Hill Acceleration Training
By: Lee Taft
Throughout the course of coaching athletes to be faster, coaches use fancy drills, fancy equipment, and fancy programming. The bottom line is we need to improve a few things:
- Technique– we need athletes to be as efficient as possible in order to eliminate wasted actions and to tap into proper action reaction forces.
- We need athletes to have great horse-power. If we can train their strength so the amount of force they apply into the ground is greater they will get faster.
- Finally, we need to make sure they recover so they have the ability to perform top quality reps to the potential of their energy system max.
One of the areas I feel coaches overdo early on when training speed is they introduce too long of a distance for the current level of physical preparedness. For example: having athletes sprint 60-100 meters early on will lead to poor technique, over shooting their current aerobic capacity in order to recover between bouts, and increasing injury potential due to the tissues not being properly prepared and exposed progressively to stress.
My solution is to introduce acceleration work early on so the athlete can get the force production work on they need without over stressing the mechanical aspect of sprinting too soon. One of my favorite acceleration training methods is to use hills. A slight to moderate grade hill will allow the athlete to naturally increase force production due to gravity, and a host of other valuable reasons. Listed below are my 5 Reasons to use hill acceleration training.
- Hill accelerations, from a mechanical aspect, force a couple great things to occur that can train the athlete very well to come out of blocks or accelerate quickly in field and court sports. The athlete automatically must drive the knee out (it actually forces greater hip flexion due to the horizontal lean) in order to clear the foot from hitting the toe into the ground. This natural aggressive hip flexion/knee drive increases the power of the force into the ground off the push off leg. More force is put into the ground due to the action reaction forces caused by the aggressive knee drive. Because gravity is constantly working on the athlete the force being put into the ground must consistently be aggressive to keep the center of mass moving (it isn’t like flat ground running where once acceleration is over sprinting begins).
- Hill accelerations limit the deceleration that must occur after each run. The athlete almost stops immediately when they stop producing force. In flat ground acceleration the athlete must actively work to “put the brakes on”. The fact the athlete doesn’t have to decelerate after each rep saves the legs and keeps the focus purely on acceleration.
- Arm action almost automatically becomes more involved and cleaner when accelerating up hill. The fact the athlete must constantly work hard to produce force in order to keep the mass moving the arms get tons of repetitions. The driving forces produced by the arm are seen through the longer leg actions which produces more force (see #1). If the arms are short in the swing phase the leg action becomes shorter to coordinate the action with the arms. When flat land training the acceleration phase is very short for beginner due to the fact they get out of acceleration so quickly. When training acceleration on hills they can work on the acceleration phase the entire repetition, therefore getting more arm action repetitions.
- Because hill work is very taxing on the nervous system programming is very simple. Once you see the athlete begin to reach the prescribed distance must slower than in previous reps you know he or she is getting fatigued. Once the fatigue factor shows up the reps will become much less effective so it is time to end the hill acceleration session. A great way to get as much bang for your buck out of programming is to perform less reps per set and add more sets. For example; rather than performing 2 sets of 6 reps where you would have less rest between the reps than the sets you would perform 4 sets of 3 reps. This allows for great effort and execution of the 3 reps followed by a nice recovery where ATP can be replenished more-so than in the 2 sets of 6 rep scheme.
- Hill acceleration training is a form of resisted training. The other forms such as sled, tubing, parachutes, or manual all have benefit yet they disturb the one factor that I personally feel is vital; they interrupt the natural kinesthetic nature of pure running. A band or harness tethered to your body is not as consistent with natural running. A harness attached around the shoulders might cause greater transverse rotation to the shoulders. A tubing around the belt line might cause more flexion than what is consistent with acceleration, a parachute might cause random shifts in the frontal plane due to wind pushing the chute off course. All of these disturbances can have benefits if you know what you are looking for, but when you want to improve the 3 things I mentioned above (technique, horse power, recover) the un-tethered approach might be best most of the time. Don’t get me wrong. I use resisted training frequently- but I always know why and what the results will be.
So there you go. Hill acceleration training is a fantastic way to develop explosive power for short bursts of speed.
Oh yeah! Don’t go crazy on the really steep hills. When technique has to adjust too much to account for the steepness of the hill you might have gone too far. Keep it so the athlete can accelerate with great technique.
Yours in Speed!
Coach Lee Taft
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