Let’s continue this series on adding power to your running. I first talked about lifting heavy weights in that first post on power training. And then I talked about using plyometrics as another option in the last post. The final option: Hill Workouts.
Why Train on Hills?
Running hills is the most specific type of strength and power training you can do. No squatting, lunging jumping or even weights. You’re simply running.
I’ve heard some coaches argue that there is no need for weights or plyometric training because running hills provides that. It’s true, there is a specificity to running like with any other sport. To maximize your running potential, you need to run as much as possible. And training on hills is a part of that. However, there is a limit to to your maximum mileage though and it varies from person to person.
Benefits of Hill Workouts
There are a lot of benefits to training on hills, including
- Builds muscular strength
- Improves cardiovascular fitness
- Increases speed
- Improves stride length
- Increases power
- Improves running economy
- Prepares you for hilly races
If you consider making improvements in all of those areas, that would certainly result in improved performance.
Hill Workout Ideas
There are several approaches you can take when looking at how to incorporate in hill workouts.
Adding hills to easy or long runs
Like I mentioned before, I live in a relatively flat town so most of my easy runs during the week are flat. However, since I have more time on the weekend, I drive to one of the neighboring towns, which are more hilly, for my weekend runs.
For easy runs, try to not to go too hilly. These runs should allow you to recover for your next hard workout. Long runs can be considered hard workouts so you can be more aggressive with hilly routes. If you do choose a hilly route for your long run, make sure you allow plenty of recovery before you have your next hard workout.
Short hill sprints
These tend to vary in length from 10 seconds to 60 seconds and should be run hard. Keeping them very short, like 10-20 seconds, means that you can perform these regularly after easy runs. The short duration prevents any lactic acid production or any significant soreness. Performing longer duration repeats (30-60 seconds) should be considered a hard workout. Therefore, they should not be done after easy runs and/or the day before or after a hard workout.
You should aim for a moderately steep hill for these (at least 7-8%).
Long hill intervals
These intervals are going to last longer than 60 seconds and go up to 5 minutes. The pace will depend on the length. However, it’s easier if you try for effort instead of pace. The effort should be similar to intervals on flat ground. This means that your pace will be slower. So if you tend to watch your pace closely and get stressed by splits, you may want to leave the GPS watch at home.
You should aim for a less steep hill for these (6-7%).
Intervals on hilly terrain
Instead of running the entire interval uphill, this involves running intervals on a route that will take you up and downhill for the duration of the interval. Running downhill is a topic for another post, but these types of intervals allow you to get used to running fast downhill as well. It also gets you use to pacing on a hilly route.
This is actually a blend between plyometrics and uphill running. Like the very short hill sprints (10-20 sec), these are great to incorporate after your runs.
Since it can be a little hard to describe bounding in writing, here’s a video demonstrating bounding technique on an uphill.
Why Even Bother With Weights or Plyos
Like I mentioned before, maximizing your mileage is the primary way to reach your running potential. However, many find that their mileage is limited for a number of reasons, including being injury-prone or having time constraints. Many also live in areas that don’t have many hills and/or don’t have time to drive to hills in other towns.
That’s where weights and plyometrics come in. You can use weights and plyometrics to improve your strength and power without having to add mileage to your legs or having to drive anywhere (assuming you have weights in your home). Like I mentioned before, I usually have to drive somewhere to find some good hills for my hill workouts or runs. Therefore, when I’m on a time crunch, I use weights and/or plyometrics to substitute for the hill workouts.
Ease into It
Don’t feel like you need to incorporate all of the above options into your routine each week. If you’re new to hill workouts, start with shorter and less steep hills. And try for no more than 1 hill workout per week. This will allow you to get used to the demands of training on hills. If you have achilles problems, you’ll definitely want to ease into the hills. Running hills puts a lot stress on the achilles tendon.
Training on hills will also help you learn about pacing, recovery and form on hills. As you become stronger and more confident, you can then move to some longer and steeper hills as well as increase the number of hill workouts you do per week.
Like with most types of hard workout, you should not perform hill workouts more than 2 times per week. Even if you won’t be racing on a hilly course, training on hills will make a big difference on performance even on flat ground. Elite runners, including those who focus on track races, frequently use hills to increase strength and power.
Now get out there and tackle some hills! After a few hill workouts, you should definitely start to notice a difference. And hopefully you’ll notice at your next race when you set a PR!
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