Hill Sprints Football Workout
As a little kid, running down a hill feels exhilarating. The feeling of at any moment losing one’s balance and catapulting forward into an uncontrollable roll just filled the belly with smiles, giggles and happiness. On top of all that, running down the hill makes everyone feel faster. Speed is good and fast is great. But being fast running down hills is illusory. We all know it isn’t true speed isn’t being generated.
Sprinting uphill teaches athletes how to push. Acceleration requires a push and is important in track events for sprinting, but acceleration is particularly important in a field sport such as football--face it, rarely on the football field do athletes get up to top speed where maximal mechanics are necessary, but football players are always accelerating to get to ball carryover, hit the hole or reach for that block.
When pushing through to accelerate, athletes have to coordinate their quads with the glutes, hammer a good forward lean and arm swings, and the hill is the best teacher of those skills in action to help develop speed.
Sprint Work As Priority
Speed is paramount to being fast.
Now remember, sprint work on the hill is focused entirely on acceleration. This means that when athletes are getting fatigued towards the top of the hill, they need to focus on driving the knees and pushing as hard as possible, maintaining a solid technical execution.
When accelerating, athletes need to think, “Push! Push! Push!” This is so important with football. Coming out of a cut, making an adjustment off a read, athletes need to know how to tap into that drive phase for acceleration--the hill essentially teaches this skill.
Performing in the neighborhood of six hill sprints of roughly forty yards distance as a straight shot up the hill is a solid amount of reps to start the speed session before proceeding to the next phase of the workout. And just to be clear, walk back down the hill for some active rest.
Supplemental Speed Work
An example of this type of work would be having an athlete do some side shuffles and cut into a sprint up a hill. Most of this focuses on rapid contraction, catering more towards change of direction and strength work.
The focus out of the side shuffle is to think when cutting to go forward to plant from the outside leg, lean and drive hard. Make sure to alternate which leg is performing the cut. We want a rigidity to the plant leg that is fluid like a roller coaster--a little bit of sway but everything is solid and holding strong.
Again, as fatigue sets in and the legs start to get a little shuffley like a dealer at a casino, remember to drive the knees as hard as can be done in the sprint. Also, when shuffling, avoid stuttering into the cut, be quicker and better by nailing the technical components--short, easy steps, plant and go, avoiding rounding, coming out tight.
Dynamic Trunk Control
After the cutting work concludes, it is now time to backpedal, rotate and sprint. First, remember to turn over both circles. Don’t get into the habit of always rotating over the same shoulder.
With the hill, when rotating with the hips and trunks, athletes can see and feel how important dynamic trunk control is to run at top speed and the ability to accelerate. It is a key factor. An athlete’s trunk can’t be all over the place if they want to be fast.
Losing dynamic trunk control slows athletes down when getting into different positions. Having dynamic trunk control, coupled with unilateral strength, does wonders for speed in various positions.
Accessory Speed Work
After the supplemental work concludes, the accessory movement needs to be drilled. In our workout, we are using a karaoke drill, performed up the hill. Performing a karaoke shuffle, we want athletes to be focusing on trying to strengthen their glutes and groin area, which in turn, will carry over to cuts on the field.
It is important that the accessory movement feeds into the priority: SPEED. Speed is always the priority.
A speed workout, theoretically, can be shaped and formulated just like a lifting workout. The focus needs to be on speed (obvious, we know)--sprinting up the hill as the first exercise works to fulfill this priority of focus. From there, the workout needs to go into supplemental exercises that contribute to the priority of focus--shuffle into sprints and backpedaling into sprints. To wrap things up, accessory work needs to take place--karaoke up the hill--to feed into the priority of focus.
Speed is needed, wanted and paramount to success in field sports. And this advice is free, a great way to get faster is becoming well acquainted with sprinting up a hill.
Dane Miller is the owner and founder of Garage Strength Sports Performance. He works with a select handful of clients on building comprehensive programs for fitness and nutrition. Several times a year he leads a workshop for coaches, trainers, and fitness enthusiasts.