Hill Sprints For Fat Loss

Written by Jason Ferruggia Topics: Training

Hill Sprints For Fat LossAside from proper nutrition, there’s nothing more effective than hill sprints for fat loss.

And if you’re not doing them you’re missing out on huge benefits.

Don’t waste your time on cardio machines. They suck.

Get outside and find a hill instead.

If you are new to sprinting you need to take it easy when getting started.

I mean reeeeaaaally easy.

If the last time you ran a sprint was the week before senior prom you need to be very cautious or you’ll probably get hurt.

Hill sprints place your body in a safer position than flat ground sprints because of the angle, so there is far less impact.

The risk of pulling a hammy or popping an Achilles or something in your knee is greatly reduced.

That’s one of the main reasons they’re better than flat ground sprints.

And of course, because Walter Payton did them.

Since he was my favorite athlete growing up (along with Michael Jordan) I started running hill sprints way back in the 80’s when I found out that that’s what “Sweetness” did (and that poster, pictured above, was on my bedroom wall for years. You see how ripped Payton was?).

Hill sprints bring out something that you can’t really get in the weight room, something that you really can’t get on the track. All the guys that I know that worked out on a hill, they were a cut above the other competition around the league and they had long careers.” – Mike Singletary

Another great thing about hill sprints versus other fat loss methods is that they also build muscle at the same time.

Can’t really say that for the stairmaster, can you?

Warm Up Properly

Wearing some neoprene knee sleeves might be a good idea just to keep the knees warm.

I recommend starting with about five to ten minutes of low intensity drills to get the body ready for the task at hand.

A good warm up might consist of:

•    Jumping jacks

•    Flings
•    Seal jumps
•    Ali shuffle
•    Low pogo jumps
•    High pogo jumps
•    Prisoner squats
•    Gate swings
•    Wide outs
•    Leg swings- front, back, side to side
•    Walking lunges
•    High knees
•    Butt kicks
•    Tuck jumps
•    Lateral shuffling
•    Skipping
•    Etc.

The nice thing about sprinting up a hill is that you don’t require as much of a warm up.

After hitting 5-10 minutes of the drills listed above start with some lower intensity sprints. Do one at about 60%, then 70%, another at 80%, one more at 90% and then you’re ready to go.

Use the Appropriate Intensity

For the most part I recommend that your sprint work be done at around 95-97%. Very rarely should you go all out at 100%. I realize that the difference between 95-97% and 100% may seem very small but an athlete in tuned with his body can tell the difference.

And keeping the intensity just that much lower makes a big difference in overall recovery and CNS fatigue.

Again, if it’s your first sprint session in years you need to start way easier than you think. I recommend no more than FIVE sprints of no more than 20-40 yards the first day.

See how you feel after the first session and give it a go again in about five days. Slowly increase the intensity over time.

Rest periods can be as short or as long as you need them to be. You want to keep your heart rate elevated but you don’t want to rest so little that your form starts getting sloppy and you risk injury.

If you were training for speed you might be resting up to five minutes between each set. But since today’s topic is hill sprints for fat loss try to keep the rest periods a bit lower.

We don’t need complete CNS recovery here.

Sprint Mechanics

The next thing we need to discuss is proper running mechanics. This is where most people get it all wrong.

Since this is not a discussion on maximal speed training or mastering the 40 yard or 100 meter dash we won’t concern ourselves with the start so much.

Instead, to be safe, we will use flying starts, meaning you start by running at less than your maximal speed and work your way up to top speed over the course of 15-20 yards.

•    Starting from the top down, the face must be relaxed. Do night clench your jaw or make any crazy faces. Relax.

•    Keep the chest up and shoulders back and down.

•    No side to side rotation of the pelvis, torso, shoulder girdle is allowed.

•    Hips remain forward toward the finish line at all times.

•    Arms should be bent ninety degrees with the hands open (no clenched fists or flailing, limp wrists).

•    When you are running the arms must pump vigorously, forward and backward. NEVER LET THE ARMS CROSS THE MIDLINE OF THE BODY. Only forward and backward.

Little kids run with their arms side to side.

Don’t do that or we will all make fun of you.

•    Think of pulling yourself through the air by driving your arms back as fast and hard as you can. The hands come up to a level even with the face and they come down and cross your pocket on the way back (but no further; don’t have them swinging way behind you).

•    Drive the knees high and be sure that the foot strikes directly under your body; not out in front of you (although, on a hill this may be slightly different depending on the incline).

•    Only the front portion of the foot should strike the ground; the heel should never make contact.

