Long Hill Repeats: Improve VO2max and Muscular Endurance

Long Hill VO2max Running Intervals

Long hill repeats combine the training benefits of VO2 max running intervals and muscular endurance training.

They are like the longer intervals that most runners are familiar with – 600, 800 or even 1000m intervals. And run at a similar intensity — making these an excellent workout for developing aerobic fitness.

There’s just one difference… the additional resistance from gravity.

By running these up an incline, the extra resistance makes for a very specific form of strength training for runners. Helping to improve running efficiency and boosting fatigue resistance and muscular endurance.

In this article, we’ll look at:

  • The benefits of long hill repeats
  • How to include these in your training.
  • Example workouts

What are long hill repeats?

So, what are they, and why should you include these running workouts?

Long hill repeats involve running a series of high intensity efforts up a moderate gradient.

So, when does a hill become a long hill?… We can consider a hill repeat to be long when it’s goes beyond 90seconds. That said, there is no set rule to define what is a long hill.

For me, long hill repeats involve running intervals that are near 2-4minutes — sometimes longer.

Why use long hills?

While the intensity is less than short hill repeats or hill sprint workouts, these are not an easy option.

The intensity is often close to VO2 max. And when combined with the longer duration and added resistance, these make for a challenging workout.

Like other types of hill running workouts, they’re a highly specific form of strength training for runners. However, they’re more geared towards the development of aerobic fitness, muscular and strength endurance, and fatigue resistance, rather than strength and power. 

There’s also much less emphasis on anaerobic metabolism.

Long hills vs track intervals

So, why run long intervals on hills? Why not just run these intervals on flat terrain?

Ok, so in terms of intensity and the aerobic training benefit, these are very similar to track running intervals. But here’s the thing: when we run up a gradient, we increase the force per foot strike.

So, what’s the significance of this?… When we increase the force per foot strike, muscles and individual muscle fibres have to work harder. And we also increase the recruitment of muscle fibres.

This increases the strength endurance and fatigue resistance of muscles and muscle fibres.

My data, using the Stryd footpod, shows that running power is approximately 4% higher per foot strike, compared with the equivalent intensity on flat terrain.

While a 4% increase doesn’t sound significant, these intervals were just over 3minutes duration. So, that’s nearly 600 foot strikes per interval – with each at a 4% greater work rate.

So it’s the sustained increase in force per foot strike, during long hill repeats, that increases fatigue resistance and muscular endurance.

Why not just run short hill repeats?

Short hill repeats are a great option, especially when you want to place a greater emphasis on power, strength and efficiency. But each type of hill workout has a specific benefit and purpose.

With long hills, the main training benefit is muscular endurance and aerobic fitness. And in particular, they are a very specific muscular endurance workout for runners, that places a strong emphasis on aerobic fitness.

How to run long hill repeats

These normally involve running intervals lasting between 1:30 and 5:00 minutes.

As mentioned, my preference is to run these as 2-4minute intervals. And at an intensity that’s close to VO2 max intensity. However, depending on your training focus, you may choose to run these at 10k, or even lactate threshold intensity.

One important consideration is the gradient. For me, these work best when gradient is around 3-5%.

Any steeper than this and running cadence will decrease significantly. This also increases ground contact time. That said, steeper gradients increase the strength component which is useful during the early phases of training — it really comes down to your training purpose!

Another consideration is the recovery periods. These are longer with hill intervals – because of having to run right back down the hill, before re-starting each interval.

This is the reason I prefer running long hill intervals at close to VO2max intensity. The longer recoveries are just about right for that intensity.

So let’s look at some long hill interval sessions

#1 Long Hill VO2max Workouts

For these we are running the hill intervals at an intensity that is equivalent to VO2max intensity.

For most runners, this would be an intensity you could sustain during a 6-9minutes maximal effort. So, it’s similar to vVO2 max intervals. However, the running pace is slower because of the incline.

The key point here is to focus on an equivalent intensity, rather than equivalent pace.

So how do we control intensity?

Here, controlling intensity by pace is extremely difficult — especially when we would need to factor in the gradient.

Heart rate can be useful for giving us a measure of work intensity. However, these are too short for heart rate to work effectively because heart rate will tend to rise throughout the interval.

Running power can be an effective option, as it allows you to view your work rate. It also allows you to match intensity, with an equivalent flat terrain intensity/pace.

For me, I prefer to control intensity using a combination of running power, heart rate and perceived exertion.

With the downhill recoveries, aim to run these at just under half the effort of the uphill – again this is effort and not pace.

So, here are some examples I’ve used in my training.

Long VO2max hill repeats

Some examples VO2max hill repeat workouts:

  • 8-10x 90s hills*, 2min recoveries***
  • 6-8 x 2min hills*, 2:30min recoveries***
  • 5-6 x 3min hills*, 3:30min recoveries***
  • 4 x 4-5min hills**, 5-6min recoveries***

*VO2 max intensity
**Just below VO2 max intensity
***Recoveries at half the uphill

#2 10k/Threshold Intensity Hill Workouts

We can also use these to develop lactate threshold, by running at an intensity that’s between 10k and lactate threshold intensity.

We can combine these with a steady pace downhill, to increase the average intensity.

10k/Threshold Long Hill Workouts

Some examples 10k/lactate threshold intensity hills.

  • 2-3 x 10-12minutes (alternating between 2-3minutes uphill at 10k intensity, 2-3minutes downhill at marathon intensity), 3-5minutes easy running between sets.
  • Alternatively, you could run this as one continuous session. For example, 20-30minutes alternating between uphill efforts at 10k intensity and downhills at marathon intensity. Here, the length of the efforts could be anywhere from 2 to 5 minutes.

#3 Long Hill Treadmill Workouts

Another option is to run these on a treadmill.

While, treadmills are something I prefer to avoid, there are some advantages:

  • First, you have complete control over the gradient and running pace.
  • Second, you control the length of the hill — it’s not always easy to find a hill of the right length and gradient.
  • Third, you can remove the downhill recoveries. Meaning you have greater control over the intensity and duration of the recoveries. However, it’s important to remember that there are benefits to downhill running. And new research highlights the strength and power benefits of downhill running.

I’ve written an entire article on treadmill hill workouts, if you would like to look at this in greater detail.

For now, here are a few examples of how to run long hills intervals on a treadmill.

Example Treadmill Hill Workouts

  • 10-12 x 90secs @ 3k intensity* (3-4% gradient), 60seconds recovery (0% gradient)
  • 8-10 x 2minutes @ 5k intensity* (3-4% gradient), 60seconds recovery (0% gradient)
  • 6-8 x 3minutes @ 10k intensity* (3-4% gradient), 60seconds recovery (0% gradient)
  • 2-3 x 10minutes @ 10mile intensity (2-3% gradient), 3minutes recovery (0% gradient)

*For every 1% gradient increase, running speed slows by ~10-15seconds/mile — depending on body weight, running efficiency, muscle strength and aerobic fitness. So running pace should be around 30-45seconds slower per mile for a 3% gradient, and 40-60seconds slower for a 4% gradient.

However, running on a treadmill is slightly easier than outdoor running, because of the lack of wind resistance.

While the effect itself is quite small, it means that a 0% treadmill gradient is easier than running outdoors on a flat surface. For most runners, a 1% treadmill gradient is like outdoor running. With this in mind, a 4% treadmill gradient is equivalent to approximately 3% outdoors.

With this in mind, if you want match outdoor running, then add an extra 1% onto your treadmill incline.

Hopefully that’s given you a few insights into how and why to include long hill intervals.

Where next: take a look at the tempo hill intervals article — a great all round hill running workout!

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