Runners who routinely practice running up and over hills are likely to be more successful than those who don’t. Whether you’re training for a hilly race or looking for a different type of speed workout, hills are a must in any runner’s training plan.
We can take advantage of the benefits of hill running because all hills are not created equal. Each and every hill provides a different stimulus that we benefit from. Hill running provides an immediate return on investment in the form of improved running efficiency, a gain in aerobic and anaerobic fitness, and an improvement in creating power while running.
Hills Improve Running Power
Hills increase your power output. When you go uphill, more force is required to do work at the same effort. Hill running recruits all types of muscle fibers which leads to greater adaptation.
Want good running form? Take on some hills! Hills improve your leg drive by forcing you to get your knees up. With practice, your running form will become more efficient to account for the increased workload on the incline.
Hills Improve Running Mechanics
Think you could get away with sloppy running form when you’re running uphill? Think again. Proper running mechanics are crucial to running well up hills. Any kind of incline, whether long or short, steep or gradual forces you to drive your arms, much like a pendulum: back and forth, rather than crossing your midsection.
Hill running also puts an emphasis on having your hips over your planted foot. You will spend less time in contact with the ground when your hips are ready to pull through at the same time your foot lands.
Lastly, hill running requires you to “run tall”, which is a very basic fundamental of running. Running tall is sort of the opposite of a slouched runner. When I think of running tall, I want you to picture someone on the balls of their feet with a slight forward lean. That’s running tall!
Hills Improve Running Form
Hill running great improves your running form too. When running up hills, good knee drive is essential to powering up using as little energy as possible. , landing on the balls of your feet, and pumping your arms are all great strategies to use when faced with a hill.
Hill Workouts Examples
Hill repeats are a general term for anything related to hills. Typically a repeat is something that you do often, in repetition, so hill repeats would be something like 10 x a hill with a recovery jog in between.
Long, Gradual Hills
A long, gradual hill is really good for building stamina and endurance. If you run these types of hills at your comfortably hard effort (think threshold or tempo running) you’ll be building a huge aerobic system that will allow running at all paces that much easier.
Gradual hill running improves both aerobic and anaerobic systems. Aerobically, you’ll get stronger from the prolonged running at an elevated effort. By the end of the workout, you’ll start to tap into your anaerobic system making hills one of the best workouts to improve overall fitness during any portion of your training cycle.
Don’t have hills near you? Try cranking up the treadmill to simulate a long grinding hill and do repeats with short rest.
Short, Steep Hills
During these workouts, the shorter and steeper, the better! This type of workout is very similar to that of a 5k interval workout on the track or even speedier workouts, like 200 or 300 meter repeats. They are quick, they are intense, and they make your legs and lungs sear.
For workouts like this, you might consider doing 2 or 3 sets of 4 times up the hill, where the hill lasts between 15 and 60 seconds. You’ll want to take all the time you can to get back down the hill because these repeats are done at a very high intensity.
Fast hill running will recruit speed endurance and power output. You’ll want to be working on good foot placement (landing on the ball of your foot and driving your knee) as this will also help promote good running form.
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Arguably one of my favorite types of runs is a hilly fartlek run. One of my staple loops is a 10 miler that travels up and over 4 monster hills with the option to double back and do more of them. This run also has gradual inclines, steeper stretches, and a good mix of flats to recover on. There’s no structure to this type of run; simply pick up the pace when you come upon a hill. I find these types of runs challenging, yet very manageable because of the variable amount of recovery you can take.
Runners have a variety of options when it comes to hills: long hills versus short hills; steep hills versus gradual hills. Hill running has so many different advantages the ultimate provide runners with TONS of bang for their buck. We can take advantage of the benefits of hill running using a variety of hills, plus hills will help us optimize our running efficiency. Hills will help us create power, they’ll improve our running mechanics and form, and they will build our aerobic and anaerobic capacity.
Remember, the longer and faster you run hills, the more recovery you’ll typically need between repetitions and potentially even between days before your next workout. Have questions? Reach out on social media or leave a comment!
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Marc is a USATF Track and Field & Dr. Jack Daniels VDOT O2 certified running coach. I have more than 19 years of experience running and more than 10 years of experience coaching runners. Click for more information!
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