Hill running may take a toll on your physical energy, but head towards a hill, run over it, and you will indeed discover a pot of gold on the other side. This isn’t your usual walk in the park, and you will likely feel drained when you are done. But, if you are a runner or looking to improve your endurance, you should include a hill running workout. It should increase your speed and improve your economy and tolerance. Over time, you will fall in love with the hilly terrain. The mystic rise and fall of rocks where barely any living souls are nearby will make your mind fresh and light. This article is a perfect pick for anyone who tends to avoid hills and doesn’t think they make any difference to their training.
Is Running Up Hills Good For You?
Hills present a challenge as they aren’t like a typical gym machine. Runners must find their way across the rough terrain and discover an easy path to the other side while maintaining their balance and speed.
The following are some perks that tag along when you opt for a running hills workout:
Adds A Stressor To The Training
Running hill workouts will add a stressor to your training. A stressor will allow you to evaluate your physiological adaptations as they are inherently challenging. It allows trainees to figure out their weaknesses, whether they are running, lifting weights, or trying to improve overall resistance.
May Boost Calorie Burn And Intensity
Hills offer a unique way to increase intensity when running at a constant speed. Your respiration, heart rate, and perspiration rate will escalate when you run uphill (1).
Runners often fail to achieve a certain speed on flat ground, but they may quickly secure that speed when running across the hills.
Another benefit of a hill running workout is that you burn more calories. The number of calories you will burn on the hill depends on its incline, terrain, temperature, and other factors. Still, one of the best ways to increase your fat-burning potential is by including hill running in your workout sessions.
Reduces The Risk Of Injuries
When you run uphill, you are strengthening your leg muscles. This reduces the risk of running-related injuries as you train your muscles to perform at multiple incline levels.
Running on hills requires engaging your glutes and hamstring muscles (2). Meanwhile, running downhill compels your knee joints to provide stability and engage your medial and lateral muscles.
When these muscle groups are later challenges in the future running challenges, they will be more prepared to overcome all kinds of physical barriers.
Read More: The Benefits Of Running In The Morning
May Strengthen Your Upper Body
A running hill workout forces you to drive your arms harder than you do when running on flat ground. This means that you will be engaging your core and increasing your upper body strength (3).
A hill running workout is versatile and highly effective. It can be used anytime during the training – at the early base training phase, in the middle compensation period, or even late in the season when the final is around the corner.
The outcomes depend on how a hill workout is completed.
Although the ascents require more effort from the lungs and heart, running down a hill has its rewards. It may feel pretty easy aerobically, but every step triggers muscle-damaging contractions in the quads and lower legs.
How To Prepare For A Hill Running Workout?
When beginning a hill running workout, you should keep the following things in your mind:
If you have just decided to run hills, start with a hill with a gradient between 4 – 8 percent. Indeed the sharp hills with a gradient between 10-15 percent have better strengthening effects, but they exert intense pressure on calves and Achilles tendon.
The length of running depends on your fitness goal. If you plan to boost the speed and power, aim for sprints that vary between 5 – 15 seconds. Sprints between 20 – 30 seconds will increase fatigue resistance, while the longer 30-second sprint enhances the overall fitness goals.
Recovery Period Between Each Interval
The recovery period gives runners time to refresh and prepare for the next run. Get yourself an adequate recovery period, so you are vital for the next interval. Rest for about 45 seconds to one minute after every 10 – 15 second running rep.
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What Are The Best Hill Running Workouts?
Hitting the hills once or twice weekly improves your fitness and makes you a strong runner. Let’s check out the best types of hill workouts and how you can include them in your training program:
Exercise # 1: Short Reps
Short running repetitions on hills are the usual workouts we think of when planning to run across the hills. They vary from 60 – 90 seconds in length (including a jog down the recovery). This means you have to turn at the end of the repetition and quickly go down to the bottom before going back to start again.
Typically, these workouts are done at a 3k-10k pace on a 4-7 percent grade hill. This means that the repetitions are short and fast. Here are a few examples of short hill running workouts:
- 10 x 90-sec hills at a 5k pace
- 8 x 60-sec hills at a 3k pace
- Descending: 3×60 sec, 3×90 sec, 3×45-sec beginning at a 10k pace and progressing gradually
Short-hill workouts are quite flexible. You can change the pace, length of the reps, and the number of reps according to your requirements.
The ideal placement of these workouts is at the middle or end of a training program when you focus on your speed and power.
Exercise # 2: Long Reps
Even though the long reps aren’t as intense as their shorter version, they may drain you mentally because of their duration.
