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Rethinking Running for the Hills | Boddicker Performance

Filed under: Anatomy and Physiology, coaching, Running

Rethinking Running for the Hills

by on Sep 10th, 2009

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In the past, I’ve said that I’m not a big fan of using hills in training in those returning from injury.  As I spend more time learning about the subject, I have begun to realize that it may be a short-sighted view and I should really be opposed to IMPROPER application of hill training.

Recently as I was reviewing the DVD complement to Bosch and Klomp’s Running; a point jumped out at me.  If a hill has a slope greater than about 4 degrees, the mechanics of the running stride changes from a cyclical absolute speed pattern (the one that middle and long distance runners should be in constantly) to one that mimics the mechanics of acceleration.  That is a huge distinction.  In acceleration mechanics, the leg action is piston-like and body angle is small so that you are striking well behind your center of mass.  Furthermore, your ground contact time is greater than flight time.  Absolute speed mechanics are much different, however.  The torso position is upright (near perpendicular), and the foot and knee should be directly under the hip at bottom dead center at ground contact, and flight time exceeds ground contact time.

How often do we as coaches look at a hill and think, “Damn!  That baby’s steep.  That would be one tough training session.  I’ll have the ladies run that for our Wednesday session.”?  Probably too often.

From a motor patterning standpoint, it is a huge error in prescribing volumes of uphill training on steep slopes as we begin to have our athletes create a motor program that is inefficient at high velocities.  Longer ground contact times, altered torso angles, and imprecise ground contacts.  This lack of specificity will certainly interfere with the acquisition of skills necessary to run fast over flat ground.

While hills can certainly make athletes tired, will they truly make them better at what they do?

Best regards,

Carson Boddicker

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Leave a Comment »5 Comments
  • Patrick Ward September 10, 2009

    Great post! You are spot on about the incline grade affecting mechanics. But, where do we find a hill with a 4% grade? One of the reasons I don’t like telling people to do hills is for the exact reason you mentioned – “That hill is huge! It will be a great workout!!”. The alternative is getting people on a treadmill – which presents its own problems as that is not like normal running either.

    Patrick

  • Adam Rotchstein September 11, 2009

    Great post.

    In regards to Patrick’s post, something that can be done on the treadmill is have the athlete place their hands on the crossbar and push into them as they run at full speed. This should help the athlete “drive” rather than “pull” themselves when running on the treadmill. It’s not perfect, but it is better than just running at an incline on a treadmill.

  • Carson Boddicker September 12, 2009

    Patrick,

    Astute points.

    Where to find a good hill? I’ve noticed that many have a hill of this type available and run on it often in their easy days, but fail to recognize its efficacy for hill reps because the fatigue it creates during easy running does not stand out to them as the “pain” that the steeper hills cause. 4% incline is relatively insignificant.

    Treadmills could be used, but that brings with it a bunch of other muck that you’ve mentioned. I am a fan of manual treadmills like the Woodway Force, but it’s not something that’s readily available.

    Best,
    CB

  • Carson Boddicker September 12, 2009

    Adam,

    Pushing into the treadmill is a reasonable but not perfect alternative, as you said. The issue I see with the pushing is the change in body angle that comes with it to one that is closer to an acceleration position and/or the tendency to make the backside mechanics longer.

    Obviously, any variation of surface from flat ground will have it’s effects on mechanics, however, so that’s a concession we must make if hills are to appear in our programs.

    Have you used hill work much for acceleration development with your players?

    Regards,
    CB

  • Adam Rotchstein September 13, 2009

    True.

    I have never used hill work for teams/players that are my responsibility, but I have been at places where they have been used.

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