Hill workouts are a great workout to have in your training schedule. I have to be honest; they are not my favourite workout; however, the benefits of hill repetitions, hill sprints are just so powerful it’s worth the extra effort.
So let’s get into the whys and how you can get the very best from hill workouts for your running.
Why Is Running Uphill Good For Runners?
The benefits of hill training are numerous, you gain strength and power from hill running, plus it improves running economy, meaning that you basically become a better runner.
By running uphill, you build up muscles that will help with your running endurance and, as mentioned, your body strength.
There are so many areas of the body that need to be utilized to get you up a hill from calves, your core, and hamstrings.
It’s the nearest you get to a strength workout while actually running when you run uphills. For example, I have a running weighted vest I use at home; however, when you run uphill, you create resistance just because you are running up a hill!!
Also, by running uphill, you reduce the risk of injury; this works in two ways, one short term and one long term.
Short term, going uphill reduces the load on your body and reduces the risk of injury.
The long-term benefit is that running uphill builds strength that also reduces the risk of injury to runners.
I want to make it a personal point as a 57-year-old runner. I think doing hill work has helped maintain and improve my speed and endurance as I have gotten older while minimizing my risk of injury.
How To Get The Best From Hill Workouts.
I used to make this mistake when running uphills; I would scrunch up and compress myself, restricting my breathing, which is not a good thing to happen when running up a hill!
Also, by standing taller when you run up hills, you will help activate your glutes and hamstrings.
Keep Those Feet Moving
So easy to begin to shuffle when you go uphill, or the reverse and try and stride out; the main tip I have found is to keep my cadence as high as possible; this sometimes is easier said than done; however it’s worth being aware of. Remember, it’s not about dramatically increasing cadence. It’s about keeping the turnover consistent.
Remember Your Arms.
With all this focus on your legs, it’s easy to forget the upper body. I had a strength coach once that really had me doing many strength and motion exercises with my arms.
At the time, I was pretty non plused. However, I started to use my arms much more actively in my running, and if your arms move quicker, guess what? So do your legs in the majority of cases.
You only have to look at sprinters to see how they use arms to propel them forward.
So it makes sense that when going uphill, use your arm swing to help propel you up the hill you are running.
Now, this is a wee bit counterintuitive, in that hills tend to be hard work; however, just doing an internal check with yourself when running up a hill, of areas of tension, excluding the legs, can make you more efficient up the hill.
For example, I often find my jaw is tense, and if I relax it, I feel better weird right, but our whole body is a system, and everything contributes to our results.
As mentioned, arms can be vital; however, make sure those arms are effective; however, you are putting too much tension into that area; II find even making sure my hands feel relaxed makes a difference.
I know it sounds weird but try it out and see for yourself on your next hill.
Bonus For Running Big Hills Efficiently And Fast.
This does not really fall into the hill training scenario so much; however, if you are on long runs and you know it will be hilly.
Many people let their egos run them up the hill; however, I often run and walk a hill.
However, this has to be done strategically, so you run up the hill and if you find your breathing becoming uncontrolled just walk for long enough to recover it and go again.
The skill here is not to get dragged into either extreme of either running or walking all the time.
It’s a really subtle balance.
For me, it’s all about my breathing.
Repeat as needed till you reach the top of the hill.
The big point is that it is part of a running strategy, not a long trudge up the hill when you walk.
However, I have found this has often got me uphill efficiently and in good shape to continue running.
Is Hill Training Good For Speed?
Yes, doing hill sessions really help those muscle fibres to fire.
So if you are making hill sprints up a short steep hill, but you are only running for, say, 10 seconds, then you won’t get any lactate build up with your muscles, which’s means less tiredness and reduces the risk of injury.
Speedwork up hills helps with your neuromuscular development, which means, in simple terms, the communication between your brain and muscles improves.
When Should Hills Be Used In Training?
The fact is hill workouts can be used throughout a training program. Personally, I don’t do more than one higher intensity hill workout a week.
Also, most of my hill workouts are done in the earlier to mid-phase of my training plan and tails off as I get near to my race day target.
This is not to say I don’t run uphills, just that I will only do one higher intensity hill workout a week.
As mentioned doing the hill workouts will build up strength and speed.
