I grew up in the late ’70s and’ 80s, I’ve been an athlete my whole life and I’ve loved football for as long as I can remember. So one of my favorite stories about training from the mainstream media as a kid was the hill that legendary runner Walter Payton used for off-season conditioning. Look anywhere on the internet and you can find stories about Payton’s fitness outside of this world, to bring athletes from all sports to train with him and to eventually all tapping with exhaustion. He’s one of the most prolific runners in the NFL, probably one of the greatest of all time, and the hill was his secret.
I was training for almost twenty years, and I am obsessed with running up the hill. I have to thank Payton for this and since then speed is the ultimate goal in all my programs, hills (or stairs for those of you who don’t have a suitable hill nearby) are an absolute must in every speed or conditioning program. I’ve spent most of my career split between Cal Poly and San Jose State and both places have significant hill / stadium slopes that are perfect for hitting my athletes.
Strength and power are critical when talking about speed, especially during acceleration phase. Forty-yard races, great defenders rushing through the seam, a hitter running down the first baseline trying to beat a throw or an attacker exploding to the hole, a sudden rush of speed is the most important factor. The first three to five steps determine the success of the effort.
Watch NFL harvester. When you see athletes running their 40s, getting started is what is the biggest factor determining good time. Conversely, when you see that a guy has stumbled through a gate or made a messy step, you can be sure that the weather will be less than impressive.
Running up a hill teaches the driving phase of a sprint like nothing else can. Due to the incline, the runner must use the front leg to climb. One of the most important speed training signs we use is that the front of the foot is for speed and the heel for braking. Even the big guys, who due to their size and propensity to first touch the heel when running on flat terrain are forced into a “suitable” position for a sprint. Imagine the slope you see world-class sprinters use in the first 50-70 meters of the 100-meter run – this is the position we want to learn and the hill automatically does it for us.
The most obvious advantage is the load that running on a hill puts on its feet. I’ve always thought that parachuting, running with straps, and pulling partners is stupid considering all of these devices or routines are aimed at the bounty of weather on the hills. Near squatting, Olympic lifting and / or kettlebell training, nothing will address leg strength and explosiveness like a sprint up a hill.
Use hills for side applications
Since the vast majority of teams that I train for speed do not actually have the opportunity in their sport to run straight ahead where they would benefit from training on the track (I mean top speed), we dedicate almost all our time to changing the direction of training. Many children have little or no understanding of how to turn around. They have no understanding of where their body is in space, they insist on using their toes to slow down, and more often than not, they have little control over their swing when they run.
Due to the slope of your chosen hill, the runner must naturally place his drive foot in the “toe-in” position when climbing sideways. If they don’t, their effectiveness falls on the toilet and they will feel, almost instinctively, the need to adjust. When you are on flat ground, one of the main factors in the foot I teach is the subtle intrusion of the outer leg in the direction of the turn. This does two things. First, it gives the runner full access to the big toe while driving. Second, the direction is synchronized with where they are trying to go. Believe it or not, this is something that many of these children don’t own when they first show up. And what you get when you don’t own this technique is a slow, powerless attempt to redirect yourself.
Next, gravity is the bully. The natural slope of the hill requires very strong pushing. One that is necessary on flat terrain when an athlete is trying to accelerate. If they can get a child to pull their ass uphill, either sideways or straight forward, they have context and can gain that kind of understanding on flat terrain.
The benefits of sprinting backwards
Running back up the hill is the perfect way to hit your athletes. The hill I use located behind our sports complex in Cal Poly is about a 35-yard climb with approximately a 14 percent slope. Steep. We have integrated running backwards into the final phase of our mountain training. Part of that is because I want my kids to be quite awkward, part of the functional speed for my defensive backs and backs, and the other part is because I want them to develop a certain degree of toughness.
When I was in college, we had to revolve around the outside of the Begley building at the EKU. Honestly, it was an indirect way to make us miserable. The changes in the slope from the outside were constant and there was a close relationship with the misery as they would tell us to do it for 15 minutes or more non-stop. He was a total jerk, but he taught us a lesson – to learn how to get through pain. Nothing careless, just a foot burn of which he would almost be clogged by his own vomiting.
A foot drive that produces reversing uphill basically can’t be replicated anywhere else. Teaches children how to push everything they have from the front foot. Remember, acceleration happens in the front of the foot, and braking happens in the heel. This trains the runner on the appropriate pressures, where to put them and how to use the feet economically.
Hills teaches running efficiency
Again, due to the incline, the runner is placed in a position where there is no choice but to do his best. Because of the distance, they have to travel uphill, jumping or jumping along the way only makes the climb up the hill 10 times longer. Because they want everything to end as soon as possible, you get a natural full effort.
It turned out that the restriction was the most difficult for my children. Other things might hurt more, but the restriction forces them to work as hard as they can, coordinate movements to be as efficient as possible, and completely burn their anaerobic energy systems to the ground. It’s a pleasure to watch.
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