How Hills Can Make You Faster

Do you watch Fargo? I’m not talking about the movie, which was pretty good, but instead I’m referring to the TV show. We’re just getting into it and it’s awesome.

But a word of warning to those with small children or that are squeamish…there’s some killing and bloodshed.

In fact the only thing that probably kills more than Billy Bob Thornton’s character is speed.

Only speed kills more than Billy Bob Thornton's character on Fargo.

Only speed kills more than Billy Bob Thornton’s character on Fargo.

That’s the truth. In sports, speed kills. And for team sport athletes there are a number of things we can do to improve our speed.

One thing I really like to incorporate into training to help with speed is to run some hills.

Why Run Hills?

Hills can be a great tool to help us get faster because it encourages proper foot contact. Imagine bounding up a fill as though jumping from one foot to the next. This doesn’t really work we if land on the heel and try roll through the foot. If we used a heel-toe roll strategy we would lose all the momentum generated by bounding from one leg to the next. And we would slow right down.

The other great thing about running hills is the increased need for the arm action. The arms will help with propulsion and balance. Sometimes we’ll see athletes start to move but not using their arms initially. In this case they are not as fast or explosive as they could be.

Due to the inclination of the hill the arms become more of a necessity to assist with propulsion and to help us maintain balance as we jump from foot to foot. This can become more apparent when running downhill. Larger arm swings from the shoulder will help keep the arms and legs in sync. Sometimes on a steep decline the legs can turnover more quickly than we are used to and lead to a potential fall. Exaggerated arm swing help maintain the rhythm and balance on the descent.

Running downhill can also help to clean up when the foot contacts the ground. Because of the additional force of gravity we need to be more in control of our running mechanics when descending. We may need to dial back the speed to the point where is foot contact is as controlled as possible. We don’t want to have the feet slapping the ground as we run down a hill.

This is similar to getting an athlete to run barefoot across a parking lot. When we remove the pillows under the heels by getting out of our shoes we are less likely to heel strike when running across a parking. Doing so wouldn’t end well for the heel (calcaneous)

If you want to give running hills a go to improve your speed keep the following in mind.

  • Use a 4-6% hill. Less is more and it doesn’t have to be much.
  • On uphill runs look to land on the mid-forefoot.
  • Lean forward into the hill.
  • Use big arm swings from the shoulders.
  • Imagine jumping from one foot to the next.
  • Imagine pushing the ground back and away from yourself.

Just as less incline is better than more, shorter hill climbs are better than longer ones. Aim for 5-15 second efforts where you can still be explosive and bounding from one foot to the next. Not only will you strengthen your legs by you will also improve your front-side sprint mechanics.




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