How to Master Hill Training Workouts

Hill running is no easy walk in the park. It requires a mix of stamina, strength, technique, and sheer will-power. That’s why lots of runners have a love/hate relationship with hills.

If you tend to avoid the hills because they’re challenging and/or don’t know how to tackle them, then today’s article is perfect for you because I’m gonna show you how to master them once for you all.

But first things first, let’s dive into some of  the reasons why you  should love the hills instead of loathing them.

The Benefits of Hill Training

Going up and down hills has many benefits, no matter what level of a runner you are.

It can help you increase your speed, power, and strength no matter if you’re a recreational runner or an elite marathon athlete.

Tackling the hills can also help you reduce the risks of certain injuries by strengthening smaller stabilizing muscles as well as helping you build good running form .

I could go on and on about the importance and benefits that hill training has to offer, but I think you get the picture.

All runners, beginners and elite alike, should strive to make hill training a part of their workout plan.

How to Conquer Hill Training

If you’re one of those runners who hate running hills, it may because you’re doing hill workouts the wrong way.

Apply the following hill training guidelines, and you may look forward to uphills and downhills during your runs.

1. Find a Good Hill

If this is your first time running hills, start with the basics.

First, find a runnable hill—one that’s not too long and not too steep. The ideal hill for beginners should be between 100 to 200 meters long. The incline has to be challenging, but not so testing that you won’t be able to keep good form throughout. Inclines of roughly three to five percent are the sweet spot.

No hills available? If you live in flatland like me, you can simulate hill training by working the incline on the treadmill between four and six percent.

2. The Warm-up & Cool-Down

Whenever you’re hill running—or doing any other form of training—make sure you warm up first and cool down afterward.

Hill work challenges both your muscles and joints, so you’d want to make sure to have performed a dynamic warm-up before attacking the hill.

Get about five to ten minutes of slow jogging before reaching the bottom of the hill. To get the most out of the warm-up, perform a set of dynamic exercises. Check my routine here.

Once you’re done hill training, your body will need time to bring itself back to the norm. That’s where right cool down comes into the picture. Check my favorite routine here.

3. Start Small – The Ideal Session

If you’re a complete hill running newbie, start with shorter hills that have a tiny incline. Just make sure to give your body enough time to get used to the feel of going up and down before attacking steeper and more challenging hills.

Here’s how to proceed on your very first hill workout.

Jog for 5 to 10 minutes on a flat surface to warm up. Once you feel warm, run up the hill at an easy and sustainable pace for 10 to 20 seconds, then walk back to the starting point.

Run up again the hill, then walk down.  Repeat the sequence for 15 to 20 minutes—or for as long as you feel strong. Last up, cool down with a 10-minute easy jog.

4. Control Your Body

Running hills efficiently calls for good rhythm. If you let the hill take control over your pace, it will break you, and you’ll find it hard to pick it back up again.

Here’s what you need to do.

When you’re running uphill, don’t try to maintain an equal pace. Instead, shoot for an equal effort. This will save up your energy for the rest of the workout while putting in a good sweat.

In other words, let the hill slow you down, but keep an even effort throughout.

5. When to Start

If you’re serious about starting hill training the right way, then make sure to build the right base first. Do not attempt any hill training until you have done at least two to three months of base-building running.

As a guideline, train at least three to four days a week, averaging 14 to 16 miles per week. Once you’ve built your base, add one hill workout into your weekly plan.

6. The Exact Pace

Your training pace depends, entirely, on the type of hill workouts you’re performing.

But for the sake of argument, I’m assuming that you’re a beginner runner who wants to get a taste of the hill without committing too much.

If that’s your case, then perform your hill work at around 70 to 80 percent of maximum power. You shouldn’t push yourself too hard early on, but at least your pace has to be challenging.  I recommend no more than 15 minutes the first session.

7. The Very First Few Steps

After the warm-up, begin at the bottom of a mildly inclined hill of roughly 100 to 150 meters long.

I’d recommend running up the hill at 5K effort pace. Ideally, you should be able to run up your chosen hill while keeping the same effort level that you were putting when running on flat surfaces. Of course, feel free to challenge yourself up the hill, but don’t let your form break down.

8. The Uphill Form

A common mistake many make when tackling a hill is bad form. Luckily, proper technique is not rocket science. It’s something you can learn with awareness and practice.

Here are a few tips to help point you in the right direction.

The proper alignment. Keep your hips, chest, and head perpendicular to an imaginary horizontal line. Your body should remain upright both up and down the hill. Lean in slightly from the hips, but do not stoop when going up the hill—that’s a common mistake many make on the uphill.

The head. Do not stare at your feet, nor look way up the top of the hill.  Keep your chest and head up with your eyes gazing directly of you focusing on the ground roughly 10 to 20 feet in front of you. This is especially the case if you’re running up a steep and long hill.

The right posture. Engage your core muscles, keep your back straight and chest out, and hold your head up. This should open your airways, allowing for maximum oxygen delivery—Oh trust me, you going to need all the oxygen you can get.

The arms. Keep your arms bent at a 90-degree angle. They should be moving forward and backward, rotating at the shoulder, not side to side.

Arm swings. Swing your elbows backward from your shoulder to generate enough momentum to help power up the hill.  Imagine you’re punching some in front of your with an uppercut. This might seem exaggerated, but it works.

Stride rate. As you go up, shorten your stride instead of extending it as if trying to power up the hill. The feet should be kept low to the ground the entire time. This can also help keep you in a more upright position.

9. The Downhill Technique

Once you clear the hill, you should be breathing heavily, and legs be slightly fatigued. Next, all you need to do is turn around run down to the starting point.

But the downhill is not something you should take for granted. In fact, run the downhill section too hard or with bad form, and you’ll find yourself in pain. Thanks to the continuous braking effect, the downhill section puts a lot of pressure on the feet and knees.

Here’s how to build proper downhill form.

Avoid overstriding. Let gravity carry you downward and use it to step up the pace. Take short and quick steps, increasing your stride rate.

The right landing. Focus on landing on your forefoot. Landing on the heels creates a braking effect, which jars the entire body and slows you down.  Land as light as possible, preferably on the mid to forefoot. Do not pound the ground.

Also, do not fall down the hill out of control. This may hurt your quadriceps. Try to keep a stride turnover and effort that’s consistent with the rest of your workout.

How Much Hill Training

Starting out, schedule one hill session every 7 to 14 days. As you get fitter, add time to your repeats and an extra climb.

The number of reps depends on your fitness experience and training goals. If you’re staying within your fitness level, you’re good to go.

As you get fitter, expect to perform anywhere from eight to ten repeats, depending on your goals and level of fitness. Just whatever you do, whenever plan hill workouts, make sure to not do it more than once a week.

What’s more?

Mix up your hill workouts—some steep and short, and other longer ones with less challenging inclines.

For the range of hill workouts, you need, check my post here.

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Here you have it!

The above hill training guidelines are all you need to get started with hill training on the right foot.

Now it’s your turn. Do you have any personal favorite hill training tips you would like to share with us? Do you have any questions or suggestions?

I’d love to hear from you in the comments section.

In the meantime, thank you for reading my post.

Keep Running Strong

David D.