Hill Training, a Runners Secret Weapon

Hill Training, a Runners Secret Weapon

Hills are often looked at as the enemy. Something to slow you down, burn the lungs and fatigue the legs. But believe it or not, hills have a ton of added benefits and are a great way to strengthen your lower body and prevent injuries. Hill training is sometimes referred to as resistance work and incorporating them into your training blocks will serve you well in the long run. No pun intended.

So what should you do? Fight fire with fire. Or in this case, hills with more hills. Be sure to find a good hill or two to train on. Some are fortunate enough to live in an area with rolling hills that make for great training conditions. Others must get creative and find parking garage ramps or hit the treadmill for an elevation session. However you get it done, a proper and regular hill workout can make all the difference in your training and brings numerous benefits for new and experienced runners. 

Hills improve performance

If you add hill workouts to your training schedule, you will see improvements in speed and endurance with low stress on the muscles. It will also force you to improve your run economy and run with better form (particularly your stride). Hills also help train the cardiorespiratory system and the muscular systems to efficiently deliver oxygen throughout the body and remove waste.

Hill workouts will force your muscles to work and contract in a coordinated manner while supporting your body weight. As your muscles work to overcome gravity, they contract more forcefully, resulting in more power which leads to longer, faster strides. 

As you tackle your next hill, make sure to maintain proper form because it is the key to efficiency and injury prevention. When running uphill, maintain a slight forward lean, shortened stride, faster arm swing and always land on your toes (not your heels).

What goes up must come down, and the art of downhill running is just as important. An efficient downhill run will preserve the integrity of your form and spare your quads from unnecessary roughness. So next time you descend, maintain a slight forward lean, short stride and avoid slapping the ground with your feet. 

Incorporating hills into training

Hills can be used throughout the various phases of the training season. Once a week, add in short/long hill repetitions and recoveries. These include, hill repeats with a jog recovery, hill sprints with a jog recovery, rolling hills (gradual increase and decrease) and trail run with hills. (These sessions can be substituted for a track day, as a stand-alone work out, and should not be long in duration.)

Workout details: Hill Repeats 

  • Warm up: jog for 10-15 minutes
  • Locate a hill with a 5-7% grade that will take 3-4 mins to run
  • Run to the top of the hill with good form
  • Once to the top, jog or walk to the bottom as part of your recovery 
    • Repeat 5-7 times
  • Cool down: jog for 10 minutes

As this becomes easier overtime, you can slowly increase the number of repetitions.

Hill workouts can be part of your short run during the week as well as your long run on the weekend. They are great during the base phase of your training as this works on strength and endurance and can be leveraged in the middle and later phases of the training program as well.

Reggie Waller is a USA Triathlon Level 2 Certified Coach and RRCA Endurance Running Coach who coaches triathletes and runners. He is an Ironman triathlete and endurance runner, Director of Team Varlo and founder of Waller Endurance Coaching.  

Book a run form analysis session with Reggie Here

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