Hill running, which was popular among athletes in a number of team sports including baseball in the 80s and 90s, is back. Or as Yogi said, “It’s Deja vu all over again.” Long recognized as an effective training option among distance runners and cyclists, hill running was recently reintroduced into the game of baseball by Matt Krause, Director of Strength and Conditioning for the New York Yankees. While the hill is new to the Yankees, it has been a staple in Krause’s tool box for decades. His first experience with the hill occurred in the late 90s while serving initially as a graduate assistant and later as an assistant strength and conditioning coach at the University of Central Florida. After leaving UCF, Krause keep the hill in the back of his mind until 2010 when the Reds gave him permission to install a hill in their new spring training complex in Goodyear, AZ. Fast forward to 2016 after the Yankees allow Krause to rebuild and upgrade all three of their facilities, the Yankees gave him the go ahead to construct another hill, this time at their spring training complex in Tampa, FL.
So what’s so special about hill running? There are a number of reasons for incorporating hill work into your training program. Some of these include:
- It lets you use your body weight as resistance to push against forcing the muscles of the hips and legs to work harder. Think of it as resistance training for the lower body. Running up hill can produce a significant strengthening effect on the muscles and connective tissue involved in running, especially those of the posterior chain.
- It’s “hamstring friendly” making it safer than all-out flat-ground sprinting. Because limb speed is reduced, the body is in a position of acceleration and the foot lands under the center of mass when you run up an incline, the risk of hamstring strain is considerably less than when running all-out on flat ground.
- It improves running mechanics by encouraging proper body lean and aggressive arm and shoulder action. When you run up an incline your body mirrors the terrain which forces you to lean forward from your feet and keep a straight line from your head, through the hips and to the toes. This, in turn, reinforces the proper body lean used when accelerating into a full sprint. Sprinting up an incline also teaches you to coordinate the forceful actions of your arms and legs needed to sprint effectively on a flat surface.
- It improves your rate of force development by eccentrically loading the muscles of the lower body. Eccentric muscle loading on foot contact increases the elastic (strain) energy stored in the muscles of the lower body which is subsequently recovered to produce faster, more powerful muscular contractions and limb movements.
While the hill is not the “end all be all” Yankees conditioning program, or replace all flat ground running, it does provide another valid training option with a number of benefits not always possible with “traditional” flat ground running. Running up hill increases strength and power and helps teach the body to fire the right muscles in the right order to achieve max results.
Matt Krause, ATC, RSCC*D is the Director of Strength and Conditioning for the New York Yankees.