These hill workouts can be used for several reasons, including:
- When you want to build strength during the primary phase of the training program
- When you want an easier version of short reps
These long hill reps are aerobic, making them viable for the base phase of training.
Exercise # 3: Circuits
Unlike short reps, circuits are one of the most challenging hills running exercises. One reason for this is that the recovery jog in a circuit is done at a faster pace. This decreases the amount you can recover between the repetitions and makes the routine more exhausting.
Here are a couple of examples of performing a circuit:
- 8 x 90-sec hills at a 5k effort, jog down recovery at a marathon effort
- 8 x 45-sec hills at a 3k effort, jog down recovery at a 10k/half marathon effort
Given that these exercises involve a fast recovery, it is wiser to incorporate them in the middle or late stages of the season. A hard workout later in the training program allows you to reach a peak shape more quickly.
Exercise # 4: Summit Attack
This exercise allows you to regain the flat-ground pace faster when you are near the crest of the hill.
This is how you can perform this exercise:
- Use long strides to open the stride and increase the speed when approaching the top of the hill
- Run fast to the top of the hill and lengthen your stride
- Accelerate for 15 seconds to quickly transit and then jog down for recovery
- Repeat this exercise 6-10 times
Exercise # 5: Hill Lunge
Like regular lunges, including a lunge workout, hill running in your training improves lower-body strength.
To do a hill lunge, you have to:
- Begin at the bottom of the hill
- Lunge forward with your right foot
- Bend both knees, so they make a right angle
- Stand again and lunge forward with your left foot
- Repeat this movement up the hill for one rep
Hill lunge is a cardiovascular and plyometric exercise that targets the quads, hamstrings, and hip flexors. This exercise is helpful for those with an intermediate level of physical fitness and exercise experience.
How To Include An HIIT Hill Running Workout In Your Routine?
Interval hill running is high-intensity interval training that helps shed extra pounds and build endurance. Including this in your routine will also improve your health and fitness score.
The following are some steps you can take to perform the HIIT hill running workout:
- Start with a warm-up by jogging for 5 -10 minutes. A well-performed warm-up prepares your body for the routine and keeps premature fatigue at bay.
- Go for a hill that has a gradient between 4 – 8 percent.
- Find two natural signposts, such as a tree or a rock. If you don’t find anything like this, you can leave your noticeable objects at the top and bottom of the hill to mark your course.
- Perform the first sprint at around 80 percent of your maximum effort.
- Jog slowly to the downward side.
- Repeat steps four and five around 5 – 8 times according to your fitness level.
- Cool down with a five-minute slow jog and follow it with a stretch.
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Do Hill Sprints Make You Faster?
Hill sprint is a staple hill training exercise that improves the speed and teaches your legs to drive back into the ground. This reinforces the forward body movement you need to accelerate quickly.
Here are some suggestions to include hill sprints in your running regimen:
- Hill sprints are most helpful when performed after an easy or moderate run
- Start with 4-6 sprints and increase after a few weeks. Add hill sprints to once or twice runs each week.
- Hill sprints help when done at the medium point of hills which isn’t too steep or gradual.
- Allow yourself a decent recovery time between the sprints.
- Perform the hill sprints from a standing start, as this will force your body to practice the explosive power and acceleration of running at high speed.
You can choose a hill near your home or perform sprints at a stadium where you normally go to work out. The idea of a stadium hill workout may seem unusual, but it is possible by following these steps:
- Start with a proper warm-up by jogging for 5 – 10 minutes to get the blood pumping and increasing the heart rate
- Run up the stairs from one section to another while driving your knees up and using your arms to keep the momentum
- Next, walk down to recover
You can do plenty of things in the stadium instead of running laps or doing crunches. The stairs, the tracks, and the sideline benches have a lot to offer. Make sure you choose a routine that doesn’t take a toll on your physical and mental strength.
The Bottom Line
Every runner can reap maximum rewards from the power, speed, and strength they gain from a structured hill running workout session. But, if you have a history of physical injuries, you shouldn’t jump into any such routines without professional guidance. Seek assistance from a medical professional to stay on the safe side and achieve optimal results. Also, it would help if you slowly increased the challenges according to your adaptation level and physical strength.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- Effect of Uphill Running on VO2, Heart Rate, and Lactate Accumulation on Lower Body Positive Pressure Treadmills (2021, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- What Muscles Get Used When You Run? (2020, healthline.com)
- Discover your potential: The influence of kinematics on a muscle’s ability to contribute to the sit-to-stand transfer (2022, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)