I think everyone can remember the story of Walter Peyton inviting several college football players to run hills with him during his off-season routine. The end result was that the college players could not handle the intensity of the training. This type of training would be considered metabolic training but NOT speed work. The difference is the recuperation between sets in speed training. In some cases a 5-10 minute break may be used between sets of speed work depending on the intensity and length of each set. Reason being that speed training is a neuromuscular activity requiring complete rest in order for the mind and body to remember the specific form while sprinting. Fatique causes your form to break down.
A University of Georgia study compared hill verus horizontal running and found that hill running recruited 6% more muscle firing in the gastroc, gracilis, and semimembraneous as compared to horizontal sprints. Why incorporate hill training if your an athlete? Of all the resisted conditions that can be used for speed development which include; ankle weights, weight vest, sled pull, tire pull, parachute and sand, hills offer an individual or especially a team the economic solution to being faster.
How does one choose a hill? Research indicates that a hill with a gradient between 5-15 degrees is best for producing results in short burst acceleration that involves the ATP-CP energy system. Sprints should never take more than 30 seconds to complete.
Speed is defined as quickness of the movement of a limb. The beauty of hill training is that it forces you into proper position. Proper sprinting position involves a total body lean with a straight line going through the ankle, knee, hips, upper torso and finally the head. Try running up a hill without leaning. It's impossible to be fast and not lean. Next let's consider arm drive. A hill forces an athlete to overemphasize arm drive, which linked with proper leg drive forces one to come up on toes, dorsi flex foot, and drive knees to ninety degrees. The previous is a paradigm used by Vern Gambetta, noted strength and conditioning specialist, which is called PAL, posture, arm drive and leg drive. This simple paradigm is essential in proper speed mechanics.
Where does hill training fit into a weekly program? First, make sure an athlete has mastered all speed mechanics horizontally before using a hill or other resisted conditions. Once per week is sufficient when intorducing hill training with a 4-6 week period before progressing to twice per week. Hill training should be done after an extensive warm-up to include 2-4 speed specific drills in the beginnning of a speed, agility, plyometric training day. Two to three minutes should be given for rest between sets of speed training, or if using a heart rate monitor, allowing heart rate to return to 50% of max heart rate. Number of sets would depend on the experience level of the athlete as well as the training cycle. Sets could be between 7-10, keeping in mind that form is paramount and if forms starts to suffer a longer break should be given or training stopped for hills that day.