Having wound the clocks forward for the start of the spring season the UK, it’s time to seriously consider getting some outdoor training in. My first port of call is always a steep grassy slope less than a minutes jog from my home. The gradient stretches roughly 30-metres from a children’s play area up to a public footpath, and from a standing start at the bottom, it takes about 6-seconds to hit the top with a maximal sprint. This is perfect for one of my favourite conditioning drills, hill sprints.


This high resistance interval method builds both the explosive anaerobic alactic energy system along with aerobic power. Without a good aerobic system, you can’t recover sufficiently to repeat the hill sprints. The greater the number of sprints, the greater the aerobic demand — about three hill sprints into the session you’ll certainly experience this yourself. The high-resistance uphill sprints also heavily tax the central nervous system, affecting the same recovery system as strength and power training. Hill sprints are the perfect way to train aerobically on the same day as weights room sessions.


Uphill sprints encourage acceleration mechanics, explosive triple extension of the ankle, knee and hip, which has great transfer to Muay Thai. The unilateral (1-legged) loading along with the diagonal opposite swing of the arm (serape effect) also transfer well to Muay Thai. The high knee lift needed to drive up an incline loads the hip flexors, something also of great benefit to a Thai boxer.

Despite the high loading on the hips and calves, this is all posterior chain, sparing the knee as you climb. Hill sprints are in fact low impact on the knees, and suitable even for heavyweight fighters – just be careful on your way back down the hill, go slowly (it’s your rest period anyway) as this will aggressively load the knee joints.


Now, I know you’re a superfit Thaiboxer, but start small and progressively build up. Resist the urge to go all-out from the first session, instead incrementally up-the-ante creating long-term adaptation that continues way beyond 6-weeks or so. We’re seeking the minimum dose to create the desired training effect so that we don’t prematurely suffer from accommodation. You can read more on this in a previous blog post, Muay Thai & The Law of Accommodation.

I recommend using the following structure once or twice a week:

Hill Sprint Table

In week 1, sprint for between 5 to 6 seconds up the hill a total of 8-times. Rest until your heart rate drops to between 130 and 140 bpm or for 1-min between sprints. The number of sprint repeats in each session increases each week.

So there you have it, simple and effective. Find yourself a steep slope and go for it. Just be prepared for the confused looks from passers by – they won’t understand why you’re putting yourself through such a regime. But then again, you’re a Thai boxer, you’re used to that.


  1. Sam April 1, 2014 at 11:26 pm - Reply

    1) For someone who has limited access to weights can hill sprints be used to develop adequate levels of leg strength/explosiveness? Maybe coupled with agility drills (ex.-shuttle sprints or other sprints with cutting and lateral movement, like playing football). And if it is possible, if the goal is leg development (as opposed to energy system) what would the work:rest ratio be?

    2) Is their any difference between hill sprints and stair sprints?


  2. Gary Rowley April 4, 2014 at 3:47 pm - Reply

    Hi Don
    Is it possible to do this in conjunction with the stiff ankling after a weights session?


    • DonHeatrick April 4, 2014 at 6:26 pm - Reply

      Hi Gary,
      Yes, stiff-ankling is a compatible training method with both weight training and hill sprints (neuro muscular recovery system). However, I’d caution you to be very careful with how you progressively build volume of both methods or you’ll fry your calves! A calf injury is likely if you increase volume too quickly.

      For others reading this wondering what ‘stiff-ankling’ is, check out this video ;)

  3. […] anaerobic conditioning such as sprints should also be implemented. This hill sprint protocol from Don Heatrick helped me prepare for my last few fights in […]

  4. […] Hill Sprints For Muay Thai – Don Heatrick […]

  5. andy January 25, 2016 at 5:58 pm - Reply

    Hi don, great article.

    I usually do hill sprints in the lead up to a fight but lately have been wondering if its more sport specific to do bag sprints instead i.e 40-45 secs slow pace on the bag and then 15-20 secs all out and then just do a few sprints with on my normal runs. Would love to know what you think.

    • Don Heatrick January 26, 2016 at 2:47 pm - Reply

      Hi Andy,
      Using bag work ‘sprints’ on a lead up to a fight is a good idea. Although, for me it depends on the volume of Muay Thai specific training already in your programme. If the volume of Muay Thai is already high, I like to use hill sprints to break things up a bit, while still getting the energy systems adaptation.

      If the amount of Muay Thai isn’t already high, then bag or pad work sprints is the way to go approaching a fight for sure. :)

      • andy February 4, 2016 at 12:19 pm - Reply

        Great response as always, thank you.

        Keep up the great work that you’re doing :-)

  6. Max Sanders May 30, 2018 at 9:12 pm - Reply

    Hi Don, I think I read somewhere it is good to do hill sprints the day before a fight to charge your nevous system or something.. but this contradicts a lot of other information out there.
    What did you think?

    • Don Heatrick June 1, 2018 at 5:22 pm - Reply

      Hi Max, thanks for posting your question.
      For me, if the pre fight prep has gone right, then the day before the fight is just a weigh in and rest. You can do what I refer to as a short, sharp “vanity” session if you want – but this is just a psychological booster, and won’t improve your physical fitness. Actually, it can easily be over done.
      Regarding “charging your nervous system”… any CNS type stimulation (potentiation) won’t carry over into the next day, but fatigue might if you over do it! ;)

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