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Hammering Hill Strides

By Melanie McQuaid

Hill sprints, or hill strides, are a great way to build strength, power and efficiency in your running. The increased requirement for glute muscle recruitment, arm coordination and push off the ground when running hill strides creates a foundation of strength on which to build more speed. Hill sprints are a muscular strength workout of maximal-power efforts. This challenges the neuromuscular system while sparing the aerobic system for other workouts.

Neuromuscular adaptation improves brain to muscle communication. During neuromuscular training, the body is required to increase the number of motor units engaged, to fire the motor units very quickly, to contract muscles with great force and to resist fatigue at maximal and sub maximal effort. Combined with a progressive aerobic training program, neuromuscular training will ensure progression to faster, more powerful and more efficient running.

These strides should not be confused with hill repeats. For neuromuscular adaptation, perform a six to 12 second sprint on a six to eight per cent grade hill at maximal effort with full recovery. The goal is to maintain constant acceleration, upright posture, eyes focused forward and quick turnover throughout the sprint.

The first time you attempt this workout do one or two strides, walking slowly back down the hill to recover completely after the effort before sprinting again. Take as much time as needed to be able to complete the same distance for each effort. Slowly increase the number of sprints per session by one to two per week, repeating the session twice per week as strength and efficiency builds over time. The goal would be to build up to two sets of eight to 10 repetitions of 10 to 12 second sprints.

Introducing these hill sprints during a strength phase of training will build strength and resistance to injury, which is a good foundation for high intensity aerobic training. Although there is a lot of power and strength benefit derived from these efforts, it is better to perform a few fast repetitions versus increasing the quantity but losing the quality. There is a lot of stress introduced at this effort level so much care should be taken not to strain muscles that are unprepared for this intensity. A little of this type of work can go a long way.

There may be some temptation to turn these sprints into more of an aerobic workout by decreasing the rest between efforts or increasing the length of the efforts too much. Do not confuse neuromuscular training with aerobic training. Somewhere in between these two extremes neuromuscular training and aerobic training overlap. Keeping these hill sprints short and controlled, will allow the body to be ready to perform hard aerobic training in another session. With this approach, the benefit of the stride is maintained (building power and form) while still preserving the ability to perform hard aerobic training (which builds aerobic fitness).