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Can hill sprinting improve leg strength and speed?

A form of strength training often used by runners is hill training. Many athletes and coaches believe that hill running is a specific resistance session that is very good for improving leg muscle power.

However, a recent study has now confirmed the benefits of hill running by comparing the effects of running on a hill at a steep 30% incline to running on the flat.

12 male athletes were used and each performed a run in three different situations.

They were:

  • Running 4.5 metres per second at a 30% incline.
  • Running 4.5 metres per second on level ground.
  • Running 7.6 metres per second on the flat.

During each situation the athlete's joint mechanics and muscle activity were measured. The following key differences were observed:

  • Inclined sprints involved a much shorter stride length and slightly longer ground contact time than level sprints.
  • The knee, hip and ankle joints are more flexed during inclined sprinting.
  • Leg muscles appear to work harder during inclined sprinting, with greater muscle activity in the gastrocnemius and soleus (calf), vastus lateralis (quadriceps) and gluteus maximus (buttock) muscles.

These observations suggest that hill sprinting does offer strength training for runners. Although the running action is very similar, the muscles must work harder to maintain the speed.

Main benefit of hill sprinting

The main benefit of hill sprinting is likely to occur in the hip area, as the hip extensors (hamstring and gluteals) produce a great deal of power during stance and the hip flexors must drive the leg through more rapidly during the swing phase.

The high knee lift and the shorter swing time in hill sprinting place extra demands on the hip muscles, providing a positive training benefit.

Hip flexor power is very important for maximum sprinting speed, and hill sprinting seems likely to develop this power very effectively. The message is that regular hill sprint workouts at fast speed up a steep slope should boost your maximum speed.

Courtesy of PPonline.co.uk

References

Med Sci Sports Exerc 2000 32(4) 1146-1155

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