Want to Improve Your Race Time? Add Hill Workouts

hill workouts

Hill workouts are known to be hugely beneficial to runners. However, a lot of us shy away from adding hills to our plan because they are difficult and humbling. Walking away from a slow, arduous hill workout with shaky legs and nothing good to post to your Nike+ or DailyMile account isn’t very satisfying to most runners. However, the dues you pay on the hills will reward you come race time.

Why Hills Are Good for You

In a recent half marathon, over a very hilly course, I suffered defeat in the final 400 meters of the race. A veteran runner who had been drafting behind me for the last 2 miles of the race passed me on the final ascent and cruised in a few seconds ahead of me. I congratulated him with a handshake after the race and asked him about his race strategy. He told me: “You’ve gotta love the hills. You have to. They’re not going anywhere. Embrace them.”

Running hills increases the force on your body and requires more from your muscles in terms of power. The hills require you to lift your legs higher than normal and use your arms to power through each stride. As almost anyone can tell you, the hills will also wear you out and help build your aerobic capacity.

hills, running, training
Hills = Strength, Speed and Power

Running uphill works the calf muscles extensively. Calf muscles are required to contract faster when running uphill. The physics of running on an angled surface causes the calf to stretch further than it would on a flat surface. In order to propel you forward as you run it must contract even faster than normal to give you power on the toe-off.

Running downhill has benefits as well. On the downhill side, it is the quadriceps that are worked extensively as they are called upon to control the knee and act as shock absorbers. Downhill running results in stronger legs and an increased spring in your stride on flatter surfaces.

The Hill Workout Plan

There are many options for incorporating hills into you running. Long, slow hill climbs can build strength and endurance. Shorter, steeper hills can be used to build speed and strength. Or you can choose to use the hills for plyometric exercises like bounding and skipping.

The Kenyan elite are famous for their hill workouts. They incorporate both long hills (mountains) and shorter steeper inclines in their training. A long run might consist of running up a mountain at a steady incline for a distance of 10-15 miles at a steady yet challenging pace. A steeper shorter section might be used for 45 minutes of hill repeats run at a very fast pace with a jog down the hill as a short recovery period.

When to Run Hill Workouts

Hill runs are a great workout for experienced runners looking to increase their strength and speed. But, they should be used as part of a balanced overall training plan along with other essential workouts.

Hill Running Tips:

  • Shorten your stride and take quick steps to run uphill efficiently
  • Lift your knees and run like you are on a bed of hot coals
  • Use your arms to power your stride by flexing your biceps as you swing forward
  • Keep your head up and your eyes forward
  • Run over the hill, not just to the crest
  • Find a mantra like “I love hills, or @$%! this hill” and repeat it to yourself
  • When running downhill, try to land mid-foot under your body (you’ll find your cadence increases)
  • When running downhill, lean forward and let gravity carry you


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