Many runners approach upcoming hills with a sense of dread, and it's easy to understand why. Running up even a small incline increases energy costs by 12 percent, which can slow your pace by 10 seconds per mile. Sprinting up an incline is clearly tough, but it also has many health benefits, so strap on your sneakers and run for the hills.
Increased Mental and Physical Stamina
Instead of actively avoiding hilly courses, seek them out to increase your overall aerobic fitness. The sustained effort of sprinting uphill not only boosts physical endurance, but it increases mental stamina as well. If you make a habit of giving your best effort while sprinting uphill, you will have greater mental toughness for races and more physical endurance on level ground. The body always produces lactic acid as part of the energy creation process, but even more of the acid is produced when you exercise at intense levels. The body reaches its lactate threshold when it produces lactic acid faster than it can process it. Increasing your body's lactate threshold is one of the best ways to boost stamina, and you can increase the body's ability to process lactic acid by working out near your lactate threshold. The intensity of uphill sprinting makes it an ideal exercise for building stamina this way.
Improved Speed and Acceleration
Explosive hill running is a type of interval training that uses muscle fibers only used during maximal efforts. Top Ethiopian runners boost their speed by sprinting 10 uphill reps of 50 to 100 meters, allowing for full recovery between sprints.
Increased Leg Power and Muscular Strength
Kenyan runners often use uphill sprints to build leg power. Once a week, most of the top Kenyan runners sprint up a steep hill for 30 to 60 seconds, then recover briefly by jogging down the hill. This sequence is repeated 15 to 20 times to maximize leg power. While running uphill, more body weight is lifted with each stride. This means uphill sprinting requires more muscle activation than sprinting on level terrain. The result is increased muscular strength, and not just in the legs. Sprinting uphill also uses more of the core muscles and the driving muscles of the upper body than running on flat tracks.
Improved Bone Density
Weight-bearing exercises that place stress on the bones increase bone density. Uphill sprinting does this because running at an incline and adding more force to the muscles increases the stress on the bones.
Poppy Carpenter graduated from the University of Missouri School of Journalism. In addition to teaching journalism to junior high students, she also covers health and fitness for "PUSH Monthly" and Angie's List.