Hill Training for Runners

Natalie Cecconi
Written by
Last update:

Why Do Hill Workouts

For Runners?

While long runs, runs at a steady pace, and sprint workouts can all improve your running, running hills can help you improve your overall performance. Hill workouts for runners are designed to build strength, endurance, and even speed.

Since they are difficult to maintain for the entire run, hill workouts for runners should consist of shorter sprints with more recovery rather than the longer hill workouts that make you exhausted.

When you run hills, you use your legs differently than you do when you run on level ground. You have to drive the legs much harder, use a lot of force to push up and over the hill, and then relax to get back down.

Because of those differences, hills are an excellent changeup to your normal runs to help you get stronger and faster.

The benefits of hill training for runners include:

  • Improves running form so your muscles are prepared to run faster
  • Improves running economy so you can use less oxygen as you run at a given pace
  • Improves muscle strength and power

Overall Benefits

Hills are an integral part of most running training plans, and they’re good for you too. One of the biggest benefits of running hills is that the training will build up your overall conditioning. By forcing you to work harder, you will be building your endurance, and along your cardiovascular endurance and your ability to maintain your pace while running.

Hill training also works different muscle groups than flat running does, which can help to avoid injuries and prevent overuse injuries. Since the muscles supporting the hips, knees and ankles are used to climbing hills, these areas can be strengthened while still running.

Hill training will improve your leg strength, leg speed and your stride length, which can mean that you’re running faster on flat ground in the future.

Hill running allows you to train at higher intensities of exercise and this has great benefits in terms of your health and fitness.

Hill running gives you a chance to work on your form as well. In order to avoid slipping on the hill, you’ll have to focus on your body position and running style. The more you work on this, the more efficient you will be able to run on flat surfaces.

You’ll also be able to practice descending hills, which may help to improve your endurance and ability to run hills and mountains.

Speed

When it comes to speed training for runners, a hill is often considered the best alternative to sprinting on flat ground. It allows you to increase your speed while using the same muscles you use while running which allows your body to easily absorb the stress. It can also greatly improve your strength and power, which will then translate to better performance on the running track.

Hill training for runners is also considered as one of the best high-endurance training for developing the VO2 max.

To train on a hill, you should start by building up to running at least a mile (around 1600 meters) on an uphill slope. Here, you need to run at your natural pace and according to your older training paces.

Do not worry about measuring your speed and pushing yourself. Instead, focus on floor contact and a gentle upper body swing.

If your heart rate increases, then you will naturally slow down the pace.

At the peak of the hill, run with a strong upper body and keep your head up. This has been shown to improve pacing, which is one of the hardest challenges to conquer when running up a hill.

Once your body is used to running on an uphill slope, you can train it for faster speeds and longer distances by including downhill runs.

Endurance

Endurance training is any exercise that increases the efficiency of your cardiovascular system and your body’s ability to use oxygen.

It also increases the amount of oxygen that is extracted from the air for use in the bloodstream by the body. If you are a runner, you will benefit most from endurance training as it will prepare you for longer distances.

While any form of physical activity will increase your heart and lung strength, your form and speed are especially important when considering the impact of running training.

In order to successfully complete a long distance race, you will need to be able to pace yourself over a long period of time, instead of sprinting all the way through. This is where an endurance training program comes into use.

Another benefit of endurance training is that it helps increase your running stamina and builds the muscles which provide you with the energy to keep on running.

As you build your endurance, you will find it easier to complete your training runs because you will have a strong, steady pace as opposed to a furiously sprinted start and a slowing momentum over the last few miles.

This is why the longest training runs should be completed during this phase – they are designed to help you to keep your stamina strong for the duration of your race.

There are three levels of training: elementary, intermediate, and advanced. The basic training program described here is an intermediate level of training.

Injury Prevention

If you want to run as long as you want without getting injured or get back to running faster after an injury, you should work on your overall running form.

Ideally, you should find a qualified coach to improve your running mechanics. However, you can also set up your own home based injury prevention and enhancement program to keep your body healthy, strong, and injury free.

This program will give you a foundation to keep up when you don’t have access to a qualified coach. It will also help you improve your running form and become a more efficient runner without the need for a coach.

You will find two variations of the workout program at the end of this post. The first workout focuses on injury prevention and includes a stride length drill and a variety of other drills to enhance your running form. The second workout variation includes all of the injury prevention drills together with a base workout to prepare you for a distance race.

Calories and Muscles

Calories are the fuel that keep the body in motion.

When the body is burning the right type of fuel, the fire burns hot and high. However, when it is burning the wrong fuel, the body’s furnace sputters and fails.

