Hill Sprints for Endurance Runners

Hill sprints. Along with strides, these are probably one of the best secret weapons in your speed work arsenal. Short, intense but with a good pay off over time. If you haven’t done them before, have a go this week…


What are hill sprints:
Maximal effort runs up an incline. Each run is short – 10-15 seconds in duration, followed by a good recovery (very slow jog or walk back down). 4-8 repeats is plenty, depending on your running background.


Why do hill sprints?
Hill sprints are a safe way to practice all-out sprinting – the hill means less impact is absorbed when you sprint so less chance of injury. They strengthen key muscles and tendons, much like a strength session, except the incline is the resistance rather than weights. It utilises the same mechanisms as plyometrics and strengthens the hips, glutes, quads and calves. Like strides (bursts of controlled pace over 10-15 seconds), they help recruit muscle fibres (particularly ones that endurance runners don’t often recruit) – very useful for engaging the muscle fibres you’ll want to use at the end of a race. They also may help you improve your cadence, focus on form and reduce ground contact time by improving neuromuscular connections – the speed at which signals are sent to muscles. Really useful too for those sprint finishes or overtaking on hills!


When should I do hill sprints:
Do them during or after an easy run. Or before a marathon paced or reasonably hard (but not all out) session to fatigue your legs slightly and help represent running on tired legs. They do not constitute a hard workout in their own right but should be used as an add on much like you would strides. Although they are max effort, each is short, and with a longer recovery, should not leave you fatigued the next day.  If you have a coach, make sure you follow their guidance with which runs to add these in to.


How to do hill sprints:
1. Warm up well – at least a mile, possibly with some accelerations to get your legs turning over. Respect that you will be asking your legs to work hard.
2. Choose a hill between 5-10%, steep but it doesn’t have to be cliff-like!
3. Jog gently to the bottom and from a jogging start, sprint up the hill as fast as you can. GO HARD!
4. Focus on form – run tall (not leaning into the hill). Keep your cadence high, shorten your stride and emphasise your arm movement to drive you forward.
5. It may help to have a mantra or go to phrase to help you push something like “explode, explode, explode” works well to drive you forward in an explosive manner.
6. Don’t go over 15s, it’s a max effort. Walk slowly back down, make sure you are recovered, and go again.
7. Repeat 4-8 times (lower end for beginners, if you are coming back from a period or time off or you are not used to hill work or sprinting).

Go all out and enjoy! Do you do hill sprints? Got any tips for runners just starting out with them? Do you prefer hill sprints or strides? Tell us more in the comments below.



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Martin Hulbert

Running Coach & Personal Trainer Leicestershire

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