Hill running is like a rollercoaster ride for your body – it may feel like torture at first, but once you conquer it, the exhilaration and sense of accomplishment are unmatched.
It’s a test of your physical and mental limits, and if you can push through the pain, you’ll emerge stronger and more resilient.
Plus, incorporating hill training into your workouts can improve your overall running performance, including speed, endurance, and muscle strength.
It’s no wonder that some of the most iconic races in the world, such as the Boston Marathon, feature notorious hills that challenge even the most seasoned runners.
So, instead of shying away from the hills, embrace them as a worthy opponent that will make you a better runner.
In this article, we’ll cover everything from proper hill running form to specific workouts to help you conquer any hill that comes your way. So, strap on your shoes, and let’s get started!
The Five Hill Workouts Runners Should Do
Here are five different types of hill workouts that you can try. Each workout has its own unique benefits, and by incorporating them into your routine, you can become a stronger, more efficient runner.
1. Short Hills
First up, we have the short hills. Don’t let the name fool you—these hills might be small, but they pack a powerful punch. Short hills are typically 50 to 200 feet in length and should take no more than 30 seconds to run up. With an inclination of 5 to 15 percent grade, short hill sprints require maximum effort and a 9-10 rating on the rate of perceived exertion scale.
But don’t be intimidated—these explosive hill sprints tap into all three types of muscle fibers and can improve your maximal stroke volume, making your cardiovascular system more efficient. Short hill workouts are perfect for developing explosive strength that’s essential for short-distance or middle-distance running.
So how do you execute a short hill workout? Start with a thorough warm-up of at least 5 minutes, then find a steep hill and sprint up it as fast as you can, recovering on the way down. Focus on your running technique with a powerful push-off and use your arms to generate enough momentum. Run tall and avoid leaning forward, and remember to give it your all—these are sprints, after all.
Start with six or eight sprints up the steepest hill you can find, then gradually build up to ten or more over a few sessions. After each sprint, take at least 90 seconds to catch your breath and fully recover before sprinting up the hill again.
2. Long Hill Repeats
Are you ready to take your endurance training to the next level? Look no further than the long hill repeats workout! While the short hill sprints focus on explosive power, the long hill repeats are all about building endurance and improving your running economy.
This type of hill workout is ideal for those training for longer distances, like half marathons and full marathons. You’ll be able to maintain a challenging pace up the hill but leave the speed for the shorter hill sprints.
So how do you tackle the long hill repeats workout? Start with a proper warm-up, including a five-minute slow jog and some lower-body dynamic movements. Then, find a moderate hill that’s at least half a mile long and has a 5 percent grade. Run up the hill at an effort equal to or slightly faster than your 10K race pace, aiming for a perceived exertion level of around 7 on a scale of 1 to 10.
Remember to pace yourself and finish each repetition with enough energy left for one or two more. Run down the hill at a mildly comfortable effort of about 70 percent of your max to prevent injury and fully recover before the next repetition. Repeat the cycle three to four times and feel the burn as you improve your endurance and overall conditioning level.
Research papers and studies have shown that hill repeats can be a valuable addition to any endurance training program. A study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that running uphill can increase running economy and improve muscle strength and power.
Another study in the European Journal of Applied Physiology found that uphill running can improve maximal oxygen uptake, which is a key measure of aerobic fitness. So why not give the long hill repeats workout a try and see the benefits for yourself?
3. Long Hill Runs
Have you ever felt like you were running on a never-ending uphill climb? Long hill runs might just be the workout for you. These steady-state hill runs are the go-to workout for runners looking to improve their hill running skills and overall fitness. And the benefits are not limited to just hill running.
Research has shown that long hill runs tap into the slow-twitch fibers, which are responsible for maximum endurance, making them the staple and baseline for every long-distance runner. And if you’re planning to race on a hillier course, then incorporating long hill runs into your training is a must.
But that’s not all – long hill runs can also boost ankle flexibility, which helps improve stride length and frequency. Plus, adding some hard downhill sections can add an extra challenge and help build strength in your legs.
When it comes to distance, the average long hill run distance can vary from three miles to 10 miles, depending on your fitness level and training goals. But don’t go overboard and kill yourself trying to conquer the hill. Start with a half-mile to a mile of steep uphill in your long runs, and gradually increase the total volume of uphill as you get stronger.
Or, if you’re up for a real challenge, find a long hill that ascends for at least five to ten miles and shoot for 45- to 90 minutes of continuous uphill running. You can also choose a route that incorporates plenty of rolling hills – it’s always your choice.
Additional resource – Trx exercises for runners
4. Downhill Running
Sure, the uphill is where the true test of strength lies, but the downhill section is where you can truly improve your running game.
Research has shown that downhill running can increase quadriceps strength, helping to prevent delayed onset muscle soreness. It can also teach you how to control your pace using your core muscles and improve your running form.
So, how can you incorporate downhill running into your workout routine? Start with a proper warm-up, then ease into the downhill with a short and fast burst on a gentle slope with a stretch of smooth surface at the base. Open up your stride slightly, lean forward, and let gravity be your ally. Keep your pace under control and brace your core tight.
As you improve, increase the distance of your downhill section to as much as 200 to 400 meters. And remember, never let the hill control you – you are the one in charge.
If you don’t have time for a specific workout, you can simply reverse your long hill repeats. This will help you condition your legs and improve your overall running endurance.
5. Hill Bounding
Hill bounding is the ultimate running-specific workout to take your training to new heights! It’s like a secret weapon for building leg strength and power without ever setting foot in a weight room. If you’re looking for a way to improve your running form and increase your speed, then hill bounding is your answer.
Research studies have shown that hill bounding drills are an effective way to build leg strength, power, and speed. The quadriceps and ankle muscles get the most significant boost, which translates into improved push-off power and top-end speed. But don’t worry; your glutes, hamstrings, and calves also get their fair share of strength training during hill bounding.
But before you start bounding up hills, make sure you have a solid foundation of cardio and muscular power. Hill bounding is not for the faint of heart or beginners. It’s a challenging workout that requires focus, technique, and commitment.
When you’re ready to try hill bounding, find a hill with a moderate grade of 5 to 7 percent. Start with a few simple drills like hill bounding, hill accelerations, and one-leg hops. Hill bounding involves running up the hill with extra-long steps while keeping your top speed. Focus on maximizing the height of each stride by bringing up your knees as high as possible and stretching the Achilles tendons completely as your feet hit the ground. And don’t forget to have a strong ankle push-off!
Hill accelerations are another great drill to try. Start running slowly at the bottom of the hill, and 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 involve moving up the hill as fast as possible by hopping on one foot. Walk down for recovery, then switch to the other foot.
How Much Hill Training?
When you start incorporating hill bounding into your training, schedule one hill session every 7 to 14 days. As you get fitter, add time to your repeats and an extra climb. Depending on your fitness experience and training goals, you can perform anywhere from eight to ten repetitions.
Just remember to not do it more than once a week, and mix up your hill workouts with some steep and short hills and others with less challenging inclines.