"We don't want our runners like weight lifters, we don't want our runners like gymnasts; we want them like ballet dancers." - Arthur Lydiard, Osaka, Japan
If you've ever been to the ballet, you've seen some incredibly gifted athletes executing quite amazing movement: They leap and bound with precision and speed over distance.
Triathletes constantly strive to develop this fast, powerful movement in their own training, especially in running.
One of the most proven ways to increase power, speed and agility—and become more like one of those skilled dancers—is to add specific hill exercises to your running program. Add the following three exercises to any run workout.
More: Dave Scott's Guide to Uphill and Downhill Running Form
The Basic Hill Interval
Do a set of hill running intervals that include anywhere from 3 to 7 repetitions, ranging from 50 to 800 meters in distance. Run at a slow to moderate pace, not a sprint or hard effort at all. These intervals help to build specific upper leg strength that develops the muscle used to lift the knees.
Be sure to keep your hips forward and drive off of the back of your leg as your opposite knee is lifted high. There is sometimes a tendency to slouch or hunch forward in the shoulders. This happens particularly if you are feeling fatigue, either in general or from the workout itself. Be sure to keep this from happening by maintaining a "proud" form throughout the intervals.
More: Hill Repeats to Improve Your Run
These are short but intense efforts on steep hills. Start with a few intervals of 8 to 10 seconds each, then very gradually increase repetitions and durations.
When executing hill sprints, each stride should be strong. Focus on a powerful movement that brings your knees up as you drive hard off of the back of your opposite leg. The key here is to straighten the leg that does the driving. This movement translates into one thing: power. If you find yourself slowing considerably or feeling quite fatigued, you've done enough repetitions.
More: Speedwork in Disguise
On a gentle hill, using your body as resistance, bound as high as possible. Don't worry about forward momentum here, as the point is to gain vertically more than horizontally. By landing on the ball of your foot, this action in turn helps the runner's ankle to increase in flexibility and power, both up and down. It also strengthens leg muscles similarly to plyometric exercises.
The number of repetitions, like the hill sprints, can be determined by performance during the intervals: If you begin to feel tired or your execution of the action begins to wane, it is most likely time to move on to a cool-down in your workout.
An added benefit, these hill exercises will strengthen the muscles used in running specifically, which will also help to prevent injury if done regularly. This is good news for anyone out there who might suffer from occasional Achilles tendinitis or hamstring issues. Note that these exercises are not a remedy to injury, but can be incorporated as part of a preventative measure.
Keep in mind that, as is the case with many strengthening exercises, a little goes a long way. As the quote above states, we do not want to create weight lifters. Your goal in adding these exercises is to enhance your ability to move quickly with power, but not to add bulk. Envision yourself effortlessly moving through space, the way a dancer moves on a stage. Elegant running is quick running.
More: Hill Running Made Easy
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