Fighters instinctively feel that hill sprints boost their fight performance. And mixing these High Resistance Intervals amongst your “roadwork” develops your endurance in a way steady state running can’t.

But, not everyone has access to a decent hill. What’s the minimum hill gradient required? And what alternatives to hill sprints are there if you live in flatter parts of the world? Let’s find out…

by Don Heatrick

Hill Sprints And More

In this episode I’ll break down exactly what hill sprints do for your endurance, how to program them in your training, how steep that hill must be to get the benefit, and what you can do instead if you’re without a decent hill!

Hill sprints fall into a category of endurance training that renowned endurance training expert, Joel Jamieson refers to as High Resistance Intervals. And they’re designed to increase the amount of power you can produce aerobically by improving the endurance capacity of your fast twitch muscle fibresThe same fibres you’ll use in explosive strikes as a fighter. Whereas, your slow steady state runs predominantly train your slow twitch muscle fibres, which are those that help your general fighting footwork, and recovery.

Fast and Slow Twitch Muscle fibres hill sprints

Hill Sprints / High Resistance Intervals Protocol

To use High Resistance Intervals correctly, you should keep your heart rate below your anaerobic threshold. If that’s a new term for you, check out the video, Heart Rate Training Myths For Fighters linked in the resources at the bottom of this article.

To achieve this effort level, work intervals are kept very short with relatively long rest intervals.

The general guidelines are:

  • 6-12 seconds maximum intensity effort against high resistance
  • 60-90 seconds rest or until heart rate drops to 130-140 bpm or a RPE of 3 or 4 out 10
  • 8-20 sprints per session

Essentially you’ll work against heavy resistance as fast and hard as you can for a short burst. Following this with a 1-1.5 minute recovery, or until your heart rate drops below 140 bpm before repeating the next interval.

You’ll need to keep still during rest periods, to recover quickly and to hit the next work interval as fast as possible. If you’re using a heart rate monitor, observe your heart rate recovery between rounds. You’ll notice your heart rate takes longer to drop as the intervals progress.

Hill Sprints Heart Rate HRI

Regardless of how fit you are, it’s important to start small and progressively build up. Resist the urge to max out the number of sets from the first session… Instead, incrementally up-the-ante, as this creates long-term adaptation that continues way beyond 6-weeks or so. You should use the minimum training dose required to create the desired training effect, so you don’t prematurely hit a training plateau where progress stalls. The objective is to become a fitter fighter, not just tire yourself out in a session.

I recommend initially using the following structure once or twice a week…

In week 1, sprint for 6 seconds up the hill a total of 8-times. Between sprints, rest until your heart rate drops to between 130 and 140 bpm or for 1-min.

The number of sprint repeats in each session increases every week for the first 3-weeks, then you back off for a week, before heading into the next 4-week block…

So week 2, do 9x sprints, week 3 do 10x sprints, and deload on week 4 down to 7-8x sprints for some recovery.

Hill Sprints Weekly Progression

That’s a simple high resistance intervals, hill sprints protocol, but how steep must the hill be?

I’d say you need at least a 10% gradient to get an adequate training effect from hill sprint based High Resistance Intervals. That’s an incline angle of nearly 6º above horizontal, and I use the “Level” app on my iPhone to allow me to check that!

Hill sprints minimum gradient angle

But what if you can’t find a sufficient slope for hill sprints?

There are some great alternatives to hill sprints that allow you to train high resistance intervals without a slope, such as…

Stair sprints, light sled sprints, deadmills, spinning or assault bike sprints, partner band-resisted sprints, rowing sprints, or band-resisted kettlebell swings (for a rapid reload).

Hill Sprints and alternative HRI exercises

Applying the high resistance intervals guidelines to those exercises will get the job done, but today I’d like to demonstrate Deadmills, as that’s likely an unfamiliar method that’s very effective…

Check out the Deadmills demonstrated in the video at the top of the page.

So there you have it, high resistance intervals are simple and effective. Find yourself a steep slope, or use one of the other methods I’ve described and go for it!

And if you want to better understand how to use this aerobic power endurance method as part of your fighters S&C, you can download my Optimal Fight Camp Blueprint from the further resources below.

Don Heatrick

Founder of Heatrick Strength and Conditioning

Don Heatrick is a family man from the UK, former mechanical design engineer, European Muay Thai silver medallist, former pro Thai boxer (ranked 4th in UK while aged 40-years), a Muay Thai coach, podcast host, and the go-to expert on Muay Thai performance training with over 25 years of coaching experience.

Don helps ambitious fighters and coaches take their game to the next level by bridging the gap between Strength & Conditioning, Performance Science, and Muay Thai.

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