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Just You and A Hill

Just You and A Hill | Doug Balzarini | Expert Articles | 11/18/2013


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I love the latest and greatest fitness gadgets that come on to the market every year. The more toys and tools that we have at our disposal to help our clients the better. Having said that, at the end of the day, we really don’t need too many things to reach our fitness-related goals. I realize I’m losing out on some sponsorships by saying this, but there’s plenty of evidence to support that statement. We have enough weight on our bodies (some more than others) to get a great full-body workout using just our own body weight. Of course it depends on your goals, but if you are simply looking to feel healthy and strong, you’ve got everything you need right in the mirror.

If your goal is to shed fat, increase muscle and improve your conditioning, then we could add one piece of equipment: a hill.

High-intensity interval workouts are all the rage, and for good reason. There is more and more research coming out supporting this quick and effective form of training. From Tabata to circuits to track work, there are loads of options. One of my favorites: hill sprints.

*Please note that I did not say hill walks or hill runs. If you are healthy and your goal is fat loss, we are performing hill sprints.

Some of the more popular excuses I hear when people explain to me why they didn’t get their workout in: money and time. Conveniently, the hill eliminates both of these all-too-popular excuses:

1. Money. The last time I checked, running hills is free. You could do a Google search for hills or parks in your area. For my fellow San Diegans, Kate Sessions Park in Pacific Beach is my favorite spot for performing these workouts. It’s a grass surface, great distance, and has amazing views of the city and the ocean. My athletes and clients love it.

2. Time. Short, time-efficient, high-intensity hill sprints will have you in and out in under 30 minutes. I’m 100 percent confident you can carve out 30 minutes into your schedule a couple times a week.

Workout Samples

Let’s look at two hill workouts that you could incorporate into your routine.

Beginners: An introduction to hill work

1. Perform a 10- to 15-minute warm-up to ensure that the body is warm and ready.
2. Perform 6 to 8 hill sprints each lasting approximately 20 seconds. The sprints can be broken up into groups of two. Walk back down the hill to allow for enough time between sprints. (Use of a heart rate monitor is recommended to ensure adequate recovery)These workouts are highly client-specific; it’s always better to proceed with caution and progress them intelligently.
3. Perform a 10-minute cool-down to aid in recovery.

The work to rest ratio will vary from client to client; aim for a 1:3 or 1:4 ratio, if possible. For example, have the client do a 20-second hill sprint followed by 80 seconds of recovery back down the hill before starting the next sprint.

Advanced: A workout I perform frequently with my professional athletes

1. Perform a 10- to 15-minute warm-up to ensure that the body is warm and ready.
2. Perform 12 hills sprints each lasting approximately 30 seconds. The sprints will be broken up into three groups of four sprints. In between each sprint, take 60 seconds to get back down to the start. In between each group of four sprints, take three minutes to recover before starting the next group of four.
3. Perform a 10-minute cool-down to aid in recovery.

Hill work is typically easier on the joints than traditional flat roadwork. Ideally, a grass or dirt hill is the preferred surface. Running uphill will naturally shorten stride length, which will lead to increased force production and a more powerful arm action and upper-body influence. When running uphill, keep proper posture (i.e., slight forward lean without breaking at the hips), drive off the balls of your feet and be sure to incorporate an aggressive arm drive.

As you can see, hill sprints can be a fun, effective, efficient way to help clients enjoy the great outdoors. Get this interval work in a couple times a week and watch your clients literally “climb” uphill toward their goals.