Learning to Love Hill Strides

Hill sprints. You love them or hate them. In college, the mere mention would trigger bile in the back of my mouth. But now, as a coach and athlete, I’ve learned that explosive hill strides are pure performance boosting magic.

Here’s why you should incorporate hill strides into your training and how to do them right.

Strength and Injury Prevention

Athletes spend hours in the gym sculpting their booties, both for aesthetics or performance. They’d get faster results if they spent time on inclines. Short, explosive hill sprints are the OG squat and the best form of strength training for runners.

Running up a hill increases resistance and running strength. The explosive reaction caused by lifting of the hips, glutes and quads uses the same principle mechanics behind deadlifts or squats.

And even better, hill sprints help ward off injury. The hill shortens the distance your foot has to fall or land before it hits the ground, decreasing the impact your body has to absorb. Moreover, hills help strengthen injury-prone muscles, ligaments and tendons.

Neuromuscular Development

Our brains communicate with our muscles through the neuromuscular system. Boosting neuromuscular fitness allows your body to send faster signals to the muscles and, more importantly, allows your body to activate a greater percentage your muscles and fire them more forcefully. Hill strides help train that brain-body connection, making you more efficient and powerful at the same effort.

Cardiovascular Adaptations

Hill strides get your heart pumping. Hill work raises stroke volume, the amount of blood that can be pumped from the heart in one stroke, which means blood gets to working muscles more efficiently and helps you run faster.

How to do Them

1. Ideally, you would start the hill strides with about a mile to go in your run so you have a recovery jog home to loosen up afterwards. But we don’t all have a hill within a mile of our finishing spot. It’s fine if the hill sprints come in the middle or the end of your run, that is fine. Just make sure you’re adequately warmed up before you start.

2. Choose a hill that is between and 5-10% grade. It should be steep enough for you to get huffing, but not much more.

3. Focus on proper form during hill strides. Aim to run strong and tall through the hips. Remember that it’s a stride, not a sprint. You shouldn’t be running all-out but at an 80-90% effort. Don’t worry about pace. Focus on keeping up a smooth stride with quick turnover and powerful steps. Let yourself recover fully before the next stride by walking or jogging back down the hill. Strides should last between 15 and 30 seconds and unless you are doing focused workout followed by a recovery run the following day, do no more than six at a time.

4. Be patient. Slow progression is the best way to reap benefits while avoiding injury. Limiting yourself to two hill repeats may seem silly, but it’s vital to allow the body time to adapt. Starting with two or three repeats for the first few weeks allows the body to adjust to the new stimulus and remain injury free.