•    When the ball of the foot makes contact with the ground think of yourself as an animal pawing at the ground and rapidly pulling it behind you.

•   As Charlie Francis said, running takes place on the ground, sprinting takes place above it. If you do it right you should feel minimal impact or stress and should feel like you are flying effortlessly. If you’re taking a lot of pounding and it feels like a lot of work, you’re doing something wrong and should consider having someone watch or video tape you for some feedback.

What I listed above are basically the instructions for flat ground sprints but can easily be applied to the hill.

A few angles will change here and there but for the most part, if you follow those recommendations you’ll be ahead of the pack and your sprints will be a lot safer and faster.

So make like Walter Payton and Jerry Rice and go find yourself a hill to start sprinting up…

PS. Want an incredible body weight only workout to go along with your weekly hill sprint regimen? Check out Body Weight Body Building, which you can download right HERE.

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Leave a Reply

44 Responses to Hill Sprints For Fat Loss

  1. Chris July 19, 2010 at 9:21 am #

    Great article! One question on hill sprints, though… do you suggest giving yourself somewhat of a “running head-start” from flat ground before hitting the hill itself? Or do you just begin from an immediate incline?

    • Brandon July 19, 2010 at 5:42 pm #

      Who cares, stop thinking so much and just get up the fucking hill!

    • james July 27, 2010 at 7:02 pm #

      Great stuff Jason, and yes Sweetness was and always will be awesome.

  2. Rod July 19, 2010 at 10:23 am #

    Ah man, thanks for the reminder of the greatness that is constructed outside the four mirrored walls of the gym. Extra thanks for the Niners mention and the MEN Jerry Rice and Iron Mike. I’m here just outside of Dallas bout to pass out from the methane that is the Cowgurls performance the last few seasons, lol…Thanks again J

  3. Ryan Mc July 19, 2010 at 11:22 am #

    Walter will always be revered in Chicago, I think he was the best all around football player of all time, the man could do it all I think it was John Madden who said he liked to see someone throw an interception so he could see Walter tackle. Its just a thing of beauty to watch him run in the open field, its almost like he runs with his hips rather than his knees almost like he’s gliding

  4. Josh Denny July 19, 2010 at 11:57 am #

    Great article. A lot of good advice to make sure we do it properly. If time allows, at some point I would like to see one about band sprints too :)

  5. Dean Coulson July 19, 2010 at 12:59 pm #

    100% spot on.

    Ran a similar article regarding hill sprints a few months back. Call me sadistic but I love this exercise. Now I am well on the way to recovery after knee surgery I cannot wait to get back to these.

    Heed Jay’s advice though, ALWAYS warm up and take it easy at the beginning, build up over time.

    Chris – In my experience it doesn’t matter too much. I alway start at the begining of the incline, going from a flat running start will give you more momentum before the incline, just be careful with the change in terrian, you shouldn’t be going anywhere near top speed before you hit it.

    Another great Post Cranked out.



  6. Raymond - ZenMyFitness July 19, 2010 at 1:51 pm #

    Excellent topic!
    I love sprinting on grass, hills, sand ..FLAT OUT … (don’t like concrete too much, bad for the knees) and every leg movement is an abs crunch too.
    it compliments lifting weights well.
    Much rather do this than jog like an old granny on a treadmill …really its warrior conditioning.
    Its over and done in less than 30 min so losing muscle is not an issue.
    I just finished a 3000 metre race came 12th out of 500 by the way I’m nearly 50.

  7. clement July 19, 2010 at 5:33 pm #

    Hi Jay,

    I’ve been incorporating sprints into my sessions ever since I read your articles on how draining intervals can be. I’ve personally found that sprints over intervals don’t leave you fatigued throughout the day. However, I do still have a session of aerobic intervals added in as I am a soccer player.

    I’ve been sprinting for conditioning and fat loss now and then on Tuesdays and Thursdays, while doing stronglifts 5×5 on mon/wed/fri. I do 80m repeats for the fat loss parts. Sometimes, I do shuttles instead. Rest periods are 1-2min. They work great!

  8. clement July 19, 2010 at 5:35 pm #

    Hey Jay,

    I notice you don’t give recommendations about how far forward tour body should lean. I’ve seen sprinters running straight-backed and they can’t accelerate!

  9. Peter Fabian July 19, 2010 at 8:36 pm #

    Lived in Chicago when Payton was running–thanks for the excellent video reminder–back to getting up that hill, it ain’t pretty–ugh!

  10. Tony July 20, 2010 at 1:21 am #

    Love the Payton references and the video, he was a huge inspiration growing up…. might even name my first son after him. Hill sprints were a part of our football workouts at UW Plattevile (where the Bears had training camp for many years) and I think it’s time to bring it back into the workout. For anyone around SoCal there’s a great sand hill in Manhattan Beach- kicks my ass every time.

    Thanks for the inspiration.

    • jasonferruggia July 20, 2010 at 5:23 am #

      @Tony: Where is the hill in Manhattan Beach? I will be out there for all of August.

  11. jasonferruggia July 20, 2010 at 5:22 am #

    Chris- It doesn’t really matter that much. Check what Dean said.

    Rod- Being a Giants fan I’m not really one for the Cowgirls, myself.

    Ryan- I agree.

    Josh- There’s not really much to it other than to do it.

    Dean- Good stuff, thanks, man.

    Raymond- Awesome to see you killing sprints at your age. Keep it up.

    Clement- On the hill the slight forward lean will come pretty naturally. On flat ground there is a science to when you straighten up but I’m not going to get into that here.

    Brandon- Word.

  12. Tony July 20, 2010 at 2:01 pm #

    Jason- apparently due to overuse they’ve created an online reservation system to use the Sand Dune Park which is really stupid, however it’s worth the hassle if you want a good workout. The links below have addresses & pictures. I’m back in LA from work travel on August 7th. If you want someone to run it with, hit me up.



  13. Ivan July 21, 2010 at 12:37 am #

    can’t wait to go out and find a hill, this article got me fired up!

  14. JJ July 21, 2010 at 6:25 am #

    Jason-any suggestions for doing these on the dreadmill? (all I have access to currently).
    Thanks in advance.

  15. Will July 23, 2010 at 3:14 pm #

    This may seem a hopelessly dopey question but, here it goes: I have just started running sprints on an outdoor track and on the football field. I’ve been running in an old pair of Asics running shoes. They’re too mushy. My question is what kind of shoes are best for a bigger guy (225 lbs.) to run sprints in? Or, doesn’t it matter much? Any advice would be most appreciated.

  16. Susan July 29, 2010 at 8:18 am #

    I think it was John Madden who said he liked to see someone throw an interception so he could see Walter tackle. Its just a thing of beauty to watch him run in the open field, its almost like he runs with his hips rather than his knees almost like he’s gliding.

  17. Alan The Gain Muscle Guy August 13, 2010 at 4:05 pm #

    Another great article. I think Walter Payton was one of the greatest football athletes ever. Just a pleasure to watch play. Building muscle is not easy. You could be working out hard, eating the right meals and using supplements. But that sometimes is not enough. I agree with you that diet and sprint is a must to get lean.

  18. Chiranjit August 13, 2010 at 10:18 pm #

    Hi Jason,

    I had a knee injury .I got my ACL reconstructed 14 months back .
    At present I am doing jogging in my nearby hill.
    If I start the sprinting on the hill , is there any possibility
    of harming the knee ?

  19. wrestler strength October 25, 2010 at 6:28 pm #

    Great post and a KILLER video at the end! Thanks as usual man!

  20. PocketLint January 4, 2011 at 4:01 am #

    Is it safe to do hill sprints on road surfaces? That’s the only inclined space I have readily available where I can go for a decent 20 second sprint. I’ve read that sprinting or doing plyomterics on cement surfaces can be detrimental to your knees though.

  21. Diego Donis January 14, 2011 at 11:02 pm #

    Any advice for us who have no hills available???? I would love to try out hill sprints, I’ve searched for hills near by since I first read about them a couple of months back but I can’t seem to find one!!!!….

  22. Ray January 15, 2011 at 12:10 am #

    Since you’ve turned me on to hill sprints I have gotten leaner and in better shape than I’ve ever been in before. Thank you so much for all you share with us.

  23. Dean Leach January 18, 2011 at 8:55 am #

    I’ve heard several times that Walter was the first to use the Strength Shoes back in the mid to early 70’s & that he trained in them always. Same for Dickerson.
    He was the man!

  24. ryan February 24, 2011 at 8:21 am #

    I have been doing hill sprints for about 4 weeks now and enjoy them, but I have very little cartilidge in my right knee due to a collegiate football injury 7 years ago. I have been doing them more at a “moderate run” (bout 70%) because quite frankly my knee wont let me go all out. Is this being counter-productive? I feel like I still get a good cardiovascular workout from them but I dont want to compromise muscle/strength. I can ride the stationary bike with no problems but I would rather chew glass I hate it so much. What do u think of swimming with short bursts of high intensity? If anyone else on the board has an opinion to help me I would appreciate all the help I can get. I am 5-10 195 with about 11% bodyfat and would love to get into the single digits without compromising muscle or strength.