The body needs a steady supply of fuel to function well. When it is getting that fuel, it is said to be in an “energy balanced” state. This happens either when you have more energy coming in from your diet than the body uses or when the body is breaking down stored fuel, such as fat.

If you are striving to get the most out of your training and are looking to increase the intensity of your workouts, know that your body burns more calories when you are working at a higher intensity.

During high intensity exercise, your muscles need more oxygen to keep going at that high rate. More oxygen is delivered to your muscles by your circulatory system, which reacts by speeding up. This is why your heart rate goes up during exercise.

Since there are more calories being spent during high intensity exercise, it also means that more calories are being burned. This is one of your body’s natural mechanisms for helping you burn fat.

Strengthen Your Upper Body

I’ve run track since I was in elementary school and was fortunate enough to be on an all-state track team in high school. After just a few years of being in the sport, I naturally developed a decent running form.

You too can have a great running form with the help of hill training.

When my track and cross country team had a guest coach for a few weeks at the beginning of the season, we would always try our best to follow his advice and get some valuable extra practice. We had coaches all the time, but they were always just our coach and never a guest. So this was a rare chance to get unique perspective.

“Don’t run on the flat,” he would tell us. “Your body was built to run up hills.”

When you run up hills, you really need to use your arms to make yourself lighter and to push through the air. Your arms act as weight in a way, and by keeping them swinging back and forth, you reduce the amount of work that your legs have to do.

Tips for Hill Training

Most good training plans include some form of hill training for runners. If you can think back to the last time you trained on hills, then chances are you remember it as hard work. Although hill training is not for the faint of heart, it is an excellent way to test yourself and improve your fitness.

Why do runners need hill training?

The obvious reason is that you can use hills to increase the intensity of your workout. Hills make it much more difficult to maintain your pace and therefore challenge you mentally and physically.

Hill training will also help develop strength and power in your legs. This will have a positive effect on your performance overall.

You will also become a more efficient runner by using hills. By training on hills, you work on running with proper form so that you can maintain your speed.

How to do hill training for runners?

All training sessions for runners who are serious about their training should include some form of hill training. Hill training is beneficial for any runner including beginners.

You can use hills to workout on your speed, endurance and strength. Run up and jog down for a tempo workout or run continuous repetitions.

You can also do interval training by running hard for a set number of strides per repetition. Try starting off with 10 strides running hard uphill and then walking back down.

How long to train on hills?

When to Add Hill Training for New Runners

Although hill training is particularly good for runners, it’s beneficial for all endurance athletes.

If you’re just starting out as a runner, hill training is not something that you should be worrying about just yet.

Your main priority should be to build up a respectable training volume – the foundation of your fitness. Start of slow, preferably with a lower body cardio session, like biking or rowing.

Each week, add a bit more volume to your overall weekly routine. Once your base level begins to increase, then you’re ready to start building hill fitness.

Unless you’re an experienced runner or you have a specific goal in mind that requires you to be good at hill running, you really don’t need to worry about hill training. In fact, starting out on hills too soon can slow your training progress but be leaving yourself open to injuries.

To add hill training to your schedule, you need to be able to run comfortably for at least 30 minutes.

If you feel that it’s just too difficult to run for an hour or more, and you don’t have the patience to build your base volume first, hill training might not be where you want to be right now.

Use a Treadmill If You Live in a Flat Area

Another way to train with hills is to use a treadmill. Some people feel this is not as close to reality as a hill outside of your house.

But, there’s a very good reason for should at least include a treadmill in your training when you run. In fact, if you don’t live in a hilly area, you should never run outside without at least “hill training” on a treadmill.

With a treadmill, you can increase the incline as high as 20%. Or you can make two steep hills. Go up one and jog down the next.

The treadmill can be the answer to your flat problem.

Just make sure not to spend all your treadmill training time going uphill. It is important to put in some time going downhill as well.

4 Other Types of Workouts

Also known as uphill running, hill hill running involves running up and downhill, to (you’re probably guessing) get you fit to run inclines.

You can use a treadmill or go to a local high school and run up the bleachers to get in some workout.

If you’re using the bleachers at the gym, remember to place those wipes or a towel at the end of the row where you will be using them. (Repeat after me: Do. Not. Slide. Down. The. Bleachers!)

You’ll need a bit of time to get in the groove but soon you’ll build up from getting faster and doing a 30-second incline run to running for a solid minute.

Speed Training

Sure, you could just go for a run but speed training will help you run faster far more quickly than just a steady run.

Speed training is ideal for a speed boost or if you’re taking part in a short distance or event.

Speed training will help your running form as it incorporates a series of quick bursts interspersed with shorter recovery intervals.

Interval Training

Learn the intervals and you are on your way to success.

