Let’s face it. No one likes running hills. For most runners, they’re pain inducing slopes of misery. However, science says running hills, more specifically hill sprints, can be your new secret weapon to give you that extra speed boost you’ve been looking for.
Whether you’re training for your first 5k, or you’re a seasoned marathoner, adding hill sprints to you training regime can provide benefits to your fitness that can’t be achieved with any other workout. Running hills is constructive for runners of all levels, but they’re especially beneficial for novice athletes who have yet to introduce this type of explosive speed work to their training. This leads to our next question and the main purpose of the article: how can hill sprints make me a faster distance runner?
Improvement of form:
According to RunningScience.co.za, “Sprinting refines form by creating a task which thrives on the most efficient and productive mechanics, helping eliminate weaknesses.” In simpler terms, Sprinting and hill sprinting utilizes efficient running mechanics, as sprinting is the most efficient way to move as fast as possible. Over time, those mechanics are translated into your longer runs and your racing. And efficient running means faster times.
Strength and Muscle Utilization:
Many of us know that hill sprints are a fast and effective way to increase muscle, but did you know that running hills uses different muscles than running long distance? So, not only do you increase strength, you improve overall functionality by “waking up” muscles that typically play second fiddle when running long, slow, distance. This is beneficial because if those “second fiddle” muscles are weak, this can lead to overuse injuries and form breakdown. Keeping them strong and utilized will keep you healthy in the long run (literally).
Increased Neuromuscular Development:
To better understand this, let’s break down what neuromuscular means. “Neuro” means in relation to the nerves and nervous system, and “muscular” means we’re talking about the skeletomuscular system. So neuromuscular is the relationship between the nervous and skeletomuscular system. Great. Now how does the development of this help us become better runners? When we take a step forward, our brain sends a signal to the muscles in the leg in order for us to move. When we sprint, we’re sending those signals as fast as possible at just the right times to ensure the most efficient muscle coordination. The more often we sprint, the more efficient our muscle coordination becomes.
By adding hill training to the mix, we’re sending signals to the maximum amount of muscle fibers in order to keep moving as fast as possible. RunningScience.co.za explains in simpler terms that when we hill sprint, we’re “increasing the amount of muscle fibers than can actively carry work while we run,” which translates to less muscle fatigue in races.
Anyone from 5k/10k cross country runners to ultra-marathoners alike will benefit from the use of hill training in their overall workout routine. However, when utilizing hill workouts to develop speed, it's important to carefully moderate your practice schedule. Do not sprint hills too long or too often, otherwise you can risk turning a hill speed practice into a conditioning workout, or worse, set yourself up for injury.