Sprinting is one of the most effective workout methods on the planet that requires minimal to no fancy or expensive equipment. Nearly every sport or activity can benefit from including a hill sprint workout into their programming, and uphill sprints will benefit the average exerciser even more so.
The power of sprinting resides within its ability to stimulate neuromuscular adaptation. Sprinting activates the nervous system to activate many, many motor units, to fire the units quickly, contract the muscle fibers with great force, and then resist fatigue at maximal or close to maximal levels.
As a result, this brain-muscle training mechanism elicits mighty metabolic advantages like high post exercise oxygen consumption, which is a fancy phrase for more calories burned long after exercise finishes.
Contrary to the long held belief that running long distance is the quickest, best way to get fit and burn fat, it is actually more efficient to move faster for less time. In fact, one study discovered that two-minute interval sessions completed three times per week for six weeks results in the same fat-burning effects as a thirty minute endurance sweat session (Fioranelli).
What Is a Hill Sprint Workout?
Sprint hill workouts are simply a version of high-intensity interval training (HIIT).
All types of HIIT are effective, leading to prime metabolism and body physique (when combined with other healthy lifestyle factors). However, HIIT hill sprint workouts trump all because it requires the most effort with the least amount of assistance.
Compared to flat surfaces, running uphill simply doubles or triples the caloric burn of the workout. This is because it recruits one of the largest muscle groups in the body, aka the glutes.
In short, a hill sprint workout involves running at max speed one can for an allotted amount of time up an incline. For those unable to physically run, this method can also be imitated on other machines like a cycling bike, elliptical, stair stepper or any other form of cardio machine.
Some fitness gurus also label powerlifting exercises as “sprints” related to the similarity in perceived exertion and effort, but risk for injury is much greater so will not be included in this discussion.
Because sprinting recruits so many muscular units and requires substantial force production from the muscles, it is important to ease into them. Sprinting too much too soon can cause pain in the hips, knees, and ankles and increases risk for hip flexor and hamstring muscle injuries.
And always remember, sprinting is definitely an instance where more is NOT better! In fact, including 5 to 15 sprints of as little as 4 seconds, but up to 20 seconds or so two times a week is plenty effective.
Doing more drastically increases the risk of injury and/or does not allow enough time for proper recovery in between sessions. Lack of recovery can weaken the immune system and lead to unwarranted lethargy.
HIIT Hill Sprint Workout Example
Before sprinting, always perform some type of dynamic warm-up to loosen and prime muscles. Including mobility exercises, skips, jogging, and even light sprinting will do the trick.
Aim to achieve a heart rate and/or effort of about 60-85% of maximum capacity during the warm-up to ensure preparedness.
If access to a track is available, wonderful! If not, running for time is just as beneficial!
Example 1: Beginner
A1. 200 meters – 3 rounds @70-75% effort – walk what you ran for rest
B1. 100 meters – 6 rounds @80-85% effort – walk what you ran for rest
C1. 50 meters – 3 rounds @100% effort – walk what you ran for rest
Example 2: Intermediate
A1. Sprint for 10 – 15 seconds at incline of 4-7% – walk or rest for 45-50 seconds
*Repeat the above 7-10 times
Example 3: Advanced
A1. Sprint for 20 seconds at incline of 10 -12% – walk or rest for 90 seconds
*Repeat the above 8-12 times
Example 4: Non Running
A1. Cycle, step, elliptical for 20 seconds at 85 – 100% effort and/or add resistance to the machine – rest or continue moving but at 20-30% total effort capacity for 40 seconds
*Repeat 10 to 20 times
The Bottom Line
For those looking to get fit, build strength, burn fat, and improve metabolic health and longevity, sprinting can help accomplish these feats. It is simply one of the most efficient and effective neuromuscular adaptations that lead to favorable metabolism and health.
Running up a steep hill is a heightened bonus that your muscles might resist at first, but your body will thank you later.
Fioranelli D. Benefits of Sprinting Over Jogging for Greater Gains. Onnit Academy. http://www.onnit.com/academy/benefits-sprinting-jogging-greater-gains/.
Hudson B. Short + Steep + Swift = Strength. Runner’s World. http://www.runnersworld.com/advanced/a20827617/short-steep-swift-strength/.