There are lots of ways to get in awesome shape. Prowler pushes, bike intervals, body weight complexes, battling ropes – they all work. But nothing matches the energy and the mental challenge of sprinting up a huge hill.
The hill looks down at you, laughing. Mocking you. Daring you to conquer it. There’s a certain happy anxiety – a feeling of being alive – when you first step up to the bottom of the hill. When’s the last time you felt that way stepping onto the treadmill?
There’s something pretty primal and badass about being outdoors, no equipment, no TVs, no juice bars or other nonsense that you get at a lousy commercial gym.
The days are getting shorter and colder. If you’ve never experienced the sweet agony, the pleasure and pain of hill sprints, there’s still time. Here are five reasons why hill sprints are king for shedding fat and building relentless conditioning.
1. INCREASED ENERGY DEMAND
Let’s get this out of the way right off the bat – hill sprints are hard. Like, really hard. That’s because you have the increased energy demand of lugging your ass vertically instead of just moving along flat ground.
Research shows without fail that someone walking on a treadmill immediately begins consuming more oxygen when you increase the incline. In fact, it’s so consistent that there are predication equations that predict oxygen consumption based on running speed and incline that are scarily accurate. But you shouldn’t need science to prove this. It’s logical. What’s easier, walking on the sidewalk or climbing stairs? It’s pretty simple.
Bottom line – hill sprints let you expend more energy (and therefore consume more oxygen and burn more fat) at a given running speed compared to flat ground sprints.
2. INCREASED SAFETY
Hill sprints are a hell of a lot safer than sprinting on flat ground. This is great news when you consider the first point – because hill sprints require more energy at a given speed, you can run a little slower, be a little safer, and still get a killer workout.
When sprinting on a hill, you’re forced to shorten your strides significantly. This is much to the dismay of many track and field coaches who curse hill sprints for ruining sprint mechanics. Good thing we’re trying to get shredded and awesome, not training to be the next Michael Johnson. But that’s a debate for another day.
Hill sprints prevent you from reaching end-range hip and knee extension with your landing leg, which is when most hamstring pulls occur. Short strides also mean a less intense eccentric component (i.e. tension on the muscle in a lengthened position), which can reduce overall bodily stress.
3. ACTIVE RECOVERY
When you push the prowler or do normal sprints, what do you do between reps? If you’re going balls-out, my guess is you don’t do much of anything. That’s what I do anyways – sit idle and count down the seconds to the next grueling sprint.
But with hill sprints, you have to walk back down the hill. This is an incredibly overlooked fact about hill sprints that make them freaking amazing.
The downhill stroll serves as “active recovery”, which just means that you stay moving between sprints, albeit at a reduced intensity. This has been shown to be highly effective for clearing lactic acid (the “burning” stuff that’s a byproduct of prolonged intense activity) and improving anaerobic threshold, which means you can work longer and harder before producing crippling levels of lactic acid. You don’t get this benefit when you just sit around waiting to do the next rep.
It doesn’t get much simpler than hill sprints. Find a hill, run up, walk down, repeat. Doesn’t matter how steep or long. Short hill? Do more reps. Long, steep hill? Rest longer or don’t do as many reps. Don’t overthink it.
You don’t need any equipment. Hills don’t open late or close early. And they don’t charge you a monthly membership fee.
You don’t have to worry about missing a workout while traveling. You can find a hill just about anywhere you go. Except Western Long Island, which I found out the hard way for two years.
That’s part of the fun of hill sprints – no two hills are the same. And no two workouts on the same hill are the same. Subtle changes in the weather, length of the grass, time of day – these all keep things fresh and interesting.
Who wrote the unspoken rule that as soon as we outgrow our Spider-Man undies we have to stop playing outside?
I’ve got no research to back it up, but growing up in Vermont, I am completely confident that spending more time outside improves health, fitness and awesomeness.
Going back to #4, hill sprints are just a nice way to break up the monotony of exercising indoors. Unless you live in Santa Monica and frequent Muscle Beach, chances are most of your muscle-building and fat-loss efforts are performed indoors. Break the mold, get outside and climb that hill.