Hills. Some runners love them, some runners hate them. Short hills, long hills, steep hills, and gradual hills—all types of hills can be tough and challenging. Learn how to properly run uphill and downhill then hit the hills for increased strength, power and race day confidence!
Why should I incorporate hills into my training?
It’s pretty simple. Hills will make you stronger. Here are some of the benefits of hill training:
· Improves muscle strength. Running uphill will strengthen your hamstrings, glutes, hip flexors, calves and Achilles. Your quads take over most of the workload on the downhill. You also use a lot more upper body muscles running hills than running on flat roads.
· Improves endurance.
· Improves power as your muscles need to work harder to fight gravity.
· Improves running form and promotes a more efficient stride.
· Hills can often break up your rhythm. Train on the hills to master a technique so there are no surprises on race day. Most new runners will try to surge up a hill and then feel totally beat at the top. The best advice I can give you is not to worry about your pace—focus on your effort. Maintain your effort level on the way up and then change your gears to allow gravity to carry you downhill.
When you approach a hill, think about changing gears. Your form will change and your pace will slow down but your effort levels should remain the same.
First, lean into the hill. I’m talking about a hip hinge, good posture and no slouching. With this you will be running more on your toes—that’s ok, forefoot running on hills is what we want!
Next, think about your arms. You want to aim for a shorter, faster arm swing. Faster arms = faster leg turnover. Some coaches will talk about using “higher knees” but the RRCA taught us to focus on your arms and your legs will naturally do their job.
If you are completely out of breath at the top of the hill, your effort levels are too high. Try slowing down and finding the right speed to tackle the hills with ease.
Downhill running can actually be harder than uphill running. It puts a lot of strain on your quads (hello eccentric loading!) and pressure on your hip and knee joints. My 30 year old body personally HATES running downhill.
One big thing is that you always want to be in control on a downhill and accelerate gradually. Your natural reaction will be to slow down and “put on the breaks” but that can put your knees at an even greater injury risk. Instead, lean forward and allow gravity to carry you downhill. Use short strides and keep your elbows tucked in—no flailing arms!
Types of Hill Workouts
There are a number of variables you can use to create incorporate hills into your workout including distance, grade, pace and recovery. Remember this is a workout so make sure to warm up properly and only perform 1-2x per week max.
The easiest way to start training for hills is to run hilly routes. Play around with paces and effort levels. Find out what works for you.
For a hill workout (not a race day strategy), try surging uphill at a comfortably hard pace and running at a relaxed pace on the downhill and flat roads.
Long Hill Repeats
· 600-1,000m hill at about a 7% grade.
· The RRCA gives the example of 5-8 repetitions with rest of jogging or walking in between. This is good for early in base stage and good for marathon training.
Short Hill Repeats
· 100-600m hill at about a 10-17% grade.
· The steeper the hill, the shorter the effort.
· Again, the RRCA says 5-8 repetitions with rest of jogging or walking in between. A good workout for shorter race preparation.
Do you incorporate hills into your training?