Why You Should Embrace Hills

Image via Fit Sugar

As runners, most of us hate hills.  Particularly in races.  The FLAT and fast course is the holy grail.  The flatter the course, the faster we run!

When we give race recaps, we tend to highlight where we hit big hills and had to slow down.  Hills are hard.  Yeah, we will say we eat hills for breakfast and we love hills.  Whatever.  If we are trying to run fast, admit it, we hate them.

But, incorporating hill work into your training is a very good idea.  No matter what race distance you are working toward, hills will make you stronger.  Not to mention that they certainly won’t hurt the appearance of your hind quarters either and who doesn’t want that?

This week, the “homework” for my mile training program was hill work.  I haven’t run hill repeats in a LONG time.  However, I live in a relatively bumpy area of the country, so I do run plenty of decent sized hills during my normal runs.  But it was super fun to do my hill repeats this week.  They aren’t that hard since they are relatively short, but there is great benefit to running hills relatively hard.

Here was my workout: 40 minute warmup; then I found a long hill that I ran 6 times.  I ran hard up the hill (around 60 seconds) then jogged down the back side.  I turned around and ran back up it hard, then jogged down.  Repeat x 3 with the goal of getting progressively faster each one.  When I finished, I took a 2 minute breather before I proceeded on my cool down. It was fun!  Hard, yes. Fun too.

There are many variations of hill work you can do.  Some hills are longer, some are steeper.  Some workouts are geared toward pure speed and strength, some more for the longer endurance events.  But they all provide benefits, including the following:

  1. Hills increase your stamina.  They help  you run farther at your particular pace.
  2. Hills increase your aerobic capacity.  That means you need to use less oxygen at longer distances.
  3. Running hills will improve your running economy.  This means you need to use less oxygen at a faster pace.
  4. Hills strengthen you in very good ways!  Your glutes, quads, & calves will thank you.
  5. Running hills will improve your biomechanics.
  6. They improve your stride length and frequency.
  7. They improveyour ankle flexion so you can spring off the ground more quickly (less time on the ground and more time in the air).
  8. Running hills helps you get used to them so you can learn to relax on big hills in races.
  9. Most importantly, you learn how to properly run hills during races (don’t blast up and kill yourself!  Run strong to the top and then take advantage of the inevitable downhill awaiting you with faster foot turnover).

As well as running hard up hills, I also like to run hard down hills periodically (in a separate workout).  This can help improve your foot turnover rate and strengthen your quads.  Hills (both up and down) are particularly important when you are training for a hilly course, like the Boston Marathon.

From The Urban Athlete

That said, you have to be careful when incorporating hill repeats into your training – just as you do with any other type of hard workout.   Don’t start running hill repeats (but feel free to incorporate hills into your easy runs) until you have a solid base built up.  If you are a newer runner, I’d say be sure you are at least 6 weeks into a solid training program where you are running 4 times a week.

 Stretch well and hydrate before your run. Always do at least a 10-15 minute warmup first too at an easy pace.  Once you are ready to go, find a hill that is relatively steep, but not a killer.  As my miler coach told me years ago, there is a workout hill and there is stupid.  Choose the former.  When you attack the hill, work hard but steady.  Lean forward slightly and work with the hill.  Look ahead, but if it is daunting, imagine in your mind that it is flat and try to keep the same foot turnover you would if it were flat.  Then, cool down for 5-10 minutes and then fully stretch.

 That’s it.  Reap the benefits of the aerobic capacity you have built and strong back side.

Do you hate or enjoy hills? Do you have a favorite hill workout you want to share?

Mindi is a serial marathoner. She is a private practice attorney, wife and mom of two awesome (and super fast) boys, ages 12 and 14. She coaches Girls on the Run and is a big advocate of youth running.

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8 comments

  1. Not a fan of hills, but I live in a hilly area, so I embrace them. We always start our late winter speed work with several weeks of hill repeats before easing into other speed. Anyhow, I like feeling “hill fit” because there aren’t many hills that intimidate me when I toe the line (including Heartbreak!)

  2. I would honestly rather do hill repeats than speed/track work. Hill repeats have definitely made my legs stronger!

  3. This is one “piece” I feel like my training has been missing. I feel like it would be great to spend 4-8 weeks where I have one hill day incorporated rather than track or something!

  4. I generally fall into the “hill hater” category. I dont want them slowing me down in a race! But I do enjoy hill workouts and I have noticed that I really enjoy uphills on the bike. I’m hoping this will improve my attitude toward hills on the road. In races, I try to remind myself, running up or downhill is a chance to give my “flat” running muscles a break! Sometimes this internal coersion works. Sometimes it doesn’t.

  5. I was told by crossfit trainer, “Do a workout you hate every week. It will only make you better.” I tell myself this every time I have to go out and do hill repeats or sprints on the track. Slowly but surely, I don’t hate them as much because I can appreciate how they make me a better runner. And if that’s the ultimate goal…hills, here I come!