Whether you intentionally include them in your training or stumble upon them begrudgingly from time to time, hills are a part of running. And hill training can actually improve your overall running performance. “Any runner looking to improve performance in any capacity, whether it be speed, running economy or endurance, will benefit from hill training,” says Scott Carvin of Mile High Run Club. And most research agrees.
There are a variety of ways to implement hill training into your workouts. And choosing a method that works best for you is the key to tapping into benefits efficiently and without risking injury.
Here, we dive into the different ways to incorporate hills into your running and the benefits that come from taking your workouts up a notch (literally).
3 Ways To Implement Hill Training
Short Explosive Repeats
Add one day of these every two weeks to start.
Pick a hill with an incline of between 30 and 45 degrees. Sprint up the hill focusing on driving your legs down and back and driving your arms through a full range of motion. Walk down and rest for 1 minute before the next sprint. Repeat for 6 rounds. Each sprint should be between 10 and 20 yards in length.
According to Jeff Gaudette, a former All American Cross Country Runner at Brown University, these types of hill sprints are designed to activate and improve the function of the neuromuscular system and increase maximal stroke volume in the heart.
The neuromuscular system is the web of nerves that connect the brain’s electric current to your muscles. Basically, the voice between your brain and your muscles. Adding explosive fitness to the neuromuscular system allows your brain to increase the speed at which it sends signals to the muscles. And, more importantly, allows your body to activate a greater percentage of muscle fibers and fire them more forcefully.
Enhancing maximal stroke volume increases the amount of blood your heart can pump with each stroke. A greater stroke volume decreases the heart rate and makes the heart more efficient.
Long Hill Repeats
Add one day of these on alternating weeks.
Long hill repeats are the traditional type of hill workouts many runners want to do when they feel they need to improve their hill running skills. Find a larger hill and try to maintain a fast pace up it for 90 seconds. Walk or jog back down the hill for recovery. Do that for ten rounds.
These types of hill workouts are fantastic for improving cardio capacity and increasing muscle strength, says Gaudette. “In fact, long hill repeats are almost a form of strength training. As a runner, you can do squats, lunges, and hamstring curls until your muscles burn, but nothing compares exactly to running.”
The forceful motion of the hips, glutes and quads when you’re running up the hill is hard to replicate safely in any strength workout. Also, because these long hill repeats are often intense, they make a great quick cardio workout.
Add these once every week.
If you’re looking to improve your ability to tackle hills on race day, then incorporating rolling hills into your pace runs and long runs is the best solution. Find a hilly stretch in your area and practice maintaining your average running pace as you run them. Alternatively, incorporate a medium-level incline into your treadmill runs for a similar workout.
“Incorporating rolling hills into your runs provides your muscles and physiological systems the specific feeling that it will face on race day”, says Gaudette. Furthermore, throwing some hills into your road runs teaches you how to pace yourself up and over hills so you can keep the effort within your desired pace during a race.
“Many runners attack hills too hard during a race, and as a consequence they deplete their energy storage and have to slow down considerably once the hill is over”, explains Gaudette. By practicing rolling hill training, your muscles will become more familiar with the experience and your performance will increase overall.