A few weeks ago I was out on the roads doing my long run when I came across this long hill around mile 9 of the run. Ugh! What a place for a hill, right? As I was making the almost half-mile climb and feeling the effects of it, it actually got me thinking about the many benefits of adding hills to your training and the variety of ways in which you can do this.

A couple of weeks later, I ran a route on the roads that included a quarter mile hill at mile 1, another quarter mile hill at mile 4, a couple of 200-300m hills between miles 8 and 9, and a 1,000m hill at mile 9.5. It was a doozy, but I knew I was better for it!

There are many ways to incorporate hills into your training, such as the example above where you map out a route that includes a few different hills of varying distances and you run them roller-coaster style. They don't even have to be long; most of the ones I've come across have been less than a quarter-mile long, though there are a few very memorable exceptions. So why all this talk about hills, you ask? The value of hill running is undeniable! Hills are a very effective way of developing running strength, and some of the many benefits include:

Better Form Development

Running hills requires a higher knee drive which helps strengthen your hip flexor muscles and can lead to a better stride. It also forces you to use your arms more, encouraging you to develop better arm carriage (motion), shoulder and upper back strength endurance. Running both UP and DOWN hills can also improve your ability to hold your form longer, by providing both concentric and eccentric muscle work which can prevent your legs from giving in and your form breaking down during the latter stages of a race.

More Running Power

Running hills recruits and strengthens muscle fibers throughout your leg all at the same time, from hip flexors to quadricep, hamstring, gluteal and even calf muscles. These muscles not only become stronger, your body learns how to use them TOGETHER and MORE EFFICIENTLY to generate the speed and power you need.

Simulated Speed Work

Two-time Olympian Frank Shorter once said that running hills is “speed work in disguise”. The aerobic and anaerobic energy systems used while running up a hill are very similar to those used while doing an interval workout on a track or on a flat surface. Running hills can benefit your aerobic capacity, VO2 max and anaerobic strength in very similar ways to running workouts on flat ground.

Low-Impact Running

The slope of a hill ensures that you are landing lightly with each step, mostly on the balls of your feet, which reduces the overall stress on your knee and hip joints, while giving you a great workout. Now that's what I call a win-win!

Ease of Planning

Hills are everywhere! The great thing about hill training is that you can do it just about anywhere you have access to a hill. Just make sure you know the distance first before you decide what the workout is going to be. You can map it online or simply measure it with a GPS watch for more accuracy.

Keep in mind that the type of hill training you do should correlate to what you are trying to accomplish. Short, fast hill repeats/intervals are the best suited to developing speed and power. Longer hill repeats are more suitable for developing aerobic capacity and strength endurance. Generally, hill repeats/intervals should be run at a pace that is at or faster than goal race pace. If the hills are a part of a longer run, such as a tempo, a fartlek, a progression or a long run, they should be run at the same EFFORT (not pace) as on the flats. Remember to always work to regain your speed as soon as you crest a hill. A lot people tend to slow down after they finish running up a hill during a race, and this is when you pass them! Practice this during your training and it will come easier on race day!

Remember to always start your workout with a dynamic warm-up routine. Treat your hill workout like any other workout. Want to learn more about how add hill running to your training? Don't hesitate to contact me.

Now get out there and crush 'em!!!

Run Better. Run Smarter. Run for Life.

Coach Mwangi