Hill Running
Advice,  Techniques and Workouts

You’ve read about the benefits of hill running so you’re ready to get started.  Here is some general advice on how to incorporate it into your running training program, and about form and technique when you’re running hills.  Finally, there are some suggested workouts. 

Have fun with this - it will be worth it come race day!

Hill Running Advice – Before You Get Started

The main reason to run hills is to improve your race performance so it makes sense to build up a good conditioning foundation first, before starting up the hills.  Once you’ve laid a good foundation you can begin doing hill running to prepare for your racing season.

Sometimes you don’t have a choice about running hills.  If you live in a mountainous region or on the top of a hill, hill running will be part of your daily training program.  So you’ll have a little more experience going into the workouts than someone who lives on dead flat terrain.

Because hill running is strenuous and your muscles will need to be able to handle the additional stress, you will want to do some leg strengthening exercises before you get started.  You can build these into your training schedules during your conditioning training and I’ve addressed strength training on a few other pages on this site.

Hill Running Form and Technique

Your basic hill running technique will be to make sure your center of gravity is above your drive leg.  To do this you will need to lean forward and use slightly shorter strides.  In order to give you additional drive, bring your arms up high as you’re running uphill, similar to if you were pulling yourself up the hill.

If you’re on a steeper hill you’ll need to lean forward more and use your arms in a more powerful swing.  A less steep hill will require less lean and lesser arm swing.  When you’re starting out, push off hard from the ankle with your toes and lift your knees.  You’ll lift your knees higher on steeper hills.  On smaller inclines your stride will be shorter and faster.

Your breathing is very important on hills.  Make sure you are breathing deeply.

Six Hill Running Workouts

First of all, don’t try all of these at once.  Try one at a time – and then add another one once you become comfortable with it, until you’ve tried as many as you can handle.  It won’t be easy so give yourself time to adjust to each workout.

Workout #1:  On Your Training Runs, Run Your Hills Faster

This workout goes with the assumption that some of your training routes include hills already.  If they don’t, you’ll need to find a few hilly courses to incorporate into your schedule.

Basically, you will do your normal training runs but when you come to a hill rather than doing them at your usual training pace you will instead accelerate up the hill gradually.  You want to be running at a speed such that you can continue running, but if you tried to speed up any faster you would either stop or have to slow down. 

What you can expect is that at first you will run fast for a while but then you will eventually slow down.  With each outing you will improve and go a little bit farther than the last time until you can get to the top of the hill at the same fast pace as you started with.  When your breathing gets easier and your legs stop feeling so tired you’ve adjusted to that hill.

You should start by doing this on every second hill rather than on every hill of your training route.  As you get more fit you can add in more hills until you’re able to do all of them.

Workout #2:  Uphill Running Using a Treadmill

Running on a treadmill is an alternative if you live on flat land, or if you want to minimize the impact of hill running on your legs.  Here are four treadmill workouts to help simulate hills:

1.    Set the grade of the treadmill to ten percent and run at your typical 5K racing pace.  For this session you want to focus on form and technique, so use a fast stride and high knee lift.  Run for two minutes with eight repetitions.  Walk for about five minutes between each repetition.
 
2.    Set the grade of the treadmill to five percent and run for about a mile at your 10K race pace.  Do this three or four times, jogging in between for a few minutes.

3.    Set the grade of the treadmill to three percent.  Run for three minutes at your 10K race pace then jog for three minutes.  Repeat this three or four times initially, working up to around ten repeats eventually.

4.    Set the grade of the treadmill to four percent and run for five minutes.  Increase the grade of the treadmill to five percent and run for ten minutes.  Do the same at six percent and then seven percent.  Run at steady, moderate pace.

Workout #3:  Hill Repeats

If you’ve ever done interval training, this is similar.

For this workout you don’t want a steep hill so look for something with an uphill slope of around five to eight percent, over a fairly long distance.  Do a warmup by running up the hill a few hundred yards, then return to the bottom of the hill. 

Next, you will want to do some repeats.  Using a sprinting action, run uphill 100-200 meters in fast running bursts.  Be sure to lean forward and use your arms to propel yourself forward.  You should be running at about 85% of your fastest speed.  Do this four times.  The time of your fast bursts should be between 30-90 seconds.

In between uphill sprints, jog slowly down to the start, or you can walk to protect your legs from the jarring effect of downhill running.

As you improve, repeat this six, eight and then ten times.

Workout #4:  Advanced Hill Repeats

Essentially the same workout as #3, but for longer distances.  Try 300-400 meters or more as you become more fit.  This will take you 2-5 minutes each.  As you become more fit, increase the distance, the steepness of the hill, your speed and the number of repetitions.

Workout #5:  The Killer Hill

You might need to travel to find the right terrain for this as you’ll be sprinting up sand dunes.  Running on sand requires twice as much energy as running on a road surface so you’ll feel a difference quickly.  Because sand dunes vary in slope and length, you'll need to make this up as you go along.

Workout #6:  The Ultimate Snowshoe

Running in snowshoes makes you work three times as hard as you would work on a regular road surface.  This one is simple.  Run uphill in snowshoes.


Summary

If you’ve read to this point you can see that some of these workouts aren’t for the faint of heart.  Start your hill running training with one workout at a time until you get more fit and adapt to each workload.   Pay attention to how you feel and add workouts when you feel that you're ready for the next one.

After you've incorporated some of these hill running workouts into your training and you get to the races, you’ll be delighted to feel great running uphill while everyone around you is falling behind or walking.  That’s the real payoff.


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