The SUU soccer team makes the most of hump day by running a series of hill sprints.
Why, do you ask, run hills?
1. Hill sprints provide the perfect combination of strength and speed training.
It’s like lifting weights and sprinting at the same time. The hill
furnishes the resistance for the sprints, making them more difficult
while remaining shorter in distance and duration. It can produce great
results in as little as 15 minutes once or twice a week.
2. Hill sprints build stamina.
Endurance is something that every player needs, but it has to be a
special kind of endurance. The endurance training should mimic the demands of the game : short bouts of intense exertion with periods of rest and
recovery in between.
Hill sprints provide just this type of interval training. They will
take your players’ hearts and lungs to far greater intensities than
those found in jogging or traditional types of endurance training.
Their bodies will become used to reaching these higher levels, and
recovering quickly between the “sprints.”
More and more scientific studies are showing that VO2 Max (the
traditional measure of aerobic endurance) is improved as much – or more-
by using high intensity exercise like hill sprinting.
3. Hill sprints increase ankle strength – helping prevent one of the most common injuries in sports, the ankle sprain.
Ankles are strengthened because of the need to push off harder when
sprinting up the hill. More drive is needed than when sprinting on a
flat surface. Improved ankle strength also leads to the ability to push
off harder during the game – benefiting the players’s important “first
step” and the lengthening of their stride down the field.
4. Hill sprints increase players’ speed and explosiveness.
This is because hill training promotes two key factors in running
faster and jumping higher. First, it forces the proper knee lift, which
is essential for driving the legs downward and back for more force.
Second, hill sprinting makes the sprinter dorsi-flex her foot while
running. The closer the toes are brought to the shin, the more force
they can apply on ground contact. Think of dorsi-flexing as loading the
foot, then unloading it into the ground, pushing you forward.
Explosiveness is also shown in the way hill sprints can increase a players ’ vertical (and horizontal) jumps – a key measure of power.
Jumping is really the same as sprinting – pushing your body forward (or
up) against gravity. The more power you can generate from your legs
when pushing, the farther or higher you will go.
5. Hill sprints provide a way to safely train your athletes.
In addition to protecting the ankles, hill sprinting will protect
against other types of injuries as well. The last thing you want to do
is to injure the athletes while conditioning.
Hill sprinting provides safety in two ways: One, the slightly
shorter stride length of the hill sprint is a great way to protect the
hamstrings. Most hamstring pulls and strains are caused by
over-extension improper firing of the glutes- something that rarely occurs when sprinting hills.
Second, hill sprints can decrease the pounding on the players’
legs. Studies have shown that even a slight grade can decrease the
impact on the runner’s legs by as much as 25%. Shin splints, foot
problems, and sore knees can be greatly reduced by getting on the hills
for your sprints.
6. Hill sprints as mental training (my personal favorite!!)
Besides all the physical benefits, hill sprinting promotes mental
toughness and goal-setting behavior in athletes. Looking up at the
hill can be daunting when players are fatigued and at the end of
their sprint session.
By using the hill as a metaphor, you can understand the importance of
having a goal (the top of the hill), taking the steps necessary to reach
it (one step at a time up the hill), and celebrating success when you reach your goal. Looking back down the hill after the workout, you
can feel the satisfaction of accomplishing something that may have
seemed an impossible obstacle.