Hill sprints are a great way to increase your strength and power as a runner, as well as improve your endurance, stamina and V02 Max.
The fact is, running on a flat surface only gets you so far when it comes to improving strength and power.
Hill sprint workouts like the ones in this guide will test your legs, arms and core in so many more ways and will bring a multitude of benefits.
Uphill running also forces you to think about your form a lot more. You have to use your legs and arms in a certain way to power you up the hill.
In addition, if you struggle with common running injuries, hill running is a great way to strengthen your muscles and connective tissues.
So what are you waiting for?
In this guide we’ll exlore:
- What are hill sprints benefits?
- How many hill sprints should I do?
- How to do hill sprints
- 3 hill sprint workouts to increase strength and power
- Tips on doing hill sprints
What are the hill sprints benefits?
There are many benefits of hill sprints.
According to a 2014 study involving 32 physically fit distance runners, hill running can improve the overall performance of long distance runners.
Here are the benefits of hill sprints:
- Strengthens key running muscles in your arms, core and legs
- Reduces the risk of injuries
- Improves running form
- Builds mental toughness
- Increases your stride power
- Boosts your stamina
- Improves your race times
- Boosts your metabolism
How many hill sprints should I do?
If you’re a beginner runner and you’ve never attempted hill sprints before, then it’s a good idea to start small and work your way up from there.
To see real improvement in your strength and power, it is recommended you do between 10 to 12 hill sprints of roughly 12 seconds each two times a week.
Hill sprinting is a quite a demanding, high intensity activity, so if you feel you’d benefit from doing one hill sprinting session per week, then say after four weeks increase this to two, then this is completely fine too.
Once you are at the level where you can do two hill sprint sessions a week, it’s important you don’t just keep adding more and more hill sprint workouts each day.
One to two sessions per week is more than enough to see improvement in your strength and power.
How to do hill sprints
Your running form when doing hill sprint workouts will differ to your form when doing road running.
Here are three tips to keep your running form in check when completing hill sprints:
- Run tall. When running uphill the temptation is to lean forward when in fact it’s better for your running form to keep upright. Make sure your hips lead instead of your head.
- Keep your cadence high. Cadence is essentially the number of steps you take per minute (SPM). Run uphill using quick steps that match your current cadence when running on flat surfaces. You don’t want to be taking big steps when running uphill as this will take effort and you will waste a lot of energy doing this.
- Drive your arms. Your arm swing is your secret weapon when running uphill. Focus on actively driving them back when you run uphill and this will help to power you up the hill.
- Engage your core. Make sure you engage your core so you don’t rotate your upper body unnecessarily. Excess rotation can cause lose power and forward momentum, as well as cause injury to your lower back. Your arm swing should hopefully cancel out any stiffness in your neck and shoulders.
3 hill sprint workouts to increase strength and power
#1 Short and fast hill sprint workout
Short and fast hill repeats are probably what most runners are familiar with when it comes to hill running.
This type of hill workout is great to increase your strength, speed and power as well as your endurance and V02 Max.
They are usually 60-90 seconds in length with a recovery jog in between as you run down the hill.
A short and fast workout would normally be done using your 5-10k pace – so we’re talking a fairly quick pace here!
Find a 4-8% grade hill (grade is the angle of the hill) and start at the bottom of the hill. Run up the hill for 90 seconds at your 5k pace.
If you find this too challenging, vary the time and pace according to your needs. So instead, for example, run for 60 seconds at your 10k pace.
Repeat this 8-10 times and remember to have a recovery jog in between each repeat.
If you want to switch things up a bit, you can complete a reverse pyramid workout:
- Repeats 1 to 3 – run for 90 seconds at your 10k pace.
- Repeats 4 to 6 – run for 60 seconds at your 10k pace.
- Repeats 8 to 10 – run for 45 seconds at your 5k pace.
These types of short and fast workouts are best included in the middle to later phases of your training plan.
They can be quite intense so it’s best you have built up your base fitness before attempting them.
#2 Long repetition hill sprint workout
If you want to challenge yourself, then long repetition hill sprint workouts are for you! However, a word of caution, these are not for the fainthearted!
Like short and fast workouts, they are one of the best hill sprint workouts that increase your speed and power.
Long repetition hill workouts are not only physically challenging, but mentally challenging too as they never seem to end!
These are best done where you have lots of undulating hills to play with. Find your starting point then do 5 x 3 min hills with a recovery jog in between.
Instead of jogging back to your starting point, just continue until you have completed all three repetitions.
Because long repetition hill workouts mainly target your aerobic energy system, these are best done in the early phases of your training plan.
#3 High intensity hill workout
The high intensity hill workout is the most challenging hill sprint workout because the recovery jog is done at a faster pace.
Making them one of the most effective hill sprint workouts that increase speed and power.
By reducing the amount of time in which you’re able to recover between repetitions, it makes the workout much more demanding physically.
For this reason I recommend you include them in the middle to late stages of your plan once you’ve had the chance to build up your base fitness.
Here are a few examples of high intensity hill workouts:
- 8 repeats – run for 90 seconds at your 5k pace, recovery jog at your 10k/half marathon pace.
- 8 repeats – run for 60 seconds at your 10k pace, recovery jog at your half marathon pace.
- 8 repeats – run for 45 seconds at your 5k pace, recovery jog at your 10k pace.
Bonus workout: Treadmill hill sprint workout
I wanted to include a treadmill hill workout as not everyone lives near hilly terrains (including me!)
The good news is that you can complete hill running workouts that increase your speed and power on the treadmill, including the above workouts.
Be sure to do a proper warm up before the workout, as with any run, and choose a hill grade between 3-7% to complete your workout.
Many treadmills nowadays have incline options which you can select from.
Remember to take 2-4 minutes recovery in the form of a jog on a flat incline in between each repetition, unless you’re doing the high intensity workout.
Tips on doing hill sprints
#1 Warm up
As mentioned earlier, hill sprint workouts can be intense so all the more reason to get your body physically and mentally prepared by doing a warm up.
A good warm up before hill sprinting will include a light jog and some dynamic stretches to mobilise your joints.
You may also want to include some running form drills.
#2 Cool down
Be sure to include a cool down after your hill sprint workout to counteract any muscle soreness that you may feel after such an intense workout.
Static stretches like the ones in my cool down stretches guide should be done as part of your cool down.
#3 Strength train
When performing hill sprint workouts like the ones in this guide, you may also want to complement your training with strength training in the form of bodyweight or weighted exercises.
Strength training, as with hill sprinting, is a great way to increase your strength and power as a runner. Strength training has benefits for your running form and posture.
#4 Fuel your body
Hill sprints are a very demanding exercise so you’ll need to make sure you are fuelling your body in the right way before and after the workout.
Focus on consuming carbohydrates before a workout then protein after a workout to help with muscle recovery and repair.
You can find more information about protein in my protein for runners guide.