Few things offer a runner greater benefits than hill training. While most runners groan at the sight of a looming ascent of road or trail, it is precisely the thing that will condition your muscles and cardiovascular system to excel at the demands of hard core training. Hill training also offers runners the dual benefits of increased speed and endurance for flat and rolling courses alike.
I can personally attest to the benefits of hill training for runners at all stages of progress. When I ran my first marathon, I joined a group of runners with the Team in Training Organization, which benefits the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. The training courses were pre mapped and purposely planned by the coaches to include a variety of terrain, including hill work. I felt confident on my standard flat courses, but I was thoroughly intimidated at the thought of taking on some of the steep climbs that were included in our course. I will even admit that I struggled at first to make it to the top of the hills anywhere near my target pace.
However, as I continued to grind away at the workouts each week, my legs noticeably took greater shape and my speed and endurance improved. By race day, which was a flat and fast course, I rocked the miles with sheer confidence and more speed than I anticipated within my realm of possibility.
Hill workouts should ideally be taken in intervals. This is the best way to ensure that you are getting the most out of your workout. Start at the bottom of a hill and go hard for repeats of at least 5 cycles, with slow trots in between each hard run. Gradually increase the intervals to 10 or even 15 repeats, so that the hills are taken hard and fast. Steeper hills may need to be taken in slightly lower repeats, starting with 4 and increasing to 8 or 12.
Hill training uses the body weight as its own resistance, providing muscle training along with endurance building. If you are looking to clip minutes off of your next race, hill workouts are an absolute must. One thing to remember to get the most out of your hill workout is stride. It is imperative to perfect your hill stride to reap the benefits and to prevent injury. This means landing on your heels and rolling your foot to the toes to allow optimal ankle flexing and weight distribution for support. This is the toughest part of hill training for even the most seasoned athletes. Hills are tough and challenging. It is easy to undertake them by simply blundering upward without thinking too much about the impact. This is a mistake and can lead to injuries that will halt your training altogether. Once you have your stride perfected and goals set, hill training will take your running performance to new levels, guaranteed.
For additional information about changing up your workout for optimal improvement, check out our additional articles at Runnersgoal.com.