Aerobic Hill Sprints

Yesterday, my wife and I headed outside to a local hill to complete our first (of many) hill sprint sessions for the Spring/Summer. There is a perfect hill near our place that is very steep and will literally own you unless you are giving full effort up the entire hill.

(Note: If you’re wondering what the 3 primary constituents of hill sprints are that make them so awesome – and why you’d be a fool not to do them – then read THIS POST by Chris Romanow.)

Given that it was our first time sprinting (outside) since 2011, we were definitely tempted to run until our legs and hearts couldn’t take it any longer, as there’s something incredibly freeing and “human” about sprinting full speed outside. However, we managed to hold ourselves accountable, ensuring not to overdo it, as steep hill sprints can wreak havoc on the achilles/calves if you go too much+too soon and don’t warm-up properly beforehand.

Anyway, this got me thinking: when the majority of us go out for a conditioning session, there is really no rhyme or reason to what we do. We hear that circuit training is good, so we perform a Spartan, “300-esk” circuit until we shoot our spleen out the back of our pants as we writhe around on the floor. Or, we hear that running 400m repeats will help our marathon time, so we run them until our our glutes bleed and our hamstrings no longer recognize friend from foe.

Now, let me be clear: For the average person who simply enjoys the feeling of their lungs burning and the sensation of pushing the limits of their mental+physical faculties, this is fine. I am all for having fun and sometimes we get too complex with things simply for the sake of complexity.

However, for the competing athlete, haphazardly running through conditioning drills can be the difference between a big W and getting crushed by your opponent.

It is beyond the scope of this post to go into all the different means and methods of conditioning (and which methods are best for each sport), but I’d like to touch briefly on the concept of aerobic hill sprints.

What?? How can you be aerobic if your SPRINTING? Doesn’t “aerobic” imply long, slow running reserved for weaklings?

No, sir.

Aerobic Hill Sprints

With aerobic hill sprints, as long as you monitor your heart rate accordingly, you can accomplish a very “neat” training effect: you can improve the aerobic abilities of the fast twitch fibers. In essence, this will train your body to produce high levels of power over a longer period of time.

And who doesn’t want that??

The aerobic system has gotten a bad rep in the industry over the past ten years or so (I’ll admit, I used to shun it), when the reality is the aerobic system is probably the most important of all of them.

How to Do Them

Strength coach Joel Jamieson refers to this method as High Resistance Intervals. The work duration is short, and the resistance is high. In the case of hill sprints, our “resistance” equals the grade of the hill (hint: you want a REALLY steep one). Here’s the protocol:

  • Each “rep” (or run up the hill) should last 10-12 seconds. No more, no less.
  • Every rep is MAXIMAL intensity. I’m not kidding, drive those knees up and elbows back as if your life depended upon it.For me personally, I pretended I was Wolverine right after adamantium was shot into my skeleton and, filled with rage, was breaking out of my container to exact revenge on those responsible for murdering Kayla.

  • Rest to a heart rate of 130-140 beats per minute. This is critical to ensure you’re actually able to give a true maximal effort on each sprint and not deplete yourself too quickly. Most importantly, this will ensure the intended adaptations of the session are actually taking place.
  • Heart rate should be below anaerobic threshold. Again, this is critical. This is not the time for a vomit fest and it’s key that you don’t go glycolytic on these. (Yes, I have read the Tabata study, and yes, it is one of the most misunderstood and ill-applied studies in performance training history I believe).
  • If you haven’t sprinted in a while, start with 7-10 reps. Once you get in the swing of things, 15-20 reps should comprise an average “high resistance interval” workout.

Football and rugby athletes are an obvious group I would have do this (heck, pretty much all field athletes), on top of those in the fighting arts and military. Not to mention, aerobic hill sprints would be a staple to place in the preliminary phases of training for a triathlon or long-distance race.

And last, but not least, these are a fantastic option for those that simply love training and want to ensure they’re being the most efficient with their time when they go out for conditioning. The hills are a perfect place to start, too, due to the minimal joint stress received, on top of the fact that poor running form (something I’m still working on) won’t have as much as a negative impact as it would on a 5-mile run.

One of my favorite quotes by Jim Wendler is “My training plan is simple. It’s three things per training session, usually done 3-4 times/week.

  • Stretch
  • Lift
  • Sprint

That’s it, and that’s all you need. If you stretch hard, lift heavy, and run fast, everything else seems to take care of itself.

Couldn’t have said it better myself. Now go get after it.