I recently started adding hill workouts to my running training. I have improved rapidly, and I have been staggered with the results. Considering tonnes of athletes like Sebastian Coe swear by hill running workouts to achieve running success, we have good reason to trust hill workouts.
In this article, we’ll look at 5 surprising benefits of hill running in an effort to up your running game. We’ll even throw in some workout ideas for you to get the most out of your hill runs.
What is hill running?
Hill running is when you run up a raised area of land, with an incline going upwards. Hills can be short (20-30 seconds to climb), medium (40-90 seconds) and long (over 90 seconds).
It’s nice and comfortable running on a flat surface. It doesn’t change, stays predictable and doesn’t push you. Unfortunately, this can halt your growth and keep you on the same level. Not idea. Luckily, hill running can save the day.
The idea of hill running is to physically challenge your body to handle a heavy and demanding workload with a view at improving it. The difficulty of running up hills conditions the body and makes you a stronger runner. This is why they’re such a popular workout.
What are the 5 benefits of hill running?
1. Stronger muscles
Think about a time you’ve run and it feels like your muscles are falling asleep on you. I’ve been there before, and it isn’t a nice feeling. Even if you have your head and heart in the game, your physical body just can’t cope with the workload and you drop pace. If only there was a way to make your legs stronger and able to carry on for longer. Oh, wait…
Regularly engaging in a hill running workouts will strengthen the muscles in your legs and glues. The quads, hamstrings and gluteus maximus will all be strengthened and as a result, you’ll become a stronger runner. It will take more effort to make your muscles tired and sore, and you will excel during races.
2. Improved fitness
Running up hills is physically demanding work. It’s much more challenging for the body than running on a flat surface and as a result your heart rate increases. Blood pumps quicker around the body and as a result, your anaerobic and aerobic fitness will improve. After recovery, you’ll have a higher rate of physical fitness than you did before the hill workout and you’ll be a better runner.
If you regularly hill run, you’ll be able to run further distances for longer periods of time. Particularly useful if you’re a long distance runner.
3. Losing weight quicker
This isn’t for every runner, but some people run to lose weight. It’s just the way it is for some people, fair enough.
Doing a hill workout is much more physically demanding and strenuous than your typical light jog around a flat block. Having to push yourself up a steep incline uses up more energy and subsequently burns more calories than your standard running workout. As a result, you burn fat much quicker.
If you’re trying to lose weight with a running regime, consider hill workouts. Remember not to kill yourself and climb a hill that resembles a mountain, take it slow at first. Once you get comfortable, up the pace and the effort. Eventually, you’ll see results as you step on the scales a happier, fitter and lighter version of yourself. Give it a try.
4. Blitz race courses with hills
I remember my first ever race. A half-marathon which was filled with hills, through the lovely Kent UK countryside. One problem. I’d only ever trained on flat ground, rarely venturing up a hill. What happened, do you think? My legs got destroyed and I had a horrific time. I struggled so much both with physical and mental pain, got overtaken by people I’d breezed passed in the early stages, and destroyed a potentially good time I could have got.
If you have a race coming up with hills in it, having completed hill workouts will be your secret weapon. You’ll be prepared for hills and will glide up them easier than fellow runners. Not only will you have a better time, but your body will also be able to cope and the challenge of climbing hills will be well within your capabilities.
Don’t overlook the importance of hill training for race preparation. It can go a long way come race day.
5. Refined technique
Lots of people don’t realise but hill running can improve your technique. You naturally raise your knees higher, flex your ankles and the hamstrings more and use your arms much more than you would otherwise. The result? A better running form which transfers to regular running on flat surfaces. Give it a try and see for yourself.
Some advice for those new to hill running
I’m not going to lie to you. That would be dishonest of me. You probably won’t like hill running first. That’s okay, we don’t have to like everything we do in life.
Those first few workouts will feel difficult and uncomfortable, but it’s also where the most growth occurs. As you push yourself up that hill, sweat beating down your face and gasping for air, keep telling yourself it’s for the best and don’t quit. The discomfort signals your body is embracing the challenge and after recovery, you will come back stronger.
The most important thing with hill workouts is that you stick with it, consistently. If you have hill workouts on your training regime Monday, Thursday and Saturday, then you’re going to be doing hill workouts on those days. No exceptions, no laziness, no excuses. If you’re tough and hold yourself to a high standard with hill runs, your running will improve untold amounts.
This is just my advice, of course. You don’t have to listen or follow it, but adding hill workouts to my runs allowed my 5K to go from 22 minutes to 19:30 minutes in a month. Aside from this tangible and measurable example of improvement, I also feel more comfortable pushing myself and do not find I am wrestling to get air into my lungs like before in desperation.
Here are 3 great examples of hill workouts I regularly use, from the Runner’s World website:
1. Hills start
Purpose: An introduction to hill training for new runners.
How: Jog for 10 minutes to warm up, then walk for two minutes. From the bottom of a gentle incline, run up for five seconds, then walk back to the starting point. Run up again for seven seconds, then walk down. Run for 10 seconds, walk down.
Shorten your stride and keep your feet low to the ground on the ascents. Feeling strong? Repeat the sequence. Do the workout every seven to 14 days.
2. Uphill effort
Purpose: Research has found that most runners try to run too fast uphill. It’s best to maintain an even effort rather than try to sustain your flat pace. This workout will help you to lock into a sustainable pace.
How: Find an ascent that takes 10 mins or longer to cover. Mimic the effort you’d expand on a flat run, no matter how slow it feels. Listen to your breathing: if it gets noticeably heavier, ease up. Or use a heart-rate monitor to moderate your effort level.
3. Summit attack
Purpose: Helps you regain your flat-ground pace more quickly as you near the crest of a hill.
How: Use long strides as a cue to open up your stride and accelerate as you approach the top of a hill. To practice this transition, especially when you’re tired, find a hill that takes about 45 seconds to climb. Run hard to the top, then lengthen your stride and accelerate for 15 seconds to ingrain the quick transition. Jog down for recovery. Repeat six to 10 times.
There you have it. 5 benefits of hill running, my advice on starting hill running from scratch and a few hill running workouts to get you started. Make sure to have fun, take it at a comfortable pace but ensure you challenge yourself. That way, you’ll become a better runner.