Interval training is very much like speed training but builds steadily on your speed and endurance.

Short Hills or Hill Sprints

What are the Benefits of Hill Training?

Hill training is a great way to improve running that can be done at home or in the neighborhood. Training on hills can improve your hip and knee extension, stride length, and overall leg strength. It can also boost your cardiovascular fitness and build a better lung capacity, helping you to run faster steeper courses. Hill training is also thought to improve your focus and provide a good mental boost.

There are three main types of hills you can training on:

Downhill:

Downhill is the simplest form of hill training, but it has its downsides. It’s difficult to control your speed, because gravity will always work against you.

If you go too fast, you will trip and fall, plus you’ll find it challenging to use your lower body and engage your glutes. So while downhill training is a good warm-up, it isn’t the most effective training method.

Bumpy Downhill:

This is a modified version of downhill training that will help you prepare for smooth downhill running. You can practice running downhill on bumps, like on a trail.

When you run on a trail, you often have to run downhill. To slow you down, you have to slightly lift up your knees to cushion the impact. That helps to lower the impact of the fall, and you can continue running.

Medium Hills

Vs. Strong Hills

The place where hills are is as important as the skill involved in training your body to overcome them.

Hill running is a very specific form of running that requires specialized training.

Although the benefits of hill running are certainly present, you may find out quickly that hill running is not for everyone.

Hills are a great way to increase your fitness levels and they can also be a convenient and inexpensive workout. Keep in mind, however, that when it comes to running hills, your form is everything.

Long Hills

Or Short Hills?

Hills are usually associated with strength training for athletes and thus considered as a necessary evil. But not all hills are created equal.

You can utilize hills to get stronger and improve your speed by working on them in different ways:

Long Hills: From a physiological point of view, long distance hills are best to build strength for runners because they stimulate the muscle to work over a longer distance until your body adapts and becomes stronger.

Short Hills: Short vertical hills are best to increase stride frequency and explosive strength, but they are not as effective at gaining strength endurance as running long hills.

Experienced runners often feel uncomfortable in the beginning and then, come to love running hills, for the fun of it and for the benefits that they provide in return.

Therefore, if you are new to running hills, you may need to make a conscious effort to try it a few times until you develop a knack for it over time.

Consider that running uphill can be related to sprinting, which has proved to be the best way to develop speed with a lot of strength.

It is not a coincidence that many world-class sprinters do hill training on a regular basis.

Long Hills

When you use long, gradual uphill runs, you are running for a long time at a low intensity, which means that your heart rate should be low, about 50 to 70% of your maximum predicted heart rate.

Mixed Hill Runs

A good hill workout will improve strength and power in the muscles. It will also improve running economy.

Running up and down steep hills also builds great strength in your leg muscles. The more explosive you are out of one step, the stronger you get in climbing steep hills. The aerobic system requires you to get stronger through volume and long endurance training.

Here’s a hill workout to improve your explosiveness out of one step. It’s good for experienced runners and also for veteran marathoners.

Start off by running 1minute on flat ground.

Then run as fast as you can for 1minute up a steep hill.

Finally, walk down the hill for 1minute.

Go back to flat ground for 1minute and make a 2nd 1-minute run up a steep hill.

Bring it back home by walking down for 1minute.

Repeat 3 to 5 times.

During each run-up, effort should be continuous for the full minute. It is not recommended that you do this workout more than 2 times per week.

Downhill Training

Hill running is a useful complement to your usual running routes or gym workouts. Many find hill running to be a great cardio workout. And it can help build muscle in your legs and glutes.

But it’s not only the workout that is so valuable. Hill running builds endurance that will help control leg fatigue during your long distance runs. If you’re a long distance runner, you’ll appreciate the endurance you build with the hill running.

If you’re a beginning runner, hill running can help you build up a tolerance to running down hill. This is exceptionally helpful if you are trying to get away from an injury.

There are many different ways to run a little hill. Your hill training plan can be as simple as incorporating some hill sprints into your running routine. Or you can follow a focused program that works on different components of hill running. No matter what you choose, adding a bit of hill training to your routine will give your running and overall fitness a boost.

Workout: 6x800m “Quad-Bangers”

The word “quad” may make you wince in pain, but don’t let that stop you. This workout, sometimes referred to as quads, will help you get the most out of your legs.

The workout is simple: complete 6 repetitions of 800-meter runs with 100-meter recovery jogs in between. For a more challenging workout, complete the second, third, and fourth set of 800-meter runs unbroken.

This workout targets stamina, strength, and speed, and it’s a great one for any runner looking to improve.

Once you finish the 6 runs, jog slowly for 3 laps around the track to cool down.

This workout can be performed once every two weeks during an intermediate training program.