“Courage is fear holding on a minute longer.” – George S. Patton

Clark Field, University of Texas, Austin
Clark Field, University of Texas, Austin

It’s no secret — I love hill sprints.  But you need to know what you’re training for to get the most use out of them. [bctt tweet=”It’s no secret — I love hill sprints. But you need to know what you’re training for to get the most use out of them.”]

For instance, if you’re looking to better your first few steps out of the blocks, hill sprints are fantastic — but only if we keep those sprints confined to the first few steps.  For an out-of-the-blocks rule of thumb, look to the “6 steps in 10 yards” benchmark. Want to compare to the best in the world?  Usain Bolt hits the 10 meter mark (11 yards) in 6 steps, then covers the remaining 90 meters (or roughly 100 yards) in 35 more steps.  Damn.  That’s the difference between acceleration, transition, and “fly” running mechanics.

So what’s a realistic benchmark for the first 6 steps?  Well, I generally hit just above 9 yards.  Now, I remember the day when I could consistently cover the first 10 yards in 6 steps.  But alas, at 50, I think those days are probably long gone.  As any athlete can tell you, the first thing to slide is explosiveness.  Gotta break out the sun dial to time my 20 yard shuttle run or pro agility these days 😉

Side note: this is why good sprinters generally tend to opt for the longer sprints in the later years of their career.  “Fly” speed hangs on even after explosiveness fades.

This isn’t rocket science, either.  Just look at the positioning of the body, and the mechanics required of the body, during a hill sprint.  An exaggerated forward lean, lots of “push” strides; classic acceleration phase sprint mechanics.  The acceleration phase of the sprint (first 10 meters; see chart below) phases rather quickly into the transition portion (10 to 35 meters), then into the “fly” — that portion of the sprint where we’re trying to hold on to the top end velocity built during the acceleration and transition phases.  Bottom line: if you’re really concerned about top-end speed, those first few steps are crucial.  You have to get those right.

But we don’t want to butcher the transition or “fly” sprinting mechanics after those first few steps by practicing “holding on to” acceleration mechanics.  This is a big mistake.  Even though parachute runs, implement dragging and hill sprints are good (and relatively safe) conditioning tools for most athletes, they can really alter the top-end speed mechanics of serious sprinters.

Velocity (m/s) versus Distance (m) of the 100 meter sprint.
Velocity (m/s) versus Distance (m) of the 100 meter sprint.

But maybe top end speed isn’t really your concern; and that’s cool, because sprints in general (and hill sprints in particular) offer plenty of benefit to the average Joe and Jane.

And even in most repeat power / sprint sports (American football and soccer, for instance), most all-out sprinting is done in less than 10 yard bursts.  There’s lots of cutting and redirection involved, and not much opportunity to hit full stride.  So even with these athletes, I wouldn’t be too concerned with hampering top end speed with a steady dose of longer hill or stadium step sprints.

Let me say, too, that cycling can *really* play havoc with your sprinting mechanics.  Has all that time on my fixie hurt my sprinting ability?  Yeah, probably so.  But that’s not enough of a deterrent to keep me out of the saddle.  And that ramp in the picture above is about 30 yards of very steep incline, which I run quite often, using the drop-off technique to quantify volume. If I were a serious masters sprinter, both the fixie and the long hill sprints would have to go.  Another reason why I’m not a serious masters sprinter 😉

The graph above was taken from the article, How Fast Can Usain Bolt Run the 40 Yard Dash?  An interesting question indeed, as there are many differences between the 100 meter and 40 yard dash events — differences well beyond the mere distances involved.   I won’t “Cliff Note” the article here, but let’s just say that timing technique is one of the huge differences.

If you partake in the Paleo f(x) / realFit Test Score (see the clip below), your 40 with be fully automatic timed.  That is, we utilize a laser beam at the start and stop gates.  This eliminates human error inherent in any form of manual timing.  See the article above for an explanation of how reaction time and human error can really misrepresent sprint times in these very short distances.

In health, fitness and Ancestral Wellness –


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Keith Norris is a former standout athlete, a military vet, and an elite strength and conditioning expert with over 35 years of in-the-trenches experience. As a serial entrepreneur in the health and wellness space, he is an owner, co-founder and Chief Development Officer of the largest Paleo conference in the world, Paleo f(x) . As well, Keith is a partner in one of the most innovative lines of boutique training studios in the nation, Efficient Exercise. He’s also a partner in ARXFit training equipment, and a founding member of ID Life. In his spare time, he authors one of the top fitness blogs in the health and wellness sphere, Theory To Practice.


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