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Hills Make It Happen

HIIT Methods: Hill Sprints

Hills sprints are an amazingly effective method of improving fitness and keeping the lower extremities strong.  Sprinting up a hill reduces impact on the joints, improves running mechanics, creates a profound metabolic disruption, and your training session is over in twelve minutes.  Walter Peyton was a huge believer in hill sprints and no one could argue with his results.

Hill sprints are safer than flat surface sprints because the ground rises up to meet the foot.  Maximal lower limb speed and impact is reduced when you sprint up a hill.  Hill sprints make you lean forward into the posture of acceleration.  In order to produce more of the force that lifts the body up the hill, the athlete must pump the arms and drive back through the hips.  Hill sprints are arguably one of the most functional training activities you can perform.

Hill sprints are not for everyone.  They are not appropriate for the physically deconditioned population.  If you have a history of lower extremity orthopedic issues, you want to use another, less aggressive form of HIIT.  Hill sprints take some discipline to complete.  They are not the same as running uphill on an inclined treadmill.  I would argue that hill sprints are the most effective method of disrupting physiological homeostasis–you will get leaner and fitter faster.

The ideal hill is a five to seven percent grade and 100 to 150 yards long.  Most of the hill sprints you will perform are for distances sixty yards or less.  Listed below are some of my favorite hill sprint routines.

20 Yard Hill Sprints

Sprint up the hill for twenty yards.  Walk back down and rest.  Beginners start with three sprints and work your way up to eight sprints.

20 – 40 – 60 – 40 – 20 Yard Hill Sprints

Sprint 20 yards and then rest, 40 yards, rest, 60 yards, rest 40 yards, rest, 20 yards and you are finished.  Recover sufficiently so the next hill sprint does not suffer a breakdown in performance.

40 Yard Hill Sprints

Warm up and perform a 40 yard hill sprint at 80% of full effort.  Walk back down the hill and then perform another 40 yard hill sprint at 85% full effort.  Perform the next three hill sprints at 90-95% full effort.  Five good sprints are all you need.

Watch Mike explain hill sprinting on his favorite hill: https://youtu.be/AHJjmT87g7g

For more information on the many benefits of HIIT read the The One Minute Workout by Dr. Martin Gibala.

Michael S. O’Hara, PT, OCS, CSCS

One of the more common questions I get from fitness clients is:  What is the best exercise to get rid of my Muffin Top? Belly Fat? Love Handles?  The answer is always the same.  The table push away is the single most important movement pattern you can practice on a daily basis if you wish to decrease stored subcutaneous body fat.  Great abs are made in the kitchen and not the gym.  Exercise alone does not stand a chance of “making your middle ripped” if the base of your food pyramid is Doritos and Oreos.  The good news is, that once you get your dietary life in order, a proper exercise program creates the magic that makes you leaner for a lifetime.Ice_cream

Breathing Fire

Once you have become proficient at the table push away you are ready to begin the fitness activities that produce the hormonal changes (more growth hormone and less cortisol) that assist in metabolizing body fat and increasing muscle.  These activities are simple and require a short time commitment, but they are unfortunately difficult.  There are many great fat metabolizing modes of exercise.  These are simply my favorite five.  Give each of them a try and let me know how the experience goes.

Dual Action Bike Intervals

This is a good, fat-burning activity for those returning to fitness.  It creates minimal joint stress and extreme metabolic disruption.  Perform this at the end of a strength training session.  Adjust the seat, hop on the bike, and give it all you’ve got for eight cycles of 40 seconds with 30 seconds of recovery.  Perform this program two or three times a week.

Sled Push

Load up a sled with a weight that you can push at a pace that is slower than a sprint but faster than a plow horse.  Push the sled twenty yards and then move the handles to the other side and push the sled back.  Rest as needed.  Record how many trips you can make in ten minutes.

Five Minutes of Kettlebell Swings

If you are proficient with kettlebell swings, give this routine a try.  Grab a kettlebell (men 20-32 kilos and women 12-20 kilos) and set a timer.  See how many swings you can complete in five minutes.  Do not start too fast.  Perform sets of ten swings and take a brief rest.  Once you can get 100 repetitions in five minutes, increase the weight of the kettlebell.

Overhead Slams

If you are able to perform a proper squat (see Jeff to get a functional movement screen assessment for the answer) you can get into slam ball throws.  Choose a slam ball (non- bouncing ball) that allows you to perform ten overhead slams without much difficulty.  Perform ten sets of ten throws with fifteen seconds of rest in between.


Most fitness clients want a body that looks more like a sprinter and less like a marathoner.  Sprinting does create some joint stress, so venture into this area of training slowly.  All distances work well.   Most fitness clients will do better with a gradual increase in running pace that ramps up to an 85-90 percent max effort.  Sustain that effort for fifty to sixty yards.  Better yet find a 30 degree incline and perform hill sprints.  Warm up with some movement prep and perform a program of six to ten sprints once or twice a week.

Each of these activities takes less than fifteen minutes to complete.  No need to spend 45 minutes in the “fat burning zone”.  Invest the time you save in food preparation and a program of strength training, and you will see even greater body composition changes.

-Michael O’Hara, P.T., OCS, CSCS

Exercise Of The Week–Sled Sprints

Improve anaerobic conditioning. Improve speed and power of the legs.

Strengthen and increase power in the hipflexors, glutes, hamstrings, and calves. Improve efficiency of the glycolytic energy system. Increase fast twitch muscle fibers with less impact or stress than sprints or jumps.

Load a sled with 25-50% of your bodyweight. Extend arms and grab handles toward the top. Brace your core and keep a straight spine from the back of your head to your hips leaning slightly into the sled.

Once into position, initiate sprint by leaning slightly more into the sled. Quickly and forcefully flex the hip joint of one leg while simultaneously extending the other leg. Repeat this action as quickly as possible until you reach the desired distance.

Not keeping arms extended. Using too much weight so that speed can’t be maintained. Not leading into the sled. Failing to move as fast as possible.

Jeff Tirrell, BS, CSCS