Hill Sprints - The How, Why and When

There is an old saying when it comes to training that there is nothing new under the sun and that certainly applies to hill sprints. They have been around for an eternity, performed by some of the worlds greatest athletes for decades and for good reason….. they flat out work for building power, strength and work capacity. If your goals are to be strip body fat, build muscle and be an all round machine I strongly urge you to throw some hill sprints into your weekly routine.




The how is easy, find a hill, sprint as hard and as fast as you can up it, rest and repeat. Simples.


Now I’ve read some articles where they go into the optimal gradient blah blah blah, fuck off! Don’t over think it, we aren’t trying to split an atom here we are looking to bust our arse and get results. Find yourself a hill with a continual incline, about 50m in length. I like to use flying starts as it’s a lot easier on the body, a 10-15m run up to get to full speed and then explode as fast as you can up to the top of the hill. Rest and when you feel like you aren’t going to die, repeat.


Note: If you are new to sprinting, take it easy the first few times. Focus on good form and gradually increase the intensity over the first few sessions.


Now that the disclaimer is out the way here are a few tips to ensure you get the most out of your hill sprints.


·      Try and stay relaxed – This is something the late Charlie Francis was big on, when sprinting (on hills or track) try and relax into the movement. If you are tensed up you are resisting the movement and wasting energy.  Try and feel your face bouncing.


·      Avoid rotation- We are trying to propel ourselves forward, any side-to-side motion is lost energy. Focus on keeping the mid section neutral and the knees driving straight up.


·      Pump the arms – The arms play a big role in sprint mechanics, they should be bent at 90º, hands relaxed and should pumped vigorously forwards and backwards, never across the mid line of the body.


·      Pull your foot back – When it comes to foot strike you are looking to land on the toe directly under the hips , not in front of you(this might change depending on the incline of the hill) and think about pulling your foot back against the ground, driving you forward. 




The reason I favour hill sprints for most people over flat ground sprinting is due the reduced risk of injury and overall stress on the body.  However they also have a great carry over to flat ground sprinting so act a great base and technique builder before hitting the track.


Hill sprints are great for reinforcing correct sprint mechanics with regards to your body and shin angle in relation to the ground. They also teach explosive arm and leg drive both of which will help build a faster, more powerful athlete. Also, due the foot strike happening sooner in the stride it places substantially less stress on the hamstrings meaning you are at a lot less risk of injury and will also allow you to maintain a higher training volume in the weight room, all while keeping the quality of sprint work high. To quote Charlie Sheen…… Winning!


Hill sprints have been promoted by the best of the best, whether it’s off season conditioning from the best in the NFL to arguably the greatest sprint coach of all time, the late Charlie Francis. If they are good enough for them they are good enough for me.




One of the added benefits of hill sprints is you can be a little more flexible with regards to programming than you can with flat ground sprints. As I mentioned earlier, they are a lot less stressful to the body than sprints on a track or flat ground and you are at a lot less risk of injury. With that in mind I like to place them between my gym sessions or at the opposite end of the day to my gym sessions. This way you allow your body enough time to recover between sessions.


If speed development is a goal of yours then they work great in the early stages, when you have a little more volume in the gym. Then as the volume drops you can move to the track, it’s about using them correctly to get the most out of them and making you stronger and faster. 


Sample Programs:


Hills for Speed Endurance and Conditioning


The main focus here is to build work capacity at sub maximal intensity. We are not looking to break records with each effort but to remain as consistent as possible throughout the session with incomplete recovery.


Ensure you warm up properly.


40-50m Sprint (10-15s Work) – 90s seconds rest or a steady walk back x8-10

For speed endurance we are looking to work with incomplete recovery and develop endurance and work capacity. For fat loss and conditioning this is the option I favour….. It flat out works.



Hills for Speed and Power:


Now for speed and power development we want a much higher quality of waork at a higher intensity. The overall distance covered in the session will be lower, I like around 200-250m but this may vary on the level of the athlete.  We want to allow full recovery between sprints to ensure the quality of the work remains high.


Again, warm up properly!!!


5x10m Sprint w/ 60s rest between

2min rest

4x20m Sprint w/ 120s rest

2 min rest

3x30m Sprint w/ 180s rest


Total of 220m of quality, high intensity sprint work.





So all in all hills sprints are awesome, you might not think that mid session but in my opinion they are one of the best ways to strip body fat whilst building muscle, power and athleticism. They have worked for decades and have built some incredible athletes and if they are good enough for them they will do for me.