Always Injured? Try Running Hill Sprints

Hill Sprints - A Solution to Running Injuries?

As I mentioned in my prior post, I am a big fan of the book Run Faster by Brad Hudson and Matt Fitzgerald.  One of the most interesting parts of the book is the discussion on “hill sprints” as way to reduce running injuries.

Don’t Hills Cause Injuries?

This was my first reaction when I read Coach Hudson’s suggestion that running hills prevents injuries – and I still think I’m right.  If a runner trains too much on long, hilly terrain he or she increases the chances of developing injuries, including achilles tendonitis.

However, by using the phrase hill sprints, Hudson is referring to very short and very quick bursts of hill running of about 8-10 seconds.  The idea is that these workouts enable runners to make tremendous gains in strength and muscle power that will help prevent overuse injuries.

The hill sprint workouts start in the initial “introductory” period of a training plan and gradually phase out as the runner gains the necessary strength to handle the more challenging, race specific workouts later in the plan.

Building Functional Strength

If you have ever been to a physical therapist for a running injury, he or she most likely prescribed certain strength exercises to build areas where you are weak. For example, you may be told to perform “clam shell” exercises for weak hips, or squats for weak quads.

However, it can take a long time for these exercises to make a noticeable improvement in your running because muscles do not work in isolation – the activity of running is only possible through the coordinated movement of many different muscles in the body (hips, glutes, hamstrings, calves, quads and so many others).

The idea for hill sprints is to build stability muscles through all of the coordinated movements of running.  In this way, hill sprints are a form of “functional” strength training in which the specific movement is trained rather than just the individual muscles involved in the movement. This could be a way to build the strength of running muscles that need the most improvement.

How to Get Started with Hill Sprints

As stated in Run Faster, a runner can start doing hill sprints at the beginning of the training plan.  Initially, the sprints should be on a hill of 6% to 8% grade (take a look at veloroutes.org to determine the grade of a hill) and should only last for about eight seconds. On two days of the first week of your training plan, run one hill sprint after a run.

Gradually increase the number of hill sprints until you are running 6-8 after a run.  After about four to six weeks, you will have probably developed enough strength to shift from the hill sprints to strides after your runs.

I know that the hill sprints for injury prevention idea seems a bit crazy at first, but it is a really great way to quickly strengthen your foundational running muscles and reduce the chance of injury.


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