Think you’re pretty well-conditioned? Fancy yourself a decent runner? If so, you should give hill sprints a try. No matter how fast or enduring you think you are, the simple act of running up a hill will knock you on your ass faster than you thought possible.
Hill sprints tax your entire body so much more than running on flat ground. Your quads, hamstrings, and calves have to work overtime to propel your body forward AND upward, and each step is almost like small jump. You’ve also got to keep your arms and even traps pumping if you want to stay in an upright position. And of course, all of this muscle work means that your cardiovascular system gets tired FAST.
As if all of that wasn’t good enough, hill sprints are also one of the safest ways to improve your conditioning. Normal jogging or sprinting is hell on your knees and ankles, especially when you’re big and muscular. Personally, I’ve felt absolutely wrecked (and not in a good way) after a single 5K run. That’s not the case with hills, though. Running on a sharp incline drastically reduces the impact between your feet and the ground. Plus, dirt and grass are far easier on your joints than concrete. Ultimately, this means that you can do more sprints, more often, without impacting your ability to squat or deadlift.
You’re going to want to take things slow the first few times you run hills. That’s not because you’re risking injury – it’s because they’re just so damn hard! Once you get into the swing of things, however, it’s time to seriously turn up the volume. Here are a few ways you can make hill sprints even tougher…
You’ve probably done some crazy sessions in the weight room where you just kept adding set after set. Not the kind of thing you want to do all the time, but it can really work wonders at the right time. The same principle applies to hill sprints!
Depending on how long and steep your hill is, you might normally do ten or fifteen sprints. A simple but brutally effective way to challenge yourself is to just double that. You normally do ten? Today, do twenty – and don’t pussy out when things get tough! Your eleventh run won’t feel much different from your tenth, but fifteen on up is going to be pure hell.
If you’re like almost everyone else, then you probably sprint on the way up, walk on the way down. And that’s fine – normally. Every once in a while, you should really push the tempo by jogging down the hill as soon as you get to the top. You probably won’t even catch your breath by the time you teach the bottom, but you’ve got to force yourself to turn right back around and sprint.
Don’t feel TOO bad if you can’t hit your normal number of runs with this method – but don’t get complacent, either. Throw this strategy in maybe once per week, and try to get more runs each time.
Missing that full-body fatigue you got from the squat and deadlift circuits? If so, you should try combining sprints with other bodyweight movements. For example, do a set of ten pushups at the bottom of the hill, followed immediately by your sprint. Or go straight into jumping jacks or sit-ups as soon as you reach the top. The variations are nearly endless.
If you want the hardest possible combination, though, you’re going to want to throw in some burpees. What’s a burpee? You start in the standing position, hit the deck in a push-up position, and do one push-up. Then you quickly bring your legs in and JUMP. It’s not a burpee if your feet don’t clear the ground. You can keep yourself honest with the form by raising your arms above your head for each jump.
Eventually, you may just get to the point when your current hill is no longer challenging. It can be tough to find a good one if you live in a flat area, but don’t give up. I’ve found a few decent hills in Kansas, so I’ve got no sympathy for whiners who say they’re out of ideas. Search the internet for sledding hills in your area, and I guarantee you’ll find something good.
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