How to Gain Speed and Power with Hill Training
Do you want to gain strength and explosive power while also building top-end speed? You don’t need access to Olympic-style weightlifting equipment or spend precious time driving to and from the gym. The answer may literally be right in your backyard: a moderately steep hill. There’s no need to suffer through the drudgery of endless squats and deadlifts when you can reap the same benefits from sprinting up a hill with child-like enthusiasm. While there are many types of hill training that can specifically benefit the distance runner, this workout will focus on a method to increase overall speed and power.
THE SCIENCE BEHIND IT
The size principle of motor unit recruitment teaches us that fast-twitch muscle fibers are the last to be recruited for any given workout. Sprinting up a steep hill at near maximal effort forces our fast-twitch fibers into action. This is more than steady running is able to. But slow-twitch and intermediate fibers aren’t able to handle this hill training workload on their own.
SHORT AND INTENSE
To get the proper benefit from this workout, we want the interval to remain relatively short. And the recovery period long enough so that maximal effort can be given on each rep. Aim for about 50 meters on a hill with a grade of 5-10%. Sprint up the hill at about 95% effort for roughly 10-15 seconds. This is not an aerobic workout. So feel free to walk slowly back down the hill and take as much time as is needed to be fully recovered for the next rep.
The overall volume of running in this workout may not seem significant. However, it does place a great deal of stress on the tendons and muscles in the back of the leg. If you haven’t been strength training or incorporating hill training into your routine, don’t feel compelled to run ten or twelve reps in your first attempt at this workout.
Begin by adding 2-4 reps to the end of an easy run in place of strides or drills. Complete this workout twice each week, gradually adding more reps as your body adapts to the new stress you are placing on it. Over the course of 4-6 weeks, aim to complete 10-12 reps per workout to maximize the potential strength and power gains available from this workout.
RINSE AND REPEAT
As with any strength training program, gains in power will be apparent in short order as the brain develops neural pathways to facilitate this new type of training stimulus. Once you’ve maximized the gains realized from this workout, feel free to reduce frequency to once a week in order to maintain that strength through your goal race. As distance runners, it’s not often that we get to sprint at full effort. So have fun by breaking from the traditional intervals/tempo runs, while becoming a stronger runner at the same time. And don’t forget, keep repeating to yourself: hill training is fun!
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