The 5 Hill Workouts Runners Should Do

Hill running is one of the most running-specific resistance training that there is.

Hills are your best ally when it comes to building strength and power in your legs.

Nevertheless, I know of a lot of runners who shy away from the hills.

Well, this is bad news since the hills are a critical piece of any running program. And once you start doing them regularly, your fitness level will soar like no time before.

The Benefits of Hill Running

Running uphill increases leg-muscle power, boosts fitness, and engages the muscles of the core, lower body, and the arms in ways that that different than running on flat surfaces.

When you run uphill, you will tend to lift your knees in an exaggerated way, you will be driving your arms forcefully, and be doing your best to push off from your toes, strengthening almost every muscle in your body.

Not only that, since hill workouts are often very intense, they can also increase your VO2 max and endurance level as your cardiovascular systems works hard to keep pace with the increased energy needed to go uphill.

In other words, hills will make you a stronger, faster and a better runner.

Therefore, whether you are doing short hill sprint, long hill repeats, or adding drills into your hill workouts, these are key to any training program.

Word of caution before you start

Please keep in mind that hill training is tough.

As a result, to steer clear of injury, head to the hills after building a solid base of endurance and strength. Hill training is intensity to the extreme.

That’s they should be done no more than one per week—especially if you are a beginner.

The Five Hill Workouts Runners Should Do

In this post, I’ll be outlining 5 different types of hill workouts and briefly talk about the benefits that each type brings to the table.

Every hill runs workout serves a purpose, and the good news is that whatever sport you are doing—whether it’s basketball, biking, running, MMA, or just trying to shed some pounds and get into a better shape—there is a hill for you. You just need to discover it!

Without further ado, here are 5 basic types of hill workouts you need to try.

1.  Short Hills

A short hill—by definition—is a relatively small hill of 50 to 200 feet. This type of hill should take you no more than 30 seconds to run up.

Aim for an inclination between 5 to 15 percent grade.

On the short hill sprint, the entire source of your energy is anaerobic, so the focus is on speed, power and maximum effort—at least a 9-10 on the rate of the perceived exertion scale.

In other words, to make the most of it, you need to power up the hill like a sprinter at full speed.

The Benefits

Also known as explosive hill sprints, the short hill workout taps into all three types of muscle fiber.

They also increase maximal stroke volume in the heart—boosting the amount of blood you heart can propel with each stroke—making your cardiovascular system more efficient.

This hill workout is ideal for runners looking to develop explosive strength that’s key to run short distances or finishing strong in middle distance running.

The Workout

Warm up for at least 5 min, find a steep hill of 50 to 200 feet, then sprint up the hill as fast as you can, recovering on the way down.

On the uphill section, focus on your running technique with a powerful push off and on using your arms to generate enough momentum. Plus, run tall, and avoid leaning forward.

Go full effort. They are sprints after all.

Start with six or eight up the steepest hill you can find, then build up over a few sessions to 10, then some more.

After each sprint, take at least 90-seconds to catch your breath so that you are fully recovered before you sprint up the hill again

2. Long Hill Repeats

Unlike the short hills,  long hill repeats are designed to do something else to your body and conditioning level.

On the long hill run workouts, you should focus on aerobic energy employment and care less about speed and power. Leave the speed for the short hill workout.

The Benefits

The power needed to run a long hill recruits intermediate fibers and slow-twitch fibers.

This type of hill workouts can help you improve running economy as well as improving your lactate turn point.

They build aerobic and muscular endurance—a must for long distance runners, or any other sport that requires high levels of endurance. That’s why these are key if you are training for longer distances like half marathons to full marathons.

The Workout

Find a moderate hill that’s about half a mile in length, and at least 5 percent grade. It should take you up to three to five minutes with a challenging pace to reach the peak.

After a proper warm-up—a five minute of slow jogging followed by some lower-body dynamic movements— run up the hill at an effort equal to or a bit faster than your 10K race pace.

Aim for roughly a 7 on a scale of one to 10 on perceived exertion level.

