If you were a high school athlete and your school campus had any kind of land that would be geographically defined as a hill, you probably hate hills. Too bad coaches often forgot to explain why hill-training is not punishment, but rather an important and really beneficial training workout.
Incorporating hill repeats or running on hilly routes (especially trail running that includes a lot of elevation gains and losses) can really boost your fitness level. Running hills enhances aerobic capacity faster than what takes place when running mostly flat routes. Training on the hills also improves the strength of certain muscles such as the calves, quadriceps muscles, and those ever-important glutes. There are additional benefits for runners who regularly include hills in their training:
- It inadvertently reinforces proper form/posture (unless you are running them with improper form such as hunched over or excessively leaning back).
- It improves explosive power which is really helpful for sprinting and shorter distance racing such as 1 mile, 5k’s, and 10k’s.
- It strengthens leg muscles that you may or may not typically use when running on flat routes. This improves your general running ability which is very helpful for distance running and trail running.
- Running hill repeats speeds up lactic acid build-up in your legs and continuing to run them or run after you complete the workout teaches your body to run through lactic-acid build-up (or better use the ATP-energy-that lactic acid generates) which is what causes your legs to feel like lead unless you’ve properly trained to be able to push through this feeling.
There are more benefits to running hills, such as enhancing your mental fortitude and discipline, but just these four reasons alone should be enough to get you to start incorporating them into your exercise routine no matter if you run, cycle, swim, walk or participate in any other activity or sport.
Here are a few ways to include hills into your workout and give hills the love they deserve:
- Hill repeats – Easy – Going to that steep and/or long inclined hill that you always pass by is a great first step. The next step is to run up. And down…and repeat. For an “easy” option, simply run or jog up the hill at an easy pace and just focus on breathing and proper form. Make sure your arms are still swinging and your breathing is controlled. How many repeats (up and down counts as 1) you should do is up to you and depends on multiple factors such as your goals, the grade or slope of the hill, the length of the hill, and even your fitness, but two to three is a good beginning goal.
- Hill repeats – Hard- Nearly the same as above but instead of an easy pace, you are running hard, resembling a sprint or strides. Hill sprints can really build that explosive power if that’s what you are looking for and they will certainly speed up the lactic acid buildup. I wouldn’t recommend hill sprints if you are just starting to add hills into your workouts; wait until running up hills is a bit more comfortable for you. When sprinting hills, proper form and breathing is going to be even more important so make sure those arms are swinging and you are aware of your breathing.
- Hilly route- An easy way to incorporate hills into your routine is to simply find a running route that includes them! Rolling hills count as does a mostly flat route with just a few hills to climb. A flat route with one really steep and long climb is great too. If you know where the hills are, just go run around that area.
- Don’t cut corners- Starting with where #3 ended, if you know where the hills are, don’t avoid them! We all know that cutting corners is cheating someone out of something so don’t do this to your own training. If you come across a hill on a new route or if you typically turn around or make a turn to avoid a hill, opt to run the hill(s) instead. Either run up the hill, go back down, and continue along your running route or run up the hill and keep going (if you can) to possibly discover a new route you may really enjoy.
The benefits of hill running will present themselves rather quickly. Initially, your legs may feel sore or heavy the next day or even the first week after your first hill workout, but after some time (weeks, probably), you should start to see results such as increased leg strength when working out or running, not getting as tired as soon, running quicker paces with more ease, and other positive effects.
Another immediate benefit, depending on where you live, is realizing that the view really is better at the top!
Willamette River. Portland, Oregon.