Very short, very steep, very fast hill sprints

To get faster, you need to train all the muscles used in running, according to Pete Magill in his book Fast 5k. Most of us distance runners are good at training at multiple paces to support this idea but neglect the very short burst speed that develops power. Brad Hudson suggests in Running faster to add to your weekly schedule ‘very short, very steep, very fast hill sprints to build strength and power.’ Building power will produce a longer stride, a shorter contact time between the foot and the ground, and increase muscles resistance to fatigue. 

There are two ways to increase strength and power; the first is to increase muscle mass; the second is to increase the percentage of muscle fibres that are activated in a given movement. High-performance distance running is highly connected to relative strength, so to get faster, it is better to focus on muscle recruitment rather than get more muscle. The good news is that most people can only recruit 50% of their muscle fibres at any one time, so there is a lot of room for progress.

Power is movement-specific as it is related to coordination. Running power needs to be trained through running or movements very similar to running such as single-leg strength and plyometrics once a base level of strength is achieved. Maximal effort sprints are a great way to train this running specific power. Performing these sprints up a steep hill will reduce the impact and reduce the risk of injury and force greater muscle recruitment.

Go to the steepest hill you can find and run up it as fast as possible for between 8-12 seconds. Walk down to recover and then repeat up to 10 times.

Adding maximal effort hill sprints to your week

The essential point is that to build power; the sprints need to be maximal. Maximal-effort means run as fast as you possibly can run. To help make these maximal, use the steepest hill you can find and recover by walking down to give your muscles a chance to recover enough to go 100% again. Maximal effort running will cause unconditioned runners to get injured so add these gradually to your programme, starting with a single sprit the first session. The sprints should be performed directly after an easy run, once per week, every week. Hudson suggests doing them the day after your long run. 

A simple progression for maximal effort hill sprints

Sprints should be performed directly after an easy run up a very steep hill. Stop if you are no longer able to produce a maximal effort.

  • Week 1: 1×8 sec hill sprint
  • Week 2: 2×8 sec hill sprint
  • Week 3: 3×8 sec hill sprint
  • Week 4: 4×8 sec hill sprint
  • Week 5: 5×8 sec hill sprint
  • Week 6: 6×8 sec hill sprint
  • Week 7: 7×8 sec hill sprint
  • Week 8: 8×8 sec hill sprint
  • Week 9: 10×8 sec hill sprint
  • Week 10: 8×10 sec hill sprint
  • Week 11: 10×10 sec hill sprint
  • Week 12: 10×10 sec hill sprint
  • Week 13: 8×10 sec hill sprint
  • Week 14: 5×10 sec hill sprint

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