The picture below was taken over four years ago. It shows me running a steep hill here in Rockville, CT. Unfortunately, the image doesn’t do justice to the steepness and length of this hill. It’s one of those hills that if run at top speed, you may win an occasional battle, but after a few sprints you will certainly lose the war.
I’m fortunate to live in an area where I have access to several hills. They range from moderately difficult to downright brutal. Some are short and steep, while others continue upward for well over a mile. I’ve taken some of the best fighters in the world running on these local hills and everyone shares in the ass kickery. It doesn’t matter what kind of shape you are in, the hill always wins. And if a hill workout isn’t challenging enough, you can always run faster. Running faster is the only modification you’ll ever need. It is only a matter of time before the hill takes over.
What is the point?
Yes, hill sprints are tough. We don’t need Captain Obvious to figure this out. So, why am I bothering to tell you about hill sprints?
The point to this entry is that simple workouts are often superior. A hill workout does not require any equipment, yet can be as brutal as any. There is a mountain in my area that we’ve run for many years. I ran it when I was fighting, and I’ve taken other fighters there as a trainer. It’s free to run. Anyone can drive over and park at the bottom. It’s possibly the best workout you could perform, yet I can’t remember ever seeing anyone else running the hill. Sure, we’ll see people hiking in the woods or walking a dog, but I’ve never seen anyone else actually running the mountain.
The hill serves as a tremendous resource that is freely available to all. You don’t need to worry about changing the settings on a machine or dropping a piece of iron on your head. You don’t need instruction from an Olympic track coach to figure out how to get from point A to point B. Running isn’t complicated. We’ve all been doing it since we were toddlers. My son is just shy of 3 years old and already loves to run with my dogs. I didn’t teach him how to run. It is a natural form of locomotion. Put your head down and run as fast as you can until you reach the top of the hill. Repeat the process as many times as you’d like (or are able to).
People either don’t know about hill sprints, or perhaps know too much about them and don’t want any part.
Another theory is that people seem to discredit simplicity. They falsely assume that complexity trumps simplicity, when the opposite is often true. Perhaps it is a good time for me to share a favorite quote that I’ve referenced here before (and will likely reference again). In the words of E.F. Schumacher:
“Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius—and a lot of courage—to move in the opposite direction.”
Keep It Simple
It is almost as if we’ve been programmed against simplicity. Not long ago, I suggested hill sprints to a trainer who had emailed me in search of outdoor conditioning drills. He responded by saying that hills are fairly basic on their own, so would rather spice things up. My first thought was that he’s probably never run hill sprints. I have my own athletes to worry about however, and wasn’t looking for an argument. I wished him the best of luck and thought that was the end of it.
A few days passed and he emailed me again. This time he wanted feedback on his ideas for spicing things up. He proposed throwing a medicine ball uphill. He would then have the group lunge walk uphill until they had reached the ball. They would then take the ball and do 5 pushups with hands on top of the ball, and then lunge walk with it in hand for 4 more steps. They would then continue with another throw.
All I could imagine was a group of people throwing medicine balls, and then tripping over each other trying to catch the balls that were rolling back towards the bottom of the hill. There is no way a group could perform this workout without mass chaos and confusion. And even if the workout was done solo, I still don’t see the real benefit to it. What does it accomplish? Why not simply sprint to the top of the hill? If you want variety, perform an exercise at the top. For example, sprint uphill and then drop for a quick set of pushups before heading back down for another sprint. Hill sprints with pushups at the top are brutal. I used to perform this exact routine at a hill in Manchester (CT). I’d run 10 sprints with 20 pushups at the top of each sprint. I didn’t need to lug any equipment with me and I always left with a thorough ass kicking.
More Than Hills
Hill sprints are clearly effective, but I realize that hills are not always available. Hill sprints are also not the panacea to training. I didn’t write this entry hoping that you’d abandon everything that you do in place of a few hill sprints, but rather as a simple reminder that complex workouts are rarely necessary. The basics work very well if you put forth a true effort. The simple lesson behind this entry can be applied to almost any style of training, not just conditioning.
I have a friend who fought many years ago who continues to stay active with what many would consider a basic routine. Ironically, he remains in much better shape than most. He lifts weights one day, runs hill sprints with some calisthenics the next, and then hits the heavy bag on the third day. It’s a very simple 3 day plan that he repeats twice a week, always resting on Sunday. He has been doing this for as long as I can remember. He mixes things up by running different spots and changing the specific contents of certain workouts, but the general layout remains in tact. Two days of lifting, two days of running and calisthenics, and two days of heavy bag work. That’s it. He’s strong, runs in local 5k’s, and can still hold is own with the gloves. Not a bad mix for a man in his 40s.
Many could learn and benefit from his so-called basic example.