usually a symptom of weak, sore shin muscles, you’ll need to improve them further. In order to enhance your downhill running technique, follow the tips given below:

  • Visualize gravity guiding and pushing you downhill
  • Maintain a straight, upright body posture and keep the torso perpendicular to the ground.
  • Ensure your feet remain close to the surface to have maximum control. Land lightly.
  • With increasing pace, focus on quick turnover instead of longer strides. However, you can have longer-than-usual strides as well.
  • It is important to retain control during your downhill running sessions. As you start, ensure you have short strides and then allow your turnover to increase. Once you feel like you have absolute control, start lengthening your stride.
  • In case you lose control during your downhill running session, start shorting your stride length until you start feeling like you have control again and maintain it.



Key Hill Sprints Sessions

Running on hills is similar to doing speedwork. It can be quite difficult for your body to cope with. Therefore, don’t practice any more than one of each of these sessions a week.

Hill Intervals

Hill intervals are basic training sessions that can help you derive a number of benefits.

Warmup with a ten- to fifteen-minute run. Perform an interval set on any steep slope – The slope can be between 30 – 250 meters in length.

While running uphill, keep going at an intensity level that’s slightly higher than your pace in a 5K race. Go back to the hill’s foot.

When you have recovered, start running uphill again. Start out with 4-5 such intervals and then build up your pace slowly. You can raise the session’s severity by running more intervals or/and reducing the recovery period.

Benefits – Enhances the power of your leg muscles and gives you longer, quicker strides.

Hard Hills

To do this session, you’ll require an undulating loop that includes a number of descents and climbs instead of one, single slope.

Post-warmup, start running continuously over a rolling surface at a pace that’s slightly lower than your 10K pace. Start attacking the hills while you climb up and move to your 10K race speed.

Remain in control, balanced, and relaxed as you move downhill. Even if you’ve got to loop & double back the same hill, try to go on a route that requires you to climb or descend constantly.

Benefits – Enhances the ability of your legs to face harder races and sessions, enhances your muscles’ fatigue resistance, and raises the power of your leg muscles.

Indoor Hills

People living in Holland or Lincolnshire need not be worried – You can come up with your very own hills using a treadmill. Start your warmup by running for ten minutes.

Set a 1% gradient level on your treadmill and speed to between ten to fifteen seconds a mile lower compared to your 10K pace.

Keep running at this same pace for 5 minutes after which you can raise your gradient to 5%. Run for 2 more minutes at the same speed.

This will increase your heart rate by over 10% – 15%, raise your O2 consumption levels by 25% and raise your breathing levels by 35%.

Keep running for 5 minutes more and repeat this same interval. As you get better, you can do over four 7-minute intervals (5 minutes at 1%, 2 at 5%), and reduce recovery times down to 3-4 minutes.

Benefits – It enhances your hill running abilities to a great extent.

Bounding up Hills

Once you’ve completed a warmup session, start bounding up the hill that you utilize for your hill running intervals. When you start running up this hill, start springing from one foot to another using exaggerated vertical body motions.

Bring your knees high & stretch your Achilles tendons completely when your feet land on the ground. In order to perform this, start landing on the toes with every foot-strike.

Rock onto your heels before you spring upward and forward again. Start out with 4-5 repetitions. In order to recover, start jogging down the hill’s slope in a controlled manner.

Benefits – Enhances the elasticity and strength of the ligaments, tendons, and muscles, which will make you efficient at running.

Group Hills

Among the many problems that come when you train with mixed-ability groups is to maintain a balance between the recovery and effort of the runners.

This is especially important when it comes to hills. In order to run more effectively, it is better if the group sets out together on small, moderate climbs that are between fifty to hundred meters from the hill’s peak to bottom.

Once the group’s fastest person has reached the summit, let every one turn around & jog back to the foot of the hill, which will allow everyone to reach the base simultaneously.

The primary objective here should be to run gently at the start and improve in a gradual manner as you complete an interval. People running first should do this session like a basic hill interval running session.

Benefits – Combines the physical advantages of hills with the competitive and motivating environment of being in a group.


Downhill Hills

Many people have only a half-baked idea of running on hills. Hill running sessions usually make people focus on running uphill and neglect the downhill journey since people believe that running downhill is easy and requires zero practice.

However, running downhill efficiently requires skill as well, which will help you clip off seconds during the session.

You can start by running on a hill slope that has flat terrain near its base. After jogging for 10 minutes, start descending in short 50m bursts.

You can build this ability in a gradual manner to over 300 – 400m on a downhill slope. Concentrate on improving your technique and go at a natural, controlled pace.

Do not sprint during your descent and don’t brake with your quads and feet either.  Either you focus on running the downhill portion properly or combine this with a hill session where you can recover at the hill’s base.

