Hill Running Training

Hill running training is a highly specific form of strength/resistance training for runners. In fact you would be hard pushed to find a more specific, and more effective, form of resistance training for running.

Benefits of Hill Running

It has many benefits for the endurance runner including improvements in running cadence and stride length, muscle strength and power, neuromuscular co-ordination, running economy, fatigue resistance, muscular endurance, speed, aerobic and anaerobic power and protects leg muscle-fibres against damage and delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). The following articles detail information on a number of different approaches to hill running training. These are all approaches that I employ during my own training. In fact I’ve always used hill training in the build up to key races and throughout my training blocks.

Types of Hill Running Workouts

Hill Running Training Articles

Hill Sprints Running

Hill Sprints

Hill sprints are great for improving top end running speed, power and strength. Hill sprint training also leads to improvements in stride length, running cadence, neuromuscular coordination and efficiency. And may help to reduce injury risk.

Short Hill Intervals Running

Short Hill Intervals

Short hill intervals are great for developing muscular strength, power, running efficiency, stride length, cadence, anaerobic and aerobic endurance. Including short hill intervals will improve your running technique, running speed and race performance.

Long Hill VO2max Running Intervals

Long Hill Running Intervals

Long hill intervals are similar in duration and intensity to standard intervals like 600, 800 or 1000m intervals. By working against gravity we increase the amount of force per foot strike. This leads to improvements in muscular strength and endurance.

Tempo Hill Interval Training

Tempo Hill Intervals

Tempo hill intervals are a variation of short hills where you run the downhills at a more steady pace. You get all the same benefits associated with traditional short hill repeats. However, tempo hills place greater emphasis on muscular endurance, fatigue resistance, and work both aerobic and anaerobic metabolism.

Downhill Running Training

Downhill Running Training

As runners we often neglect key training areas like downhill running. However, downhill running has a number of key training benefits. These include improved downhill running technique, protection against muscle soreness and injuries, preserves running efficiency during undulating races and improves top end speed.

Incline Treadmill Hill Workouts

Incline Treadmill Running

Incline treadmill running can be an effective way to incorporate hill running training. It allows you to gain the benefits of uphill running whilst eliminating the need for downhill running. Completing hills on treadmill also allows you to set the exact speed and gradient giving you a greater level of control than outdoor running.

Running on undulating terrain

Running on Undulating Terrain

Including running on hilