• Liz Lichtenberger

How Hills Will Help Your Running

Updated: Feb 18


Runner doing hill repeat workout

Have you heard the hype about hill repeats? There’s evidence that adding hill repeats to your weekly workout routine can provide physiological benefits like making you a more efficient, stronger, and faster runner. We review the research on hill repeat workouts for you, couple that with what we’ve learned from athletes that have trained with us at West Coast Road Runners, and describe how you can easily add helpful hill workouts to your training regimen.


Physiological Benefits of Hill Repeats


Research has shown that there are several physiological benefits to training with hill repeats. Compared to runners who did not have hill workouts in their training sessions, those that trained with hill repeats showed improvements in resting heart rate, VO2 max, and speed endurance [1]. In addition, this research showed that those physiological benefits were achieved without any increased risk of injuries, which is something that we all strive for as runners.


Faster 5K times and better running economy (i.e., using less energy to do the same work) have also been reported in runners that added six weeks of high-intensity hill intervals in their training schedules [2]. Researchers believe that being able to stay at your maximum speed for longer is one of the benefits that come from hill sprint training. Specifically, the response of your cardiovascular system and your aerobic metabolic response to uphill sprint training is related to physiological changes impacting your muscular endurance [3].

Improved speed, running economy, VO2 max, and endurance all seem like great reasons to hop on some hills during your weekly training sessions!

Why do Hill Repeats Help Your Training?


Your body has to adjust in many ways when you are running uphill, and these adjustments help runners innumerably. When running up hill, you have to lift your knees which uses your hip muscles, giving you more power. Your stride typically increases as well (i.e., you take smaller, quicker steps) when you run up a steep incline [4]. Your core muscles are used to stabilize your torso as your body leans slightly forward into the hill, which helps generate power in your legs [3]. The mental boost you get from conquering hills is also powerful. Most runners need to really engage their brain by staying highly focused when powering up hills, which trains you to maintain focus during challenging moments on race day [4]. Of course, the confidence you gain from completing a challenging hill repeat workout is priceless.


Your legs, core, heart, lungs, and your brain all benefit from hill repeat workouts

How to do Hill Repeats


In training our West Coast Road Runners athletes, we have seen that adding a few weeks of hill repeat sessions can make a significant difference in running performance, and the research supports that fact too. You can easily add hill repeat workouts once a week either outside on a hill with a moderate grade (e.g., 8%) or indoors on a treadmill set to a moderate incline. Just make sure that the hill isn’t so steep that you can’t finish your workout. Here are the steps to take:


  1. Warm up with easy running for 10-15 minutes

  2. At the bottom of your hill, stretch before beginning (especially your calf and Achilles / soleus area)

  3. Run up the hill for 60 seconds at about 90-95% effort level

  4. Jog or walk back down to the bottom of the hill (this is active recovery, so don’t take more than 2 minutes to get back down the hill)

  5. Repeat the uphill-down hill pattern for 4-8 times (start with 4 and week-by-week build gradually up to 8 repeats)

  6. Finish with an easy 10-15 minute jog to cool down

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Although these hill intervals are run at a hard effort level, remember that it is not a “race.” Be sure to run the hill repeats at a pace that you can finish them all, rather than letting the hills finish you.


“Hills are speedwork in disguise.” ~ Olympic Marathoner Frank Shorter
 

References

  1. Worku, N., & Taddese, A. (2017). The impact of hill training on middle and long distance athletes: with specific reference to oromia water works athletics club, Ethiopia. International Journal of Scientific and Research Publications, 7(11). http://www.ijsrp.org/research-paper-1117/ijsrp-p7136.pdf

  2. Barnes, K. R., Hopkins, W. G., McGuigan, M. R., & Kilding, A. E. (2013). Effects of different uphill interval-training programs on running economy and performance. International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, 8(6), 639-647. https://doi.org/10.1123/ijspp.8.6.639

  3. Hanson, M. (2021, September 3). The science is in, and hills are absolutely worth the burn. Outside Online. https://www.outsideonline.com/health/running/training-advice/science/why-hill-repeats-make-you-a-better-runner/

  4. Lacke, S. (2018, September 24). This is your body on hills. PodiumRunner. https://www.podiumrunner.com/training/this-is-your-body-on-hills/