Uphill interval training improves 5km running performance

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If like me you’re serious about run training then it’s likely that you include regular hill training as part of your training routine. Hill training is a highly specific way to strengthen the muscles used during running, in fact it is probably the most running specific strength workout you can do. Whilst it is clear that hill running has many benefits for runners there has always been a debate as to what is the best type of hill training (long hills vs short hills, 10k pace vs 5k pace hill reps etc). Recent research has looked to shed some light on the effects of different hill running intervals on 5km run performance in a group of well trained runners (Barnes et al., 2013).

Prior to hill training the runners undertook a series of tests including a 5km time trial, an incremental running test, and jumps on a force plate. The researchers then randomly assigned the runners to one of 5 groups – each group completed interval hill running at different intensities over a six week period. After the completion of the training period the runners completed the same series of tests to assess the performance benefits of the different hill running sessions.

Hill running intervals and 5km running performance

The most interesting finding from the research was that there didn’t appear to be an optimum hill running intensity for improving 5km time trial performance with similar improvements observed across the 5 intensities (~2% improvement). The researchers did observe that there greater improvements in running economy with high intensity hill running, whilst the mid intensity groups showed greater improvements in aerobic measures.  The researchers concluded that 5km running performance will benefit from any form of high intensity hill training.

Practical implications for hill run training

The main finding to take from the research is that any form of high intensity hill running will benefit 5km running performance and therefore also benefit other race distances. It is not clear exactly what intensities were used in the research however since they describe the hill training as high intensity hill running we can assume they were in the range of 90-100% VO2max (~10k – 3k pace) – High intensity interval training normally refers to intervals in the range of 90-100%VO2max.

Although the researchers found similar improvements in 5km running performance across a range of hill interval intensities it makes sense to train across a range of running speeds especially in view of the different benefits observed with high range hill speeds (improved running economy) and mid-range high intensity hill running (improved aerobic measures). This could be achieved by using different intensities in different hill workouts i.e. hill session 1 = longer hill intervals completed at 10mile-10k race pace, hill session 2 = shorter hills at 10k-5k pace. For more information on hill running you can view the following pages: 1) Hill running training; 2) Short hill intervals; 3) Long hill intervals; 4) Tempo hill intervals.

Hill Running Interval Training Reference:

Barnes KR, Hopkins WG, McGuigan MR, Kilding AE. (2013) Effects of Different Uphill Interval-Training Programs on Running Economy and Performance. Int J Sports Physiol Perform. 2013 Mar 26. [Epub ahead of print]