The ideal hill climb can take at least three minutes, so it’s imperative that you start slow and pace yourself properly on the climb, finishing every repetition with just enough energy in the tank to go for one or two more repeats.

Run down the downhill sections at mildly-comfortable effort—about 70 percent of your max—to prevent injury and recover fully.

Repeat the cycle three to four times.

3. Long Hill Runs

This is a steady-state hill run.

These are the traditional type of hill runs that most runners opt for when looking to improve their hill running—and overall fitness—skills.

When it comes to distance, you should pick the length that feels right for you and is in line with your training goals and fitness level.

Just don’t kill yourself. The average long run hill distance can be anywhere from three miles to 10 miles.

The Benefits

This hill workout mainly taps into the slow twitch fibers—these fibers call for lower-intensity and a longer duration training loads to reach maximum endurance.

Long hill runs are the staple and baseline for every long distance runner. And if you are planning on racing on a hillier course, then this hill workout is for you.

They also boost ankle flexibility, which helps you improve stride length and frequency.

The Workout

Long hill runs can be approached in several different ways.

For starters, if you are a beginner, start off by adding a half-mile to a mile of steep uphill into your long runs.

As you get stronger, increase the total volume of uphill in your runs to two or three miles.

Or, if you have already a solid base, then find a long hill—preferably a trail road that ascends for at least five to ten miles—shooting for 45- to 90-minutes of continuous uphill running.

You can also do your long run on a route that incorporates plenty of rolling hills. It’s always your choice.

For more challenge, you can run hard the downhill section. Run down the hill at a faster pace than normal, using the flat sections for recovery.

4. Downhill Running

The downhill hill section is not just for recovery. When used right, it can help you improve your running on so many levels.

The Benefits

Downhill running conditions the legs against delayed onset muscle soreness by increasing quadriceps strength through eccentric contraction—this happens when a muscle simultaneously contracts and relaxes.

Plus, downhill running can also teach how to control your pace—using your core muscles—and it’s a great way to help improve your running form.

Therefore, at least, once a month, do a specific downhill running workout. If you don’t have the time for a particular workout, then simply reversing the long hill repeats will do the trick.

The Workout

After a proper warm-up, ease into the downhill with a short and fast burst on a gentle slope with a stretch of a smooth surface at the base.

Open your stride slightly, lean forward and run down as fast as you can.

As a result, never fight gravity on the downhill.

In fact, when it comes to improving running times and warding off injury, gravity is your best ally.

Keep your pace under control. Brace your core tight, engage your lower body muscles and control the hill. And please whatever you do, DO NOT let the hill control.

As you improve your downhill running technique, build up the descent over time to as much as 200 to 400 meters of downhill.

5. Hill Bounding

If you are thinking about improving your strength in the most specific way to running, then think no further than hill bounding. It’s an awesome hill workout to improves running form and increases strength without hitting the weight room.

The Benefits

Hill bounding drills build leg strength, power and speed like no other hill workout. This will improve your power output in a running-specific way, helping you boost efficiency and improve top-end speed.

With hill bounding, you will be mainly strengthening the quadriceps and ankle—this will help boost up your push-off power—but other muscles, like the glutes, hamstrings and calves do get their share of strength training as well.

The Workout

Please only add a hill bounding workout into your training program after you have built a solid base of cardio and muscular power. This is not for the beginner. Beginners you have been warned.

Find a moderate grade—5 to 7 percent— hill for this hill bounding workouts and do some of the following drills.

Hill bounding. Run up the hill with extra-long steps, while keeping top-speed. Aim to maximize the heights of each stride by bringing up your knees as high as you can and stretching the Achilles tendons completely as your feet hit the ground. Have also a strong ankle push-off.

Hill accelerations. Start running slowly as the bottom of the hill, then as soon as you reach the middle point, pick up the pace and run as fast as you can to the top while reducing step length.

One-leg hops. Move up the hill as fast as you can by hopping one foot. Walk down for recovery, then change sides.

Featured Image Credit – Ilanch Chacham through Flickr.


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David Dack



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