For most runners, there is a love-hate relationship with hills. Mid-workout a big nasty hill can tear out your soul and leave you bent over clasping your knee-caps. Post workout, however, once the benefits of the work you put in are realized, you can see significant improvements in your running performance.
In this weeks post, we'll take a look at the reasons you'll want to incorporate hills into your training program, a few tips on technique, and wrap up with some examples of workouts you can try yourself.
First things first, we'll start by looking at the benefits of hill running as the list includes some compelling reasons for you to do some climbing. So catch your breath while you can and let's lean in:
Improves Your Speed
Hill running is an excellent way to develop speed, and ultimately your stride efficiency because it promotes a faster turn-over. Your stride length naturally shortens when running uphill, which for many runners is a good thing. The tendency for a lot of athletes is to over-stride which creates a heel strike, so by training your legs to take shorter quicker strides, you'll see this start to translate across all surfaces when you run.
Cadence improvements are ultimately realized as a result of regular hill work, which is a key piece of the "running faster" puzzle. In the video below I talk about cadence in more detail and why it's such an important aspect not only of running faster but an all-around effective running stride.
The largest muscle in the body is the gluteus maximus, a powerful engine that drives a good running stride and promotes correct posture.
While you might be thinking to yourself "Perfect....I've got big glutes!".......there's a good chance you're not fully utilizing them. For many of us who spend a large chunk of the day sitting, the risk is that untrained glutes become weak and are not fully firing while running.
I'll save the anatomy lesson for another article, but for now, the point is that glutes that are not engaged while running can ultimately compromise posture and limit the amount of speed you can generate.
You want to have these big muscles firing on all cylinders, which is why hill running is so critical. Underdeveloped glutes result in running form breakdown and inefficiency, often resulting in injuries caused by poor mechanics. By incorporating weekly hill work into your routine you're not only building glute strength and power, you're also engaging the muscles and training them to activate.
Hill running is an excellent way to develop your aerobic capacity in a safe and controlled way. Typically I like to place these types of workouts in the early stages of a program as they are an effective tool within a base building cycle.
A bonus to the endurance benefits is the reduced risk of injury we can achieve running uphill. For injury prone athletes or those building their base, aerobic and strength gains can be achieved with a lower level of physical stress placed on the body. Impact force is reduced compared to running on a flat surface, while the same effort can be exerted.
Hill Repeats (Sprints)
Hill repeats are a great workout that fit well in the early stages of a training program as they help to build strength and running power that will support the future demands of the program while promoting proper running form.
Here is an example of how to structure a workout:
15 Minute Easy Jog - Warm Up
6 - 8 Hill Sprints, 75 - 100M @ 85% effort. Hill Grade of 5-8%. Once you've finished your incline, descend the hill at a slow jog pace to recover and then repeat.
10 Minute Cool Down Jog
Long Hill Runs
15 Minute Easy pace warm up.
Mid-Run 4 - 5 Hill Climbs at Threshold pace. (Between 10K & 1/2 Marathon pace). Hills should be ideally at a grade of 5 - 7% and take 3 - 4 minutes to ascend. 2 Minutes recovery between hills.
10 Minute Cool Down at Easy pace
Short Hill Runs
15 Minute Easy pace warm up.
Mid-Run 4 - 5 Hill Climbs at 5K race pace. Hills should be ideally at a grade of 5 - 8% and take 60 to 90 seconds to ascend. 1 - 2 Minutes recovery between hills.