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Hill Sprints: Doing them Effectively

Friday morning at CrossFit LA our workout was 6 hill sprints on a 5 minute interval.  Easy, right?  I approach life most crossfit workouts with a student’s mind as many of the movements, particularly the weightlifting or gymnastic ones, are still somewhat new to me.  But running, and running uphill, is something I’ve been doing for quite some time.  The workout allowed me the opportunity to remind myselfof how to effectively run uphill, and how much it hurts.

The workout itself took place on Franklin hill in West LA.  Coincidentally, I used to live only a few blocks from there, and would run the hill during strength phases of my triathlon training, and often in preparation for LA Triathlon each year, whose run course has a pretty serious incline about a mile in.

Franklin hill takes about 45 seconds to a minute to get up, depending on where you start and/or finish….and how hard you run.  During that minute or so, you’ve got plenty of time to check in with your body and gauge how well things are going…or not.  Here are a few things I was reminded of, both during the reps and during recovery between each.

1.  It’s gonna hurt.  Get over it.  Seriously.  Forget about the few beers you drank last night because that’s neither here nor there.  Run steady; run hard.

2.  Relax your upper body and shoulders.  This is something runners are told constantly, but often forget, particularly once the body begins to fatigue, you’re fighting to keep going, and your form starts to crumble.

Don’t confuse “relax your upper body” with “be a slug.”  You still need to maintain a taught core while allowing your arms to move freely to help drive you up the hill.  There are very few instances in sport where you do not need to engage your core, so learn how to do so while allowing the rest of your body to move efficiently and freely.

3.  Everything movement you make should help you get up the hill faster…or at least not slow you down.  Think about your posture – a slight forward lean.  Think about your foot strike – quick and on your forefoot.  Think about your stride length – it will be slightly shorter than if you are running on flat ground or down a decline.  Think about driving with your knee and using your arms to generate power.  Keep everything moving forward and backward – any energy that is not moving you forward, ie side-to-side, is slowing you down.

Running fast and / or far requires efficiency, and running uphill even more so as gravity is a much bigger factor. Be light, efficient, and powerful.

4.  Think about running in the middle of the road if you are doing repeats on the street…and have the option to safely.  A city road is not flat, and even the subtle curvature from the center of the road to the gutter is enough to cause uneven stress and fatigue on your body.  Also keep this curvature in mind as you are going downhill.  Try to run on as “regular” of a surface as possible.

5.  Recovery counts.  If you are doing reps on a set interval like we were Friday, getting down the hill between reps can have a big impact on subsequent reps in the workout.

Running downhill is hard on your body, particularly your quads.  Get down the hill as quickly as you can without causing additional or unnecessary fatigue.  There is a point of optimization between getting down the hill quickly, and not causing additional fatigue, so work to find it.  Also, be conscious of what parts of your body are fatiguing and work to alleviate them on the downhill.  You can walk backwards or skip to help distribute the stress to different muscle groups.

6.  Change your surface on the downhill, if possible, and look for something soft.  Again, moving downhill puts additional stress on your body as the force of gravity increases the effective load your muscles bear.  Asphalt is softer than concrete, and grass is softer than asphalt. If you can walk on a soft surface, it’ll help dissipate some of the load.

7.  Manage your effort.  Forty-five seconds to a minute of sprinting is long.  Try to build your intensity into each rep and leave more in the tank than you think you may need for the last couple.  It’s very rare in this sort of workout that you hear someone say “I left too much in the tank.”  Learning to manage your effort isn’t easy, but the better you get, the more effective of an athlete you become.

8.  Get good running shoes.  They make a difference.




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