10 Best Hill Work­outs

Get high and mighty

Runner's World (UK) - - In This Issue -

NOTH­ING builds run­ning strength bet­ter than hills. Run­ning on in­clines forces your mus­cles to work harder with each step; as you grow stronger, your stride be­comes more ef­fi­cient and your speed im­proves. ‘I’m a great be­liever in the ben­e­fits of hill work­outs,’ say UK elite ath­lete and RW colum­nist Jo Pavey. ‘Speed re­quires good run­ning tech­nique and to run up­hill ef­fec­tively you must use your mus­cles in a very co­or­di­nated way. Speed also re­quires a quick cadence, which will be en­cour­aged by hill run­ning.’

Re­search bears this out. A 2015 study pub­lished in the In­ter­na­tional Jour­nal of

Sports Phys­i­ol­ogy and Per­for­mance had a group of run­ners per­form six weeks of high-in­ten­sity up­hill run­ning in­ter­vals; not only did their run­ning econ­omy im­prove, but also they were, on av­er­age, two per cent faster in 5K time-trial per­for­mances.

But while as­cents re­quire more ef­fort from your heart and lungs, down­hill run­ning poses its own chal­lenges – and re­wards. De­scend­ing feels easy aer­o­bi­cally, but each step trig­gers mus­cle­dam­ag­ing ec­cen­tric con­trac­tions in the quads and lower legs. These also oc­cur on level ground, but on de­clines the load in­creases. This cre­ates more mi­cro-tears, which stim­u­lates mus­cle growth but could leave you sore – which is why the Bos­ton Marathon route, with its four-mile down­hill open­ing stretch, is harder than it seems. Prac­tis­ing down­hill run­ning helps pre­pare your body for this.

As shown in the work­outs here, vary­ing the steep­ness and length of hill re­peats – from short, steep sprints to longer, rolling hill runs – hits all the phys­i­o­log­i­cal bases – speed, strength, ef­fi­ciency and en­durance. Hit­ting the hills ev­ery one or two weeks will make you a fit­ter, stronger run­ner.


An in­tro­duc­tion to hill train­ing for new run­ners. HOW

Jog for 10 min­utes to warm up, then walk for two min­utes. From the bot­tom of a gen­tle in­cline, run up for five sec­onds, then walk back to the start­ing point. Run up again for seven sec­onds, then walk down. Run for 10 sec­onds, walk down. Shorten your stride and keep your feet low to the ground on the as­cents. Feel­ing strong? Re­peat the se­quence. Do the work­out ev­ery seven to 14 days.


This work­out adds fo­cus to your prepa­ra­tion for a hilly race. HOW

Find a hilly loop that is about 1.5 miles long. Af­ter a 10-minute warm-up, run the loop with mod­er­ate ef­fort on the up­hills and a com­fort­ably hard ef­fort (equal to about your goal race pace) on the down­hills. Rest for two min­utes, then re­peat the loop two to four times. Each week or two you can progress by adding a loop, pick­ing up the pace or re­duc­ing your rest time be­tween the ef­forts.


Re­search1 has found that most run­ners try to run too fast up­hill. It’s best to main­tain an even ef­fort rather than try to sus­tain your flat pace. This work­out will help you to lock in to a sus­tain­able pace. HOW

Find an as­cent that takes 10 mins or longer to cover. Mimic the ef­fort you'd ex­pend on a flat run, no mat­ter how slow it feels. Lis­ten to your breath­ing: if it gets no­tice­ably heav­ier, ease up. Or use a heart-rate mon­i­tor to mod­er­ate your ef­fort level.


Rec­om­mended by Jo Pavey, this ses­sion is great for build­ing speed, as it de­vel­ops leg strength and power in a dy­namic way. HOW

Find a hill that takes three min­utes or longer to run up. Do 5 x 1-min up­hill reps, with a jog­down re­cov­ery be­tween each. Rest for three mins. Then do 5 x 45-sec up­hill reps, with jog-down re­cov­ery. Rest for three mins. Do 3 x 30-sec up­hill reps, with jog-down re­cov­ery. Rest for three mins. Fi­nally, run up the hill for 3 mins, ac­cel­er­at­ing for the last 30 secs.


Helps you re­gain your flat­ground pace more quickly as you near the crest of a hill. HOW

Use long strides as a cue to open up your stride and ac­cel­er­ate as you ap­proach the top of a hill. To prac­tise this tran­si­tion, es­pe­cially when you’re tired, find a hill that takes about 45 sec­onds to climb. Run hard to the top, then lengthen your stride and ac­cel­er­ate for 15 sec­onds to in­grain the quick tran­si­tion. Jog down for re­cov­ery. Re­peat six to 10 times.


In­creases leg strength, im­proves form and builds speed. Best suited to run­ners with some ex­pe­ri­ence. HOW

Af­ter a good warm-up, ex­plode up a steep hill for eight to 12 sec­onds. ‘Give it 100 per cent,’ says coach Ja­son Fitzger­ald. Give your­self one to two min­utes to walk down and catch your breath. ‘Don’t cut your re­cov­ery time short,’ he says. Do hill sprints once a week and work your way up to eight reps. ‘This is like weightlift­ing for run­ners,’ says Fitzger­ald.


Good form is vi­tal if you want grav­ity to be your friend. Prac­tis­ing fast cadence on down­hills helps you avoid the ten­dency to brake be­cause you’re not used to the pound­ing. HOW

Af­ter a run, do four to six re­laxed 100m strides down a gen­tle slope; progress over time to a steeper de­cline. Keep your arms wide and low for bal­ance, shorten your stride and fo­cus on quick steps. If your breath­ing gets qui­eter you can push a lit­tle harder.


Get stronger by climb­ing fast. ‘This is a very good tran­si­tional work­out be­tween late-win­ter base mileage and late-spring speed­work,’ says 2:32 US marathoner Jean­nette Faber. HOW

Af­ter a 10-15minute warm-up in­cor­po­rat­ing six 100m strides, do eight to 12 re­peats of a grad­ual hill. Progress from a mod­er­ate ef­fort last­ing 1:45-1:50 to a hard ef­fort of 1:30-1:35. Be­tween each re­peat, jog down the hill for 2:30-3:30. Fi­nally, warm down for 10-15 min­utes.


Prac­tis­ing down­hills pre­pares your body to han­dle the ec­cen­tric mus­cle con­trac­tions it de­mands from the quads, im­prov­ing your per­for­mance on hilly cour­ses. HOW

Find a grassy hill about 100m long, with an in­cline of two to three per cent (rises two to three me­tres over 100m). Af­ter a 10min warm-up, run up at an easy pace, run down at a com­fort­ably hard pace. Re­peat two to four times. Each week, add a re­peat or two, or find a slightly steeper hill.


This one will toughen you up and pre­pare you for a hilly race. It also teaches you to race hard on up­hills and down­hills. HOW

Run up a mod­er­ate in­cline in 2:05, then run down in 1:55 (this pace should feel akin to a 10K to half­marathon ef­fort in both di­rec­tions). Re­cover for two min­utes. Re­peat five times. Jog to a steeper hill. Run up in 1:05, then down in 55 sec­onds (should feel like a 5K to 10K ef­fort). Re­cover for one minute. Re­peat five times.

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