Are hill sprints a good workout?
Hill sprint workouts are a great way to burn fat and improve cardio fitness. A well-designed hill sprint workout will also develop strength and stamina in the major muscles of the legs – quadriceps and gluteals.
Furthermore, hill sprints are one of the most effective ways to stimulate the cardiovascular system. After just one sprint at max effort, your heart rate will be racing as it works to meet the demands of the strenuous activity.
Hill sprints can make you a better runner
In addition to improving cardiovascular function, facilitating weight loss, and improving stamina in the legs, hill sprint workouts can improve general running performance. The benefits of incorporating hill sprints into general training are well known.
It's for this reason why professional athletes from boxers to marathon runners use hill sprints in their fitness routines. As the author of The Complete Guide To Sports Training, John Shepherd, tells us:
‘Sprint training should not be neglected. Double-Olympic 1500m champion, Seb Coe, often trained with sprinters and utilised some of their training methods. This made him perhaps the greatest middle-distance athlete of all time.’
The benefits of hill sprint training include
Improved running speed
Increase in strength in the muscles of the legs
Improved cardiovascular performance
Increased power and explosivity
Weight loss and improved body composition ratio
Related: ignite your running performance with this 30-Day Challenge: 30 X 5-Mile Run!
Do hill sprints burn belly fat?
While hill sprint training will not specifically target belly fat, no exercise does, it has been shown to fire up the metabolism. Even a short hill sprint session can increase metabolic function and encourage the body to metabolise both subcutaneous and visceral fat.
So, if you do decide to incorporate hill sprint training into your exercise regime, you may well see a pleasing shift in body composition. A shift that results in the reduction of overall body fat and an increase in lean muscle tissue.
How to hill sprint
First things first, to hill sprint you need a hill. Now, if you live in Norwich, Holland, or the Gobi Desert, you’re going to struggle with this requirement. However, you can hill sprint on a treadmill. In fact, treadmills are better for hill sprint training because the gradient can be varied and performance outputs more easily measured.
When you’ve got a long straight stretch of road to run up, you’re ready to start hill sprinting. The single more important part of a hill sprint workout is the warm-up. Warm-ups are an essential part of any training session. But, warming up is even more important when participating in high-intensity hill sprints.
One simple way to ensure that you are thoroughly warm is to complete a low-intensity run, of between 2- to 3-miles, prior to your sprint workout. By including a run into your hill sprint workout, you will make it a more inclusive training session.
Hill sprint methodology
Before arriving at the foot of the hill, you should have already determined how many sprint sets you are going to work through. Let’s say that you plan to complete 10 X 50-metre sprints.
Unless you are trained and possess considerable fitness, it wouldn’t be wise to attack the hill with the ferocity of Sisyphus. If you start off at a high intensity you will likely fatigue early and fail to complete the sprint session.
Instead, organise and group the sprint sets into ascending intensities. Begin the workout at a low intensity building up to max over the latter sets. (See the Hungry4Fitness Hill Sprint Formulae below.)
How many hill sprints should I do?
The answer to that question is dependent on two factors. Firstly, your current level of fitness will largely determine how many hill sprints you can complete before your run out of steam. A beginner might aim for 3 to 5 sprint sets with the goal of building up the number of sets over time. They could include one additional set every month until they reached 10 in total.
But that is only a suggestion. The beginner could decide to work through as many as 10 sprint sets. However, to get through the workout they would have to vary the intensity and take longer recovery periods.
The second factor has to do with your training goals. If you’re just looking to mix things up a bit and/or want to improve general fitness, then one short hill sprint workout of 3 to 5 sets per week should be enough.
How long should the hill be for hill sprints?
A hill length of between 50- to 100-metres would more than suffice. Of course, it’s not humanly possible to maintain maximum output for much more than 100-meters. Thus, a hill any longer is largely superfluous.
And because sprinting uphill is considerably more physically demanding than on a flat, few people could sprint beyond 50-metres before succumbing to fatigue.
Hill sprint workout
Before you begin the hill sprint workout in the table below, ensure to warm up thoroughly first. I recommend tackling the 10 sprint sets after a slow 2- to 3-mile run. This approach will ensure that you are adequately prepared physiologically. But it won't leave you overly fatigued, meaning that your performance will not be hindered throughout the sprint workout.
Vary the intensity and speed of your sprints
As you have no doubt noticed, the intensity – or 'percentage of max-effort' – increases sharply across the three fitness levels. Of course, beginners, or people with low fitness levels, are unlikely to sustain high output for more than a couple of sets.
It’s for this reason why the percentage of max-effort remains low through the early sets. The low intensity sets should be used as an additional warm-up and means of acclimatising to the coming demands of the session.
Remember: if you are a beginner, or your cardio just isn’t there yet, reduce the number of sprint sets to suit your current level of fitness. There’s absolutely no shame in reducing the workout. You could begin at two sets and increase the number by one (or two) each month.
(As we are very interested in user experience here at Hungry4Fitness, we would be very grateful if you could take a few seconds out of your day to leave a comment. Thanks in advance!)
Adam Priest, former Royal Marines Commando, is a personal trainer, lecturer, boxing and Thai boxing enthusiast.