Do you often run to the hills during your workouts? Or never at all? Running hills is tough. But the incline makes your muscles work harder than on the level ground. Few exercises will help you build more strength as a runner than hill workouts.
Read on to discover the key benefits of hill running. We’ll also share some of the most effective hill workouts for runners at all levels and when it’s best to do them.
Benefits of Hill Running Workouts
Running uphill benefits you whether you’re new to running or a seasoned runner. It stresses your body in ways that flat ground can’t. When you’re running uphill, you’re running against gravity. Descending downhill also has its own advantages, but more about that in a bit.
Hills help you build strength, improve your running form, running economy, and even become faster. Let’s take these advantages one at a time.
Hills Build Strength
Keen on building lower body strength? Unlike other strength workouts, hill workouts help you build strength with less wear and tear.
Hill running engages your core and almost every other muscle in your body. You can thank the incline and gravity for it. Hill workouts make you lift your knees, push off from your toes, and drive your arms with power.
By involving various muscles, including the glutes, hill running makes your body activate those muscles when you run across terrains.
What’s more, when you go downhill, eccentric contractions in your quads and calves create more micro-tears in your muscles than running on level ground. This stimulates muscle growth.
Hills Help With Running Form
Running uphill is demanding. It forces you to pay attention to your feet, arm movements, and body posture. Regular uphill running forces you to shorten your stride, making it more efficient. Running with knees up will give you more power and encourage you to pump your arms.
Doing hills regularly is one of the best ways to work on your running form for all these reasons. It will also improve your balance and coordination.
Hills Help Build Endurance
Running inclines is never easy. But it pays off. Hill running is a proven way to improve your endurance as a runner and increase your VO2 max, training your body to use oxygen more effectively. According to a 2014 study, running on a 10% incline improves the performance of long-distance runners.
It will make your heart and lungs work hard to keep you going throughout the workout. With regular practice, it will increase your endurance.
Hills Help You Train Hard While Preventing Injury
If you compare sprinting with hill running, the latter puts less stress on your connective tissues and joints. It enables you to train hard without risking a hamstring injury or other severe hurt that may sideline you.
Hills Help You Achieve a Faster Cadence
Uphill running will also improve feet turnover speed with less conscious effort compared to flat runs. That makes it great if you want to achieve a faster cadence. A speedier cadence is crucial to boost your running speed.
Hills Help You Burn More Calories
Running hills is more demanding of your muscles and cardiovascular system than regular running. That means not only soreness—at least in the beginning—but also that you’ll burn more calories. It intensifies the positive effects of walking uphill.
When to Use Hill Running Workouts in Training
Hill training is one of the most intense ways to train as a runner. In other words, you don’t want to get carried away by all of its benefits and overdo it. Running up that hill every single day is going to be too much.
Use hill running workouts in training when:
- You’re preparing for a hilly racecourse. Whether it’s a 5K, 10K, a half-marathon, a marathon, or some other race.
- You want to shed extra pounds. Since hill workouts burn more calories than flat workouts, they’re a dependable weight loss exercise.
- You intend to improve your running endurance and speedwork.
- You want to work your lower body muscles well without the wear and tear of strength workouts in the gym.
- Your objective is to train hard without placing as much stress on your body as when doing speed work on flat ground.
When exactly you integrate hill workouts into your training depends on your goals and what type of hill workouts you want to do.
Good to know: While you can add hill sprints just about any time to your training plan, short reps and hill circuits work best during the later phases of your training cycle. Long reps, meanwhile, work best during the earlier stages of training.
With that in mind, here are some hill workouts you should try.
5 Hill Running Workouts for All Levels of Runners
You may have heard of hill sprints and hill repeats already. But there are other hill workouts you can try out.
Running uphill is challenging by itself, but you can further increase the intensity of hill running by upping the incline running angle. For an intense workout that brings you all the benefits of hill running, aim for a 5-10% hill incline.
