Kill That Hill
Don’t let hills bring you down: use them to build your speed and endurance
Time to take your running up a few notches
HILLS MAY LOOM LARGE in your path, both daunting and taunting. But if you take on the challenge to climb them, you’ll find a more powerful and efficient stride, which can net faster times on the other side. ‘ Physically, training on hills builds muscle strength, and hill sprints or repeats can improve running economy, which translates into less energy expended over the course of a long race,’ says running coach Lisa Reichmann. Coaches such as Reichmann have long touted the benefits of hill training and now science can back the belief, thanks to recent research by Dr Derek Ferley, director of sports science research and sports performance training at the Avera Sports Institute in South Dakota, US.
Ferley, who is a runner, always incorporated hills into his own half-marathon and marathon training, but back in 2010, he was surprised to find a lack of peerreviewed proof of the effectiveness of inclines in exercise-science literature. So he fired up his facility’s research-grade treadmills to fill the gap. In his 2013 study, published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, Ferley had one group of randomly assigned runners crank up the incline and complete hill workouts twice a week, while another group performed faster repetitions on level ground (and a control group kept up their typical training). The result: six weeks of incline training boosted runners’ top speed and allowed them to sustain it 32 per cent longer than they could at the start of the study.
What explains the dramatic result? First, the intensity of uphill intervals improves your lactate threshold. That means your body produces less muscle-burning lactic acid at the same pace and you’re better able to buffer the acids you do churn out. Flat intervals do this too, but with hills, you don’t have to move as fast to reap the same rewards, says Ferley.