Benefits of Hill Sprints Club
Hill Sprints Club had its humble beginnings during an otherwise uneventful Thursday workout this past July.
After two months of various forms of long track speed skating training, it was time to introduce Kevin to the 8 second hill. Over the years, with my own training, I’d come to know this beast quite intimately as it is a staple in the (speed skating) sprinters' training diet. Although the length may change slightly, or the rest may get longer or shorter, the premise of the short interval hill workout remains the same:
Increase Power Output.
As Kevin and I ran the hill more and more over the summer, various friends started showing up and taking part in the workout. At first, I looked at the added company as a great way to motivate Kevin to push his limits. Later, however, I began to realize those Thursday afternoons offered benefits for anyone looking for a new type of exercise to add to their repertoire.
What are the Benefits to Hill Training?
Besides the aforementioned fact that hill training can help improve power output, there are many other benefits to running the hill. I'll touch on three that I personally find to be the most relevant for Hill Sprints Clubbers: Sprint running technique, training the alactic energy system, and probably the most significant, burning calories.
Sprint Running Technique
There is a mechanical similarity between inclined running and the acceleration phase of a sprint. Inclined running appears to induce an increased push-off time; an adaptation also observed during the acceleration phase of a sprint(1). Thus, it can be put forward that the increase in push-off time could be beneficial to performance during the acceleration phase of the sprint start. As there is longer time available for force application, impulse production may increase at each step. In simpler terms, running the hill is an effective way to teach one how to generate greater force during the acceleration phase of flat running.
In simpler terms, running the hill is an effective way to teach you how to generate greater force during the acceleration phase of flat running.
What is the Alactic Energy System?
One of the three energy systems that the body uses to generate forces is the Anaerobic Alactic Energy System, scholarly referred to as the ATP-PC system. This energy system is unrivalled in our bodies for instant production of energy. It works by reforming ATP (energy) by breaking down a chemical compound called creatine phosphate which creates and provides for some ADP to be converted to ATP. This is the first energy pathway that is used by our bodies to resynthesise ATP. Instead of oxygen, as used by the aerobic and anaerobic lactic systems, the alactic system uses creatine phosphate which is stored in muscle cells. These reactions occur very rapidly and only last for a short period of time. Specifically, the alactic system kicks in for short bursts of energy, and is exhausted in approximately 10 seconds. The ATP-PC it is optimal for sports that require fast bursts of energy, but can also be beneficial at anytime during exercise, when a quick bust of energy is required(2).
Training the Alactic System
When training the alactic system, it is critical to keep the number of repetitions low to medium, or about 8 -12reps. Because the intensity is very high for developing alactic capacity, too many repetitions at a very high intensity will result in lactic acid accumulation. Accumulation of lactic acid is the extremely unpleasant burning sensation in working muscle. In sports it is often referred to as “hitting the wall” or even “dying”. If you continue working through this state, the body’s glycolytic resources (stored energy) will become depleted, and the aerobic system will kick in to provide you with needed energy. When this happens, your intensity must and will decrease, and any further training is now benefiting the aerobic system, rather than the alactic.
In my opinion, the most interesting aspect of anaerobic training is that although very little fat is burned during the short, high intensity intervals, quite a bit of fat is burned in the recovery time between efforts. Due to the limited and specific amount of rest allotted between hill sprints, heart rate remains elevated and the body generates energy aerobically. While the body is powered by the aerobic system, fat is burned preferentially. Also, post exercise calorie expenditure is believed to be quite high. In some cases, resting metabolic rate remains elevated for up to 24 hours after this type of workout is finished(3). Increased resting metabolic rate means you’re burning more calories. If you are running any sort of calorie deficit in your nutrition, this translates to the body consuming stored energy, i.e. fat.
While increasing your power output may or may not be high on your priority list, Hill Sprints Club is a good time to get outside and exercise. What started as two guys running up a hill has become a can't miss weekly event. There are always new people joining us at the hill, and the regular crew are a great bunch of guys and girls. If you are looking for a new workout with built-in motivation, Hill Sprints Club is where you will find it.
Interested in joining Hill Sprints Club? Our next session is this Thursday, May 19th at 5PM at Jericho Hill in Vancouver. Check out the Facebook event page for details.
1. Mero A., Komi, P.V., Gregor R.J., Biomechanics of Sprint Running. A Review. Sports Med. 1992;13:376-92.
2. Fit & Well: Core Concepts and Labs in Physical Fitness and Wellness (Canadian Edition) Authors: Thomas D. Fahey et al., McGraw-Hill (2007).
3. Berardi, J.M., Training the Energy Systems. Retrieved from BodyBuilding.com
You can follow Brock on Twitter: @BMiron.