Once again, I am excited to welcome back Cindy BeMent of Kicking It In (running coach extraordinaire). And she’s ready to kick our booties! In my last Run Like a Girl post, I talked about How to Run Uphill. Now Cindy is taking things one step further and teaching us how to add hill workouts to our running routines, which will not only help us tackle the hills, but will make us faster, too.
I’m all for that!
Take it away, Cindy…
Ah, hills. Every runner at every level likes to whine about them, fear them or avoid them at some time in his/her career. Every runner also eventually learns that hills are just plain good for the soul – and as a sole specialty workout, great for making one a better runner.
Running hills doesn’t just make you better at running hills. Hill work can improve stride power, efficiency and speed – all without the increased risk for injury that speed work can introduce. In fact, a study done by New Zealand researchers at the Sports Performance Research Institute of New Zealand at the Auckland University of Technology found that hill workouts – no matter what kind – improved runners 5K race times by 2% over a six-week time period. (If you run a 5K in 25:00, that’s 30 seconds off your time in six weeks.) The clincher, however, was that the highest intensity workouts yielded the most improvement (specifically in running economy). Read: hill sprints, aka one of my favorite workouts for runners of all levels but especially for beginners.
Hill sprints are just what they sound like: short bursts of near-maximal running intensity performed on a short, steep hill. Gulp.
Challenging stuff – but tons of fun once you get the hang of it. (Plus, hill sprints make for great bragging rights amongst your running friends!)
“Why sprint up a steep hill? I thought I wasn’t supposed to sprint hills on my runs,” I hear you asking. That’s true – darting up a hill willy-nilly during your run will only fry you by the top, and you’ll be walking to recover. But sprints are performed in a more isolated way. They can be part of your run logistically but they are performed as repetitions with plenty of recovery time in between.
Hill sprints recruit all of your muscle fibers (slow twitch, intermediate fast twitch and fast twitch) which means great things for your stride but it also means they’re no cake walk, so you must approach them carefully and give your body time to adapt to them. As with any new stress on your body, hill sprints do carry the potential to injure you if you do too much, too soon. Starting from the very first rep, however, hill sprints can actually strengthen muscles and tendons to help protect you from injury in subsequent workouts.
Here’s how to add them to your schedule:
1) Find a short, steep hill with approximately a 6%-8% grade of incline that you can sprint up in 6-8 seconds Not sure what that looks or feels like? Find the nearest treadmill and press the incline button until it registers 6% and run or walk it briefly to get the idea, then find a similar hill on the roads. You may have to audition a few hills to find the right one.
2) At the end of an easy run, sprint up the hill for 6-8 seconds (no more) just once. You are now done with your first hill sprint workout.
3) Once a week thereafter, add one hill sprint until you are doing 8 sprints with up to 2 minutes rest (if needed) in between. You should feel completely recovered cardiovascularly before starting the next sprint (ie if you’re still huffing and puffing when you get to the bottom of the hill, don’t sprint up again until your breathing slows to normal rate).
4) Once you’re doing 8 8-second sprints, increase the duration to 10 seconds per sprint and then to 12 seconds per sprint, and increase the number of sprints up to 10 as you progress over time. You may also progress to a slightly steeper hill, up to 10% grade (the increased sprinting time may also require a new hill). </p>
Tip: Until you become adapted to hill sprints, schedule an easy or off day after your hill sprint day (which, again, should be on an easy run day).
And there you have it. Simple, effective and a great way to add intensity into your running schedule. Try it for six weeks and let me know how much faster YOU get!