If you’re only beginning your running journey or returning after an injury, gradually introduce hill sprints into your training. Start with no more than 1-2 repeats with a rest period between them, up to two times per weak.
Try all the following workouts or pick the one you feel most drawn to.
1. Warm up with a long but easy jog for 15 minutes on a flat surface.
2. Run up a 5% incline with long steps at top speed for 30 seconds. Bring your knees as high as you can.
3. Recover with an easy jog to the bottom of the hill.
4. Repeat 7 times for a total of 8 times.
5. Cool down with an easy run on a flat surface.
Uphill Progression Run
1. Run at an easy pace for 30 minutes or more. After long runs of at least 60 minutes, you will get the most benefits, but 30 minutes is a good start.
2. Run uphill for 10 to 15 minutes with moderate to strenuous effort.
3. Cool down with an easy run.
1. Warm up with a 15–30-minute easy run.
2. Run uphill at an easy pace for 1 minute.
3. Rest standing for 30 seconds.
4. Run downhill on a gentle incline, ideally 2–3%, as fast as you can, controlling your pace.
5. Repeat running uphill, recovering, and downhill running 3 to 6 times.
6. Cool down with 15–30 minutes of easy jogging.
1. Start with an easy run that warms you up.
2. Run an uphill sprint hard for 8 seconds.
3. Recover with up to 2 minutes of walking. Keep moving during the recovery period.
4. Repeat the sprint and recovery up to 9 more times, for a total of 10 times.
5. Cool down with a light run.
Short Hill Reps
1. Warm up with an easy run.
2. Run uphill for 60 seconds at your 2-mile pace on a 5–8% incline.
3. Recover with a jog down to the starting point.
4. Repeat 9 more times, for a total of 10 repeats.
5. Cool down with a light jog.
Tip: This is one of the most flexible hill workouts. You can change the pace, duration, and reps according to your aims. For example, if you run uphill at your 5k pace, you can reduce the duration to 90 seconds and the reps to 8.
Long Hill Repeats
1. Warm up your body with an easy jog.
2. Run uphill for 4 minutes at your 10k pace on a 4–5% incline.
3. Recover with a slow jog to the bottom of the hill.
4. Repeat the uphill run and jog 3 more times for a total of 4 times.
5. Cool down with a light, comfortable run.
Note: You can reduce the duration and increase the reps for this one. For example, for 3 minutes of running, you can do 5 repeats instead of four.
What if You Don’t Have Hills?
Not living in a hilly area isn’t an excuse to skip hill running. Hill workouts are some of the most powerful exercises you can do. You can use a treadmill instead.
You won’t be able to do the downhill running workout or take advantage of the benefits of running downhill. On the plus side, you get to fine-tune the incline of the run.
Here’s an effective treadmill hill running workout you can try.
1. Warm up with a 2-minute walk.
2. Run at an easy pace for 5 minutes.
3. Run hard for 90 seconds at a 5% incline. You shouldn’t be able to talk while running.
4. Jog lightly for 3 minutes at a flat incline.
5. Repeat the run and recovery jog 7 more times for a total of 8 times.
6. Jog at an easy pace for 5 minutes.
7. Walk for 2 minutes to cool down.
To sum it all up, here are some key things to remember.
- Regular hill workouts will make you a stronger runner, build your endurance, and help you achieve a faster cadence.
- Always warm up and cool down when doing any kind of hill workouts, including downhill running.
- Hill running is a great way to improve your running form, so only do as many repeats as you can to maintain proper form.
- You can train hard when you run hills and reduce the risk of injury as it’s easier on your joints than sprinting on flat ground.
- If you’re new to hill running, gradually increase the duration, reps, and frequency of your workouts from one week to the next.
- Pay attention to the incline since each type of hill workout has specific requirements.
Ultimately, to get the most out of hill running, you want to do it regularly but not so often that it exhausts you. For best results, follow a personalized running plan that includes hill workouts.