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Hill Running

Hill running.  You either hate it or you love it.  I doubt there are many people who, when turning a corner and see a long steep incline, see it the same way as they do a nice, long, flat road.  Perhaps if they’ve always lived in a hilly part of the world and don’t realize flat roads exist, maybe….  But for many of us, this is just not the case. 

When in the middle of a training season, I look forward to my hill workouts with excitement and anticipation. But when I’m at the bottom of that hill and realize the hard work that awaits me, I tense and curse myself before I even begin.  (Enter my progressive muscle relaxation.)  Hills make my legs burn, my lungs ache, and my mind focus like no other workout.  Tonight for my running club, I had the girls do hill repeats and I wanted to be able to explain why hill repeats are beneficial and why they should welcome the burn.

So my question: What are the benefits of hill running?  And what are some good hill workouts?

Hill repeats make you a stronger runner.  Period. When running uphill you are fighting gravity and forcing your entire body (hips, legs, ankles, back), to work together.  All of your muscle groups are working harder, which in the end, make them stronger.  Within your running world, uphill running can be more effective and conducive to running economy than any amount of leg presses at the gym.  If stronger muscles aren’t enough to convince you to embrace the hills, consider this: people who run the hills have a higher concentration of aerobic enzymes, which allow them to function at higher intensities for longer periods of time.  In other words, you have more power and can run longer than your zero incline running partners.  Other benefits include making you a faster runner, a less injured runner, and a more confident runner.  The way I’ve always looked at it is if I can tackle a hill during training, any slight incline during a race becomes a piece of cake.  I’ve done it before, and I know I can do when it really counts.

There are many different ways you can incorporate hills into your workouts.  One way is to run short (100-200 meter) hill repeats at an almost all out effort, jog easily back down the hill, and then do it again.  The amount of repeats you do will obviously depend on your fitness and training goals.  Another way is to do your long run along a hilly course.  Make sure the last part of the run has quite a few hills and aim to maintain your pace throughout all of the hills.  By doing this with tired legs, you are forcing yourself to focus on form and running economy.  Which in turn makes your stronger and of course, more confident.  Another type of workout (which was new for me) is a long hill circuit.  Find a course that has several uphill climbs.  Run your uphill interval (which can be as short as half a mile or as long as 2 miles) and any flat sections at 5K pace.  On the downhill, run at a semi-easy effort.  Aim to do about 3-4 miles worth of hills and then jog easy between each circuit.

When i was looking at the different hill workouts, there was always an emphasis placed on warming up beforehand.  Also, form was really stressed.  Keep your back straight and your arms by your side, at a 90 degree angle.  And from my personal experience, it always helps to keep your eyes about 10 feet in front of you.  That way you’re not staring at your feet or looking at what is awaiting.  Your are just tackling it little by little.

Our hill workout tonight was awesome.  Everyone really pushed hard and made each repeat count.  Although I haven’t really focused on hills in a while, I could really tell the difference strength training my upper body had made.  I literally felt my arms pulling me up the hills.  It was pretty awesome and reminded me of the importance of a strong body.  Maybe if I continue to tell myself I love the hills and practice my progressive muscle relaxation, I will welcome the burn with open arms.


Happy Trails and Happy Running,


11 Comments Post a comment
  1. I heart running hills. I would run the steepest hills (many times) if it meant getting out of a track/speed workout. Both valuable, but we all have our preferences.

    June 1, 2012
    • I agree with you – if I had to choose, I’d pick hills any day over a track workout. And I’ve always enjoyed them during my runs. It’s just when I have to run up steep hills repeatedly and fast. But I’m always thankful for how quickly they can improve performance.

      Have a great Friday!

      June 1, 2012
  2. Thanks for sharing!

    June 1, 2012
  3. I think the best approaches to hill workouts are either short and sweet for building strength (10-20 second sprints or “hill springing”, repeat 4-6 times – your 100-200m hill surges are pretty close to this) or, as you suggest, putting some rolling hills at the end of long runs. Even better if you can simulate the hill profile of your marathon – when training for Boston, run downhills early to trash the quads and uphills late. I see some programs advocate 400m, 600m, or 800m hill repeats and I think they don’t serve a great purpose, as they fall between a good VO2max workout (5:00 intervals would be better) and a strength workout (the short sprints would be better).
    And the best advice I’ve heard on running form for going uphill is to focus your eyes ~20′ ahead and visualize using your arms pulling you uphill with a rope.

    June 1, 2012
    • I love all of your runner wisdom!! Earlier this year I was experimenting with hill repeats and I was doing long (like .4 mile) hill repeats. Since I was going so fast up the hills I wanted to puke at the top and of course not do any more. I would only do about 3 repeats. I will definitely be readjusting the length of my repeats. Thanks for the feedback as always!

      June 3, 2012
  4. Nice article. I love the benefits that hills provide. the old adage of train hard and fight easy rings true in so many ways.

    you should relish the challenge the hills present and allow them to break you down and rebuild you as a better runner.

    I love the look on others faces when then realise it hill rep day!

    There are 3 types of hill sessions i like to do, either short sharp ones where the incline is steep, longer hills but a steadier incline or just a plain old fashioned hill running beasting to blow off the cobwebs 🙂 for the first two sessions you need them the right length/duration to enable you to maintain correct form like you said.

    Having said that, it is unfortunate that it’s easy to overdo it on the hills 😦

    Remember to work hard on the hills.

    July 11, 2012
    • Thanks for the comment!! I am fortunate enough to live in a hilly area and it has proven to be quite beneficial during races. If I’m going to pass someone, it’s on the hills. Because I run them all the time, I’m so use to them and they don’t really phase me. And when I do a flat race, it’s so much easier! Hill are certainly a good training tool 🙂

      July 12, 2012

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. NWM Training – Week 4 | Texas Runner Girl
  2. Hills: Just a Little Bump in the Road « Here We Go
  3. The Benefits Of Uphill and Downhill Running | Kalongkong Hiker

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