Also, they are great for building up endurance and because of that is superb to have in your training if you are doing races such as half-marathons or full marathons.
Needless to say, in the event you are training for is a hilly race, then it makes perfect sense to utilise hill training in your plan.
If you are looking to lose weight, then the good news running hills burns more calories than running on the flat.
The Best Hill Workouts For Runners
I think if you have read this article this far, you can more than likely have been convinced of the effectiveness and flexibility of hill workouts to get
You can vary the steepness of a hill or the length of reps to enable different results and, in turn, make you a better runner if you make hills part of your training regime.
So let’s look at some workout examples…
Why run up a hill just once when you can repeat the experience numerous s times.
Who said runners are mad!
Seriously, doing hill repeats of various reps and intensities really is a rich vein of training that delivers long-lasting and valuable results as a runner.
I think for older runners especially; this is such a gift that improves many key areas for older runners such as
Short hill reps are a big favourite of my coach Liam; I must have done something to upset him at some point 🙂
Short hill reps help build your body’s VO2 max, which helps increase the body’s ability to process oxygen to muscles when running hard.
The Pace they are performed is between a 3k and 10K pace, and they are fast enough to be intense but slower than actual hill sprints, which we will come to in a moment.
They are a very flexible exercise as you can decrease or increase the number of reps.
Ordinarily, the rep time is anything from 30-90 seconds, depending on the intensity and your fitness level.
And then jog to the bottom of the hill and repeat for a set amount of reps.
Hill sprints are more of a drill. However, I will add them as a workout in this article as they have massive benefits to you as a runner.
Hill sprints are simple in themselves. You’re going to run up a steep hill as fast as you can for 10 seconds.
Then rest…. and I mean really rest till you feel you could perform the repeat to the same level of intensity.
By making hill sprints, you engage more muscle fibres and get yourself used to run fast; however, because you are running uphill as I have already mentioned, you are doing it in a way that significantly reduces the risk of injury.
I have sometimes done this to help build up my aerobic fitness if I have not been training for a while.
I have to say it’s not something I look forward to.
I basically find a steep hill and run up it for 2 to 3 minutes, get to the top and repeat 3 to 5 times.
It does not have the intensity of the short hill reps, but mentally it is tough because it feels like it is going on forever 🙂
Now with all this talk of running uphill, let’s not forget running downhill.
I learnt this lesson really hard when back in 2012, I did the Brathay 10 in 10 challenge, which is 10 marathons in 10 days; now, the course is very hilly.
After 3 days, guess what? I hated coming down those hills more than I did going up them.
The reason for this is numerous. Some of it is technique; however, we use different muscles coming downhills; this is something fell runners and trail runners are all too aware of.
However, you don’t see a lot of training plans having downhill repeats in their plans because the impact on the body is more intense when you run downhill, increasing the risk of injury.
Running downhill will stretch and elongate your muscles instead when running uphill, constricting them.
Basically, it’s different from what we are used to.
However, the hard fact is many runners who run up a hill will have to come down it too!!
So doing some downhill work makes some sense, especially if you plan on running races where many hilly sections might be present.
So, for example, you could find a gentle hill, to begin with, say, about a 3 % incline, and after warming up, run up the hill easy pace and come down at a more intense pace . repeat 3 or 4 times
But I must stress when starting only to do this on minimal inclines; you can build up their hill steepness over time.
I find doing some trail running is great for this if your surrounding area is hilly; it’s great physically and mentally as you have to think of the terrain too when you come down the hills.
No Hills To Run On In Your Area?
I feel your pain. I love on the south coast at a pace called Bognor Regis, and it’s very flat. Luckily, we are surrounded by hills, so I often drive to hilly areas like the south downs at the weekend and incorporated running hills on the trails.
If that’s not possible for you, you could always incorporate a treadmill and increase the incline on it.
You won’t get the same benefits from running on treadmills.
It’s worth remembering that one of the key factors for doing hill workouts is strength; the famous saying is hill workouts are strength training in disguise .
So remember that if you are limited with the amount of hill work you can do, then making sure you have a consistent strength training program can give you many of the benefits of hill training.
Of course, if you can do hills and incorporate strength training, that’s even more beneficial to your running success.
So go get running those hills and remember that hill running will deliver many benefits if you are an older runner.