Interval training has gotten a lot of buzz over the years in mainstream health and fitness news. Considering the overwhelming scientific evidence indicating the effectiveness of high intensity interval training methods, it’s no wonder fitness enthusiasts around the world have latched onto the concept. It’s one of the most efficient ways to get into cardiovascular shape while simultaneously preserving muscle mass and reducing body fat.
Now, there are a myriad of ways that people can incorporate high intensity interval training into their routines. In my opinion one of the most effective (and simplest) methods is running wind sprints. But not just any kind of wind sprints. I’m talking about the ultimate man making exercise: hill sprints. Some of the greatest athletes of all time attributed much of their success to this great exercise.
I’ll let Walter Payton break it down for you in case you didn’t know:
Personally, I started doing hill sprints a few months ago and haven’t looked back. It’s a tremendous exercise that will break your ass into shape in no time flat. Here are just some of the benefits of hill sprints that I have come across:
The inclined surface means that your low back, glutes, and hamstrings will get hit extra hard. This is good news considering how important these muscles are in developing lower body strength and power. In fact, there is good evidence to suggest that your maximal squat strength is strongly correlated with your sprinting ability. It’s no secret that 100m sprinters are not only fast, but also very strong in the squat. In my personal experience I have yet to duplicate the pump I get from doing just 5 hard 100m hill sprints in the weight room.
The incline surface means that you won’t be able to achieve maximum speed and as a result hill sprints will be safer on your muscles and joints. Your knees and shins won’t take as much of a beating and your risk of pulling a hamstring or blowing out an Achilles tendon are greatly diminished. This is good news.
When it comes to fat loss, research has continually shown that interval training is far superior to steady state cardio. This is because interval training leads to significantly more calories being burned AFTER the workout. In fact, with a very hard interval session your resting metabolic rate may remain elevated for several hours after the training session. As and added bonus, intense interval exercise also causes the release of growth hormone in the body which promotes both muscle growth and fat loss. It’s a definite win-win scenario.
One of my favourite things about hill sprints is that they are FREE. I have never run on a treadmill in my life and I don’t plan on doing so any time soon. Hill sprints can also be done year round as long as there is no snow or ice on the ground. In the summer time hill sprints are ideal, not only can you soak up some Vitamin D and work on your tan, but you can also get a killer cardiovascular workout all at the same time.
One of the most important and yet often overlooked benefits of hill sprints is the positive effect they have on your mental state. The bottom line is that doing hill sprints is HARD and most people would agree that they are not fun to do. However, I have noticed something interesting when doing hill sprints. I never feel quite as good going into a session as I do after. I attribute this to the sudden release of endorphins or a “runner’s high” that occurs after completing a particularly strenuous bout of exercise. Not only that, but I also feel more awake and alert. It’s often the case that I do hill sprints at the end of my day after work. Usually I’m feeling beat down and mentally fogged, but after I bust out some hard hill sprints it’s like a catch a mental “second wind” that carries me through the rest of the evening.
Now that I’ve run through a list of some of the benefits of doing hill sprints, I’m sure you’re curious to know how to incorporate them into your routine. Here are some quick pointers:
- A good place to start would be 5 sets of 100m hill sprints (rest about 1-2 minutes, or however long it takes you to walk back down the hill) done 2-3x per week. The sets and length are not set in stone. You can always do more sets of shorter distances (10 sets of 50m hill sprints etc.). It’s all about figuring out what you have available and utilizing it to the best of your ability. Don’t over complicate this step. The whole point is to get out there and bust ass!
- Make sure you do a proper warm up. I’d run the hill once at 50% and then again at 75% before I hit it at full tilt. Furthermore, I would not perform any kind of static stretching before the session as it will limit your power and speed. Feel free to stretch after your workout.
- Space out these sessions so that they do not interfere with your leg workouts in the gym. I would not recommend that you do sprints the day before you train legs. A good option would be to perform them as a finisher at the end of your workout or on days off from the weight room. You may even want to look into reducing some volume from your leg workouts in the gym. Pay attention to how you feel.
- If you are dieting you will have to be extra careful in how you incorporate them into your routine. Personally, I wouldn’t recommend doing them on a diet as you will be pretty stretched in your ability to recover.
- For those of you who do not have any hills available in your neighbourhood, I would look into running with a sled or prowler. In this case resistance will be created from pushing or pulling an external object.
There you have it, a simple and effective way to improve your cardiovascular conditioning through high intensity interval training.
As a final word of advice, although wind sprints may be a simple exercise they are far from EASY. Remember that when it comes to training, you get what you put in. The hill sprints may technically be free, but you will have to pay dearly with gut wrenching hard work.
Now get after it!