Hill Sprints/Form Analysis from Steve Magness on Vimeo.

This video is a combination of form work and sprint work. As those who have read this blog know, I’m a big believer in sprint training for distance runners.  The video shows Will doing hill sprints and then a frame by frame analysis of his running form where I’ll walk you through some of the things I look for and see.

Generally, we start with hill sprints and progress to sprints on the track. There is something to be said for learning how to run fast.

The partial goal behind these hill sprints is not only to work on mechanics and pure sprint speed, but to accomplish some nervous system adaptations too. Distance runners rarely work maximally. Doing these sprint type workouts are great for activating a large amount of muscle fibers, including the rarely recruited Fast Twitch fibers. Increasing the total amount of fibers that can be recruited increases the muscle fiber pool which the athlete can “access”. The more fibers available, the more can cycle in and do work, or do work when everything is fatiguing.
Also, you get some nice adaptations with muscle stiffness and reactivity. If you think about it sprinting is essentially as a specific a plyometric activity as you can get. So, we’re also working on decreased ground contact time at the same time.

In this video, Will is doing a set of hill sprints after a 9mi run. He’ll progress from here to doing some flat sprints and then turning that into a bit of speed endurance with some longer sprint work (100s..150s, etc.).

Below is my notes on his running form during the sprints which I’ll go over in the video.  You’ll probably notice two main things that I don’t believe in that is prevelant in some other sprint coaches theory.  First, is the pawback.  It’s not something to try for or is actively done.  Secondly, is the step over concept.  Don’t believe in that one either.

1. Loaded up and about to extend the hip

2. Don’t worry about step over the knee. Recovery mechanics are a
result of other mechanisms (hip extension, stretch reflex) rather than consciously trying to do it.

3. Drive phase- needs to think more vertical. Partially caused by too much of a forward lean from waist.

4. Arms are good. Don’t cross midline. Note that the stopping point of the arms also corresponds to stopping point of knee drive. Everything’s tied together.  Arms and legs work in sync. Just a NOTE: not with will but othes a lot of time reaching out with heel is tied more to arm movements than what there doing with legs. If the arms contin to cross chest then legs have no choice but to keep going too.

5. Good position here for Will
6. Great landing for Will who used to heel strike a bit. Landing is pretty much at a 90degree angle under his knee. Flat footed. Note also that there was no pawback of the ground.

7. And there we go, landed, loading up. Recovery leg isn’t too far behind coming through.

So, in conclusion:

1. The #1 thing is landing/footstrike and Will nailed that. For most HS kids, the rest is bonus and tweaking. Getting him to get think more vertical when running fast will allow for more ground to be covered and this is partially tied into the slight forward lean. That would also help the recovery leg come through a little better.
But overall, for Will it was very good. You have to remember to look at it from an individual perspective and look at where they’ve been and how far they’ve come.

For more info for sprint training for distance runners read some of the articles here or here
 Glad to here anyones critiques/comments.

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    1. allfuelwillburn on January 18, 2010 at 7:01 pm

      This is pretty nit-picky but I'm a spelling fanatic…your tagline should read "Whatever piques my interest" not "peaks"

      Beyond that, thanks for blogging! I read your blog a lot and incorporate many of your ideas and blogs into my own philosophy on training. Very helpful. The best place to learn about training, for someone not trained in sport science (i'm a writing major) is the many blogs, messageboards, and articles that can be found online…as long as the reader is critical. Yours is one of the best!

    2. stevemagness on January 18, 2010 at 7:18 pm

      Thanks for the grammer correction! It's appreciated. As you can probably tell, I'm not a grammer/spelling type of person, especially when it comes to blogging. It's usually a type it once and never check it type of thing.

      Thanks a lot for the kind words. Glad that you could get something usefull out of the blog.

    3. paul on June 15, 2010 at 10:36 pm

      Hi steve!

      iv'e read through some of your articles and they are very good. you have a theory and back it up with science and experience. This one however, (hill sprints) shows a runner with many technical flaws that you don't address, in fact some of your comments of the video i think are very detrimental to running fast, for example – the foot strike landing out too far in front of the hips, and landing on the heel instead of forefoot is 2 technical flaws. Obviously this makes for it's a massive topic of conversion. http://www.speed-development.co.uk is my website if you want more information.

      Otherwise, great articles here and you have certainly given me some additions/modifications to my training program.

      In speed,
      Paul Graham

    4. stevemagness on June 15, 2010 at 10:55 pm

      Thanks for the comments!

      I didn't mean to portray that Will has perfect mechanics, far from it, he needs a lot of work. I agree that the foot shouldn't land too far in front of the hip and that a midfoot/forefoot strike is best. I've addressed this numerous times on the site, just didn't mention it here, because that wasn't the focus.

      Plus, he's running up a steep hill, so foot strike is going to be a bit further out in front of him. His footstrike, for him, is actually pretty solid in this video compared to previous work.

      Thanks for the comments though, and I completely agree.

      • David on January 16, 2018 at 11:02 am

        Quote – “Plus, he’s running up a steep hill, so foot strike is going to be a bit further out in front of him.”

        If he’s running up a steep hill he’s going to land closer to his hips not further out in front of him isn’t he?

        • stevemagness on January 17, 2018 at 7:22 am

          Yes, you are correct. Mispoke here!

    5. Brad Ingarfield on April 27, 2014 at 2:34 am

      Well written. Thanks – Brad Ingarfield

    6. Mick Stafford on December 15, 2017 at 10:07 am

      Hi Steve I have read your science of running learned a lot from it thank you, I have also watched your video on hill sprints, can you tell me if the hill sprints should be done on a steep hill or a steady hill please

      Thanks Steve

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