Why Every Hooper Should Hill Sprint

By Tim Kauppinen

Hill sprints.

Serious basketball coaches are always looking for ways to get an edge on the competition – to gain an advantage. It's why you spend so much time researching methods of training that will make your players faster and stronger – and jump higher – without taking up too much time to get results.That's why I believe that running hills (which includes running bleachers and stairs) is a must for any basketball player.

This is because running hills provide a number of benefits to the basketball athlete. Here are the Top 6:

1. Provide the perfect combination of strength and speed training.

It's like lifting weights and sprinting at the same time. The hill gives resistance to your athlete's steps, making them more difficult while being shorter in distance and duration. Including running hills in your training program can bring great results in as little as 15 minutes 1 or 2 times per week.

2. Build stamina.

Endurance is something that every basketball player needs – but it is a special kind of endurance. If you want your athletes to perform at their peak, then low, slow distance types of cardio just won't work. Their endurance training needs to mimic the demands of the game. Those needs being – short bouts of intense exertion broken up by periods of lower intensities.Running hills provide just this type of interval training. They will take your players' hearts and lungs to intensities far greater than those found in jogging or traditional types of endurance training. Their body will become used to reaching these higher levels, and recovering quickly in between the "sprints."

More and more scientific studies are showing that VO2 Max (the traditional measure of aerobic endurance) is improved as much – or more- by using high intensity interval-type exercise like hill sprinting. Want your team to have their "wind" at the end of the game? Hill sprint.

3. Increase ankle strength – helping to prevent one of the most common injuries in sports – the ankle sprain.

Ankles are made stronger due to the need to push off harder when running fast up the hill. Because of the incline, more drive is needed than when sprinting on a flat surface. Improved ankle strength also leads to the ability to push off harder during the game – benefiting a player's important "first step" and lengthening their stride when sprinting in a breakaway on the court.

4. Increase basketball players' speed and explosiveness.

This is because hill training promotes two key factors in running faster and jumping higher. First, it forces proper knee lift – essential for driving the legs downward and back for more force. Second, running hills makes the sprinter dorsi-flex their foot while running. The closer the toes are brought to the shin, the more force they can apply on ground contact. Think of dorsi-flexing as loading your foot – then unloading it into the ground - pushing you forward.

Explosiveness is also shown in the way running hills can increase your players' vertical jumps – a key measure of power. Jumping is really the same as sprinting – pushing your body forward (or up) against gravity. The more power you can generate from your legs when pushing, the farther or higher you will go.

5. Provide a way to safely train your athletes.

In addition to protecting your ankles, running hills protects your athletes' from other types of injuries as well. The last thing you want to do is to injure your athletes while conditioning. Running hills provides safety in two ways: One, the slightly shorter stride length while running a hill sprint is a great way to protect hamstrings. Most hamstring pulls and strains result from over-extension – something which rarely occurs when running hills.

Second, running hills can decrease the pounding on your players' legs. Studies have shown that even a slight grade added to sprints can decrease the impact on the runner's legs by as much as 25%. Shin splints, foot problems and sore knees can be greatly reduced by getting on the hills for your sprints.

6. Mental training

Besides all of the physical benefits of running hills, they also promote mental toughness and goal-setting behavior in your athletes. Looking up at the hill can be daunting when your players are fatigued and nearing the end of their session. By using the hill as a metaphor, you can show them the importance of having a goal (the top of the hill), taking the steps necessary to reach it (one step at a time up the hill), and celebrating their success when they reach their goal (their very own Rocky imitation at the top of the hill). Looking back down the hill after their workout, your athletes can feel the satisfaction of accomplishing something that may have seemed an impossible obstacle.

With all of these benefits for your basketball team, adding hills to your training program should go to the top of your To Do List. It's no coincidence that we found out that this year's NCAA player of the year Kevin Durant made running hills a key part of his training. You can develop your own "special" players the same way.

Make your athletes stronger, faster, better conditioned, injury resistant and mentally tough with this "old school" training. You, your team and your fans will be glad you did.

Tim Alan Kauppinen, or Coach K, has over 20 years experience as an athlete and coach. He has worked with athletes of all ages and abilities in track and field, basketball, speed training and strength and conditioning after graduating from the University of Wisconsin - Madison with a coaching emphasis.