  25. BJN June 8, 2011 at 2:08 pm #

    Awesome Awesome article!! i actually have that same Walter poster in my old room! I love Sprinting especially Hill Sprints but I do add in some 400m at the local High School from time to time.

  26. Chris Colameco April 13, 2012 at 10:15 am #

    Quick Question

    Just did these for the second time today, I love them, almost as much as weight training. Im going to be doing them twice a week and on Saturdays im going to follow this protocol While running up the art museum stairs, listening to the rocky soundtrack. (While keeping my intensisty in check of course)

    Im following the Renegade Diet, for muscle building until my metabolism has been stable for 2 weeks straight, then im moving back to fat loss.

    On my off days, tuesdays and thursdays the only time I have to do hill sprints is in the early morning (6-7am) before my classes start and I don’t eat breakfast untill 1230 or so. Should I take BCAA after I finish my hill sprints? Should I take BCAA every 2 hours untill I break the fast?


  27. daev June 8, 2012 at 9:26 am #

    thanx jay! youve given me another idea on my cardio alternative..if only there are hills near my place in singapore. if im in the philippines this wouldnt be a problem.

  28. tempest sharp June 8, 2012 at 12:44 pm #

    So are we sprinting up the hill as well?

  29. Eric June 11, 2012 at 2:22 pm #

    Awesome! I’ve begun sprinting again after moving to Denver, needless to say the altitude is tough!. I use a fairly moderate grade for hill sprints, nothing too daunting and it does wonders for posterior chain development as well as fat loss.
    Is there a particular grade you look for when you prescribe hills? I find too steep degrades form and thus increases injury risk.

  30. Sam July 8, 2012 at 11:02 pm #

    Thank God for sprints, including hill sprints. I busted my hand and can’t lift a single weight for over 2 months but sprints keep my body in good shape.

  31. Reyna July 12, 2012 at 9:03 am #

    I do hill sprints 3x/wk w/my husband and I love them. I find that they tone my bottom and my legs faster than any elliptical or just plain running. The next day I’m sore all over and it feels good to know I worked my whole body, not just my legs.
    Our sprints are across the football field, so we go down on one side, run across the field and up the other side and call that the 1st set. We do 30 of them. Such an awesome workout. 1 month ago I could barely do 8 now I’m doing 30. Plus, I went on a trail run and I realized I was running at a faster pace without getting tired because the small hills on that trail run felt like nothing compared to the hill sprints we do on the other days! Great post! Will be sharing:)

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  33. Oliver August 15, 2012 at 8:57 pm #

    hi jason
    when i look the woman at the olympic, for the 400 m, they were in very nice shape!
    they run for about 45 t0 50 seconds max effort. this is the time i run when i do my sprints.
    15 minutes jog, than i start for 6 to 7 sprints of 50 seconds at max effort. taking 2 minutes break in jogging between each sets. do you think its a good way, combine with weight training 3 times per week (deadlift, squat, power clean, hang clean and press, flat dumbbell press, chin-up, rings dips, dumbbell row, farmer walk, dumbbell shrugs)
    thx Jason

  34. Mary F August 16, 2012 at 6:55 am #

    Been hard core training for 7 months now. I have a solid foundation of muscle and im starting to see the definition… BUT, I need to shed the excess fat from my frame to let the the rippedness SHINE!!! Been doing 2 sets of 10 hill sprints (50 yards) @ 90-100% max.


  35. Eric May 27, 2013 at 8:32 am #

    I do hill sprints, and lucky for me have plenty of hills nearby.

    When you hill spring on a day you weight train, do you all find it better to use them as a finisher or at the end of your warm up before you hit your weight-training sets?

  36. Eric May 27, 2013 at 8:37 am #


    2 sets of 10 is more than I think you should do. If you do too many, it will become more of an aerobic workout because you simply can’t do high intensity sprints over and over and over. That could be the reason you are not getting as lean as you want. It’s human nature to think “more is better” with training, but that just isn’t the case for an exercise like hill sprinting.

    I think one set of 5-10 (after a few warm up sprints) 30-50 yard sprints is better.

  37. Reggi August 8, 2013 at 10:49 am #

    Boy, do i miss running Mt. Trashmore in Virginia Beach, VA. THAT hill would have the fat flying off my body. But alas, I am now living in the Southwest. There are virtually NO hills in Peoria, AZ. Will the hill sprints work if I run bleachers instead?????


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