Hills are your friends

Want to become a better runner? Then make sure you are incorporating hill training sessions in your weekly routine. As my friend Colin would say ‘Hills are your friends”.

Hill workouts help us build endurance, prevent injury and develop speed regardless of our experience or ability. Hill sessions should be run during the ‘base phase’ of training or just a few days before a key race/effort. They help us improve our VO2 Max.

Hills help prevent injury

Running uphill against gravity builds strength and is a more affordable and accessible option (unless you live in The Netherlands) and don’t have access to a gym for weightlifting.

Stronger runners are less prone to repetitive stress injuries because uphill repetitions are easier on your joints and connective tissues than similar efforts on flat terrain. Since you’re working against gravity, you’re running slower at the same effort and landing sooner at the same speed, which reduces the impact forces of running fast, dramatically lowering the stress on your legs. The good news is that any type of hill workout will help you become more resilient to injuries. You’ll build strength whether you’re running hill sprints, short reps, or long reps. If you’ve been doing repetitions on the road or track, moving them to a long hill will increase the strength-building aspect of the workout and further reduce your risk of injury.

Hills build endurance

Using gravity as a training tool can be enormously beneficial when building aerobic strength and endurance. While many runners think of hill workouts as grueling, fast sessions, it doesn’t have to be that way. There are two great ways to run lower intensity hills while still building endurance, particularly using a shallow hill.

During base training, long hill reps of 3–5 minutes at a tempo or lactate threshold (LT) effort replicate the training effects of a traditional tempo run. It’s important to run at your Threshold effort rather than the exact pace you’d run on a track or the road. Since you’re running uphill, your normal pace will feel a lot faster.

A second way to create lower-intensity but highly-effective hill workout is to do a steady hill climb. You’ll need a route that includes a long, gradual hill of 1–5 miles at the end of your run. You have two options for how to run the hill:

  • If you’re completely new to hill work, finish your run uphill at the same effort as the rest of your run. You’ll slow slightly, but that’s just fine

  • If you’re an intermediate or advanced runner, you can run the uphill segment at marathon, half-marathon, or tempo pace.

Both long reps and steady climbs are done at Threshold efforts (or slightly faster) against gravity, making them excellent endurance (and strength!) building workouts.

Hills deliver top-end speed

Hills force you to run against resistance (gravity). And if you build your capacity to run fast uphill, you’ll be substantially faster on flat ground.

Fast uphill running has quite a few benefits:

  • Running hard up steep inclines builds more power than running on flat ground

  • Hard uphill running promotes more economical form, reducing your energy expenditure

  • Sprinting up a steep hill forces the recruitment of the maximum number of muscle fibers possible, building strength and your capacity for speed

Two types of hill sessions work incredibly well for this goal: 1. Hill Sprints and 2. Short Reps.

1. Hill Sprints are only approx. 10 seconds in length but they are run up the steepest hill you can find at a maximum effort. Take a full recovery of 2 mins of walking and you’ll be ready for the next repetition. If you’re new to hill sprints, start with 1 or 2 and work up to a maximum of 6-8 reps.

2. Short hill repetitions last anywhere from 45–90 seconds and have a “jog back down” recovery an are often called Kenyan Hills. These reps are done at about 3k-5k effort (or in other words, a VO2 Max effort) and can be structured with as little as 5-reps or as many as 15, depending on the pace and duration and where you are in a training cycle.

Both workouts contribute to how fast you’re able to run: hill sprints build your absolute top-end speed and short reps enhance your staying power in the middle of a middle distance event.

Hills are for all runners

Implement a variety of these workouts into your training and you’ll have more power, resilience to injury, speed and endurance.

Every runner no matter of their experience or ability stands to benefit from the strength, power and speed that’s gained from these hill workouts.

If you are base train say in week 1-10 of a Marathon training cycle hills can build endurance and injury resilience.

For the injury prone amongst us, hill reps and sprints build strength by working against gravity, reducing the impact forces on your joints and muscles.

So get out make ‘Hills your friends’; you’ll never look back once you do.

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