There are few foes more menacing to a runner than a steep hill on race day. But what if you could turn this adversary into an ally? By incorporating hill training into your running protocol, you'll not only be able to better tackle the hills along the race course, but you can feel stronger and faster on every mile.
Hill training offers numerous benefits to runners. It recruits more muscle fibers than flatland training and makes those fibers stronger due to the required increase in force generation, which greatly increases your net muscular strength and power. Hill training improves neuromuscular coordination by moving your center of mass and calling on your body to run in slightly different positions. It also increases flexibility, especially at the ankle and hip joints.
Many runners avoid hill runs because they aren't fun, but also because they don't really know how to do them properly. But by following the guidelines for these four hill workouts, you can turn this race day foe into your training BFF.
Work hills into your long run each week. Start off easy with about one mile of moderate, rolling hills spread throughout your run. Be sure to keep your pace aerobic—you may have to slow down on the hills in order to do this. As one mile begins to feel easier, gradually increase your total hill mileage to two or three miles throughout your run.
The keys to effective hill repeats are twofold: selecting a hill that is only moderately steep and allowing an appropriate recovery interval after each repeat. If you have access to a treadmill, you can get a feel for "moderately steep" by moving the incline between a 2- and 5-percent grade. Anything steeper than that begins to leave moderate territory. As for the distance from the bottom of the hill to the top, it's best to measure in seconds rather than meters or yards. Starting out, you'll want to keep your repeats to a relatively short 30 seconds. If that doesn't get you all the way to the top of your hill, don't worry about it—you can add time to each interval as your fitness improves.
Whether the duration of each repeat is 30 or 90 seconds, always aim to make the recovery interval four to six times longer than the work interval. So for a 30-second climb, give yourself two to three minutes of easy recovery or complete rest. To incorporate hill repeats into your training program, on a non-easy/short run day, warm up with one or two miles of easy jogging, complete four to six hill repeats, then jog it back home nice and easy again.