In the case of the former, walk/run or jog up the hill. Ideally, you have to perform downhill running sessions on a smooth-rolling course, which will help you transition to downhill from uphill running in a natural manner.

Running downhill after completing a tough climb instead of resting, is an important skill you should learn while practicing hill running.

Benefits – It can optimize your hill-running abilities and protects your legs from delayed onset soreness in muscles.


The Hill Clinic

List of Problems and their Causes while Performing Hill Sprints

Problem Cause
Rapid breathing

Tight muscles in the leg

Sore or tight lower back region

Sore or tired arms and shoulders

Bounding way too high or over-striding issues

Over-striding issues

Leaning forward excessively

Excessive arm swing

Problem Cause
Sore shins or tight hamstrings

Loss of proper rhythm; flailing arms

Sore quads muscles


Moving too fast

Over-striding issues; excessive braking or too much strain on your quads.


Hill Sprints Questions & Answers


Why do I lack enough leg strength for running properly on hills?

It’s like questioning why you aren’t fast enough. While you might not possess enough leg strength for running up hills, that’s because you do not have enough experience training on hills.

Therefore, your performance suffers when you encounter such terrains. If you would like to improve your condition, you need to integrate regular hill training sessions into your program.

Your improvements are dependent on how well you train and your capabilities. While you won’t transform into a champion overnight, by training on hills, you will be able to build the strength necessary for running up and down the hills.

Can I use any psychological hacks for improving my hill sprint performance?

While consistent training is not a psychological hack, it can be your best tool for improving your hill running performance.

It will provide you with confidence in your physical abilities and teach you the technique for defeating any hill during a race.

During your training program, practice on hills that are more demanding and steeper compared to any challenge you will be up against in an actual race.

Once you’ve trained yourself to adjust your stride, form, and breathing accordingly to tackle steep and challenging hills, you won’t find slopes such a difficult experience anymore.

You can also visualize a decline in place on an incline whenever you’re on an uphill slope, or focus on others instead of the slope.

You can also try setting targets on the slope and check them off your list as you cross them. If you maintain rhythm and steady cadence, you’ll be able to pass many people during your run.

The place where I live has a completely flat terrain. Is it possible to recreate a hill running experience by running on the stairs of my building?

There are many running enthusiasts who resort to using treadmills for simulating hill sessions when they cannot find any hills nearby. That’s the best option you can go for.

However, if that option isn’t available to you, you can also climb steps or stairs. Ensure that you keep climbing for a minimum of 45 seconds during a ‘hill’ interval (Usually 3-4 floors of a building).

To raise the challenge, climb up 2-3 stairs in a single leap.

Can I carry out strength and speed training simultaneously on hills?

As a matter of fact, both training programs are the same. That’s the reason why hill training is also known as speedwork in disguise.

There’s no need to be quick when you’re running hills since you will already be putting in a ton of effort. They will also condition your leg muscles to overcome the fatigue that is usually experienced during a race.

Hill running can be done at any time since your leg muscles are always assured of a competent challenge during a hill running session.

However, you must keep in mind that hill training only complements conventional speedwork. They don’t replace them entirely.

If you’re looking to be fast in a race, you need to be fast during training as well. Whereas hills can help you build your respiratory system and leg muscles handle serious speeds, you’ll still need to adjust other body muscles to fast speeds.

Does downhill training prevent injuries?

Yes, it does. Most major and minor hill running injuries take place when you’re on a course’ downhill sections. Gravity works against you with your body weight attacking all your muscles and joints simultaneously.

By integrating downhill running into your workout program, the quadriceps muscles will contract in an eccentric manner and minimize muscle soreness – which is a lifesaver especially if you’ve just finished a hilly, hard section.

The tendons and ligaments in the knees will also be able to adjust to fast downhill moving speeds. These benefits can be felt within a mere 15 minutes of running downhill properly.

Why do I experience a surge in my heart rate when I run uphill during a race?

That’s because you’ve been running on the hills extremely hard. Runners usually overexert themselves while running uphill and expend all their energy before reaching the peak.

They have no choice but to slow down while descending. You must make it a goal to employ equal effort going both sides of the hill & on flat ground. Use a heart-beat monitor for gauging your heart rate accurately.

While you may experience a slight surge in heart rate while running uphill, it should not be a dramatic jump. If that is what’s taking place with you, it’s a sign that you’re not spending equal effort on both sides of the hill.


Previous Post
Do personal trainer qualifications affect personal trainer cost
Next Post
Strength training for distance runners

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Fill out this field
Fill out this field
Please enter a valid email address.
You need to agree with the terms to proceed


Gerald has a bachelor’s degree in Exercise, Nutrition & Health. He is an ASA qualified swimming teacher, and a qualified personal trainer. Gerald has developed his own exclusion diet, which he uses to help his clients lose weight.