Editor’s Note: This article is part of Run College: 6 Weeks to a Faster You. This instructional content is available exclusively to Outside+ members. You can read more about the course and its offerings here. Already a member? Register here.
Sprint and Hill Workouts
Now that we’ve laid the groundwork, it’s time to push it into high gear. To bust past prior PR limitations, it’s important to work on your top-end speed, and the best way to do that is with sprinting and hill work. Hate hills? You won’t — after you feel the power and see the speed they produce. Hills are your friends. More on that later. First, let’s talk sprints:
It’s possible to simply run by feel during sprint training. If you want a more precise estimate of how far you should go during each timed sprint, follow these instructions:
- Before completing your first sprint-speed training session, test your maximum sprint speed. Asking a friend to time you is a big help!
- Warmup thoroughly by jogging 6–12 minutes, followed by A-B-C drills.
- Run 30 meters @ what feels like 70% of your top speed. Walk for one minute.
- Run 30 meters @ 80% of your top speed. Walk for two minutes.
- Sprint 30 meters @ 90% of your top speed. Walk for three minutes.
- Sprint 30 meters @ 100% of your top speed. Walk for five minutes.
- Sprint 30 meters @ 100% of your top speed.
- Do a happy dance in celebration, or collapse in a sweaty heap and wait to recover — your choice.
Then, select the fastest time you ran as your max speed.
Calculating top sprint-speed
Jo sprints 30-meters in 3.75 seconds, which is 8.0 meters per second (30/3.75 = 8.0 m/s). This is Jo’s top sprint-speed, which is used to calculate all training sessions until a new time standard is achieved in a follow-up test after the 6-week program is completed.
Using top sprint-speed
If the assigned training session is 4 x 10 sec. @ 74% of your top speed, then the pace for each rep should be 5.92 meters per second (8.0 x .74 = 5.92 m/s). For 10-second sprints, multiply the target meters per second (5.92) by the number of seconds (10). In this case, Jo should run 59.2 meters during each 10-second rep.
*For practical purposes, Jo should run 60-meter reps at the 74% speed. Close enough is good enough!
It’s important to keep the rests between sprint reps plenty long — at least 15 to 20 times the length of the reps — so that high speed can be reached during each rep. So a 7-second sprint would require a 90-second to 2:20 rest period. Don’t rush these! This is especially true when the assigned target is greater than 88% of maximum speed. Remember, when the rep speeds increase, the recovery times should lengthen.
If you skip a particular workout, or miss a whole week, revert to the previous workout or previous training week before continuing with the schedule.
Number and Length of Reps
The video below references sprints of 5–7 seconds, but this is a generalization. The key is keeping the sprints short. The difference between running 7-second and 10-second sprints or between 3 and 4 reps relates to small variances in the skill, fitness, and experience level of individual runners. In practicality, both will work fine. Just run what is doable for you, and pay attention to post-workout fatigue and muscle soreness. As a Beginner, if you find that 4 reps are too much, back off to 3 reps. If you start with the Advanced schedule and find that 8 reps is too much, ease back to 6 or 7 reps and build strength before moving on to 8 reps on a regular basis. Be flexible in your approach, and you will avoid setbacks (injuries, chronic fatigue, or mental malaise).
Beginners should do speed sessions two times per week on long run days.
Remember that “Beginner” level refers to your experience and expertise with a particular type of training. A runner can be highly experienced in long distance running yet have limited experience with sprinting or hill reps.
Intermediate runners should alternate speed sessions twice a week one week, and then three times the following week, completing this 2-week cycle three times over the course of the program.
Advanced runners should do three speed sessions each week on long run or key workout days at least 48 hours apart.Section divider
Mix and match flat-ground sprinting with hill sprints. Uphill sprinting requires explosive power, just like hopping, in a sustained effort. As such, hill sprinting is one of the most powerful and effective ways to build explosive speed, for those who are ready to handle the load. (See, told you those hills were worth it!)
Generally, beginners should not replace flat-ground sprinting with hill reps until the last two weeks of the program. Intermediate level runners can replace flat-ground with hill reps after week two of the program. Advanced runners can replace flat-ground sprints with hill reps during the entire program.
Hill Rep Grades:
- Beginners 3-5%
- Intermediate 5-7%
- Advanced 8-10%