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Approaching an upcoming hill during a run can be intimidating, to say the least. It often elicits some huffing and puffing and causes those leg muscles to burn to make it to the top. But be rest assured your efforts are not in vain—running hills can be quite beneficial to your training.
Related: Why Hill Repeats Make You A Better Runner
“Various types of hill training can enhance stamina, endurance, speed, strength and even form. Hill training has been well documented to also improve the strength and elasticity of tendons and ligaments,” explains Albert Dell’Appa, distance-running coach of Raging Bull Road Runners in Toronto, Canada. Similarly, Angela Bekkala, a certified RRCA Running Coach and ACSM Certified Clinical Exercise Specialist (CES) from New Hampshire, says, “Hills are speed work and strength training in disguise.”
So how and why exactly are they important? Here are two main reasons:
They build muscle and power. As you run up a hill, your muscles are putting in a great deal of effort to fight against the forces of gravity. This upward slope is a type of resistance training that helps to strengthen the quads, calves, hamstrings and glutes. Because your hips, legs and ankles are working hard to support your body weight, you’re gaining more power in the lower body. This benefits your stride, making you faster and stronger, especially after alternating back to a flat surface.
Related: Hidden Benefits Of Running Hills
They enhance stride and endurance. As runners, our stride is a fundamental factor in the way we perform. Hill training help you focus on lifting your knees, while driving your arms up, and quickly moving to the rhythm of your feet. With practice, your form will improve, leading to longer, quicker strides. It’s also no surprise that your endurance increases during resistance workouts. Your body is working harder than it would on a flat road or a trail. In a study by Dr. Bengt Saltin at the University of Copenhagen, it was proven that runners that used hill workouts as a form of training had higher levels of aerobic enzymes in their quadriceps muscles. In other words, your muscles can work at a higher intensity for a longer period of time without feeling fatigued thanks to these enzymes.
What are the specific types of workouts that can be done?
This can be done on a relatively steep hill that’s around 250-400 meters long. Focus on running up at a moderate pace and increase your speed once you get closer to the top. Then, slowly jog back down to the bottom and repeat 4-5 times. “Running a long, gradual hill can increase strength, ankle flexibility and reduce neuromuscular inhibition, leading to better coordination,” according to Meredith O’Brien, USA Track and Field Level I Coach, Crossfit Endurance Coach, ACSM Certified Personal Trainer, and owner of FitNicePT.
Steep Hill Sprints
This workout is a bit shorter, however it’s meant to be done at a much harder effort. On a smaller but steeper hill, sprint to the top at a maximum effort. This should be anywhere between 10 to 15 seconds. Once you get to the top, either walk or jog down, giving yourself 2-3 minutes of recovery. Then begin again for 8-10 sets. O’Brien says, “Sprinting a short steep hill will help build power and decrease neuromuscular inhibition, making it easier to run hard and fast.”
Fartlek Hill Repeats
This should be done on a 200- to 400-meter hill. The goal for this workout is to run from the bottom to the top, beginning at race effort and then alternating to a 10-15 second sprint in between, then back to race pace. Jog back to the bottom and repeat 4-5 times. According to Kisar S. Dhillon, a professional fitness trainer in Portland Oregon, this workout allows runners to become more aware of their bodies while using different energy systems for speed and endurance.