The Power of Running Hills

The Power of Running Hills

“It’s a hill, get over it.”

While I may complain about them & try to avoid hilly races marathons, I secretly love running hills. It’s a tough workout but one that I know will always provide lots of benefits come race day. I always feel so accomplished after some good hill running. After all, my favorite thing to do during a race (besides finish) is to pass people on hills.

Hills are important because they create intensity & diversity, which improves your speed, endurance, anaerobic capacity, power, and overall strength. Not only does it get the whole body totally involved, it’s the only type of train­ing run that engages slow-twitch, inter­me­di­ate fast-twitch, and fast-twitch mus­cle fibers. Thanks to taking exercise physiology, I actually know what this means! Slow-twitch mus­cle fibers take the longest to fatigue, mak­ing them perfect for endurance run­ning. Inter­me­di­ate fast-twitch fibers help cre­ate the long & strong strides that middle-distance run­ners rely on. Fast-twitch mus­cle fibers are uti­lized for powerful, short speed bursts, such as sprinting. Obviously all of these are used in marathon training/running, so obviously you should be running hills 🙂

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Benefits of Including Hills In Your Training

Increase Endurance -> Spend the next few weeks including hill training in your routine and the next time you go on your regular route, I guarantee you’ll be shocked at how easy it’s become! Your lungs and heart absolutely reap the benefits of hill workouts because your cardiovascular system will become stronger.

Improves running form & economy -> “When running hills, the musculature that surrounds your ankle, hip and knee joints are forced to contract in a coordinated fashion, which results in greater power output. With more power, you can produce longer, faster running strides. Simply put, because you have to concentrate on lifting your knees, driving your arms and pushing off your feet when hill training, your running form will be exaggerated and improved! Another cool aspect of hill running is that it increases your ankle flexion, which allows you to “pop” off the ground more quickly. This means that you’ll be spending more time in the air and less time on the ground, which is good for your running economy and pace.” (from BoxLife)

Increase Speed -> Incorporating more hills (especially hill repeats) into your regular routine will not only increase your stamina, but it’s also great for building the leg muscles that are used for sprinting, which in turn improves your speed. Hill running builds up all the right places needed to be a faster runner on flat surfaces.

Calf Definition, Baby! – > You’ll get up on the balls of your feet while charging up hills, forcing your lower legs to do a majority of the work. Therefore, hill repeats are perfect for sculpting enviable calves.

Burns more calories -> There’s a big difference between running on a treadmill with an incline and without an inclide.. almost 100 calories in difference – yes please! Running uphill can burn major calories, so the next time you’re on a run, try finding a not-so-flat route or increasing the incline on the treadmill.

Mental Strength -> This is so important on race day. I always say that running a race is mostly mental. The more hills you run, the less intimidating they will seem when you encounter them out on the course!

hill seeker

3 Hill Workouts To Try:

Short/Medium Hill Repeats
— Warm up -> I usually run hill repeats towards the end of an easy 4-6 miler leaving myself about a mile left for a cool down.
— Run 25-90 seconds uphill at 90% effort
— Repeat 5-9 more times -> Make sure you are completely recovered before you start the next repeat in order to guarantee proper form. Depending on the distance of the race you’re training, start with a few repeats and gradually increase the repetitions throughout your training cycle.
— Cool down & Stretch!

The focus of these short workouts is on power, speed, and anaerobic energy recruitment. These short repeats are great to do during your base building phase, too, as they will help you with longer runs in the future.

Long Hill Repeats
— Warm up -> same as above, I usually run hill repeats towards the end of an easy 4-6 miler leaving myself about a mile left for a cool down.
— Run 90 seconds-3 minutes uphill at 60-80% effort
— Repeat 4-7 more times -> again, make sure you are completely recovered before you start the next repeat in order to guarantee proper form. Depending on the distance of the race you’re training, start with a few repeats and gradually increase the repetitions throughout your training cycle.
— Cool down & Stretch!

These types of hill workouts are great for improving VO2 max and increasing muscle strength. Actually, long hill repeats are almost a form of strength training. As a runner, you can do all the squats, lunges, etc. until your muscles burn, however, nothing will ever compare to actually running. Long distance runners training for a hilly course (or just in general) will benefit from these workouts as it builds muscular and aerobic endurance.

Rolling Hills
— During a run at basically any distance -> be sure to pick a route that includes rolling hills … duh!

If you’re looking to improve your ability to tackle hills on race day, then incorporating rolling hills into your threshold & long runs is the answer! Including these types of hill workouts into your runs provides your muscles and physiological systems the specific stimulus that it will endure on race day. Moreover, including rolling hills in your training will teach you how to pace yourself up and over hills so that you can keep your target pace/effort during a race. The appropriate way to approach hills during a race is to maintain the same effort up and down, which will even out the pace over the long run.

IMG_7112VCM ’15 -> Battery Street Hill -> the real reason I started hill training!

Do you include hills in your training?

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7 thoughts on “The Power of Running Hills”

  • I LOVE hills. Took me 20 years to take advantage of the hills around me and now I’m 50 pounds lighter and feel better than any other time in my life!

  • I totally have a love/hate relationship with hills. Some days I feel like I’m good at them and others it’s a struggle. No doubt that they make you stronger though!

  • Ugh hills! I always think I will avoid them, and then I don’t, and then I realize they are also good for just breaking up a run and making your legs feel less monotonous.
    I haven’t been doing hill repeats etc this training cycle, but I have been doing one trail run a week for one of my shorter runs.
    I came over to your blog after seeing your comment on HRG, I am also training for Hartford –> my first marathon!

    • Hi Jess! Yay first marathon! That’s so awesome!!! I’m super excited for this race 🙂 I agree, sometimes I do look forward to a hill during a race to make my legs feel a little better using different muscles… but mostly look forward to the downhill! I want to get into trail running so bad! I know there are SO many places to go around here but I think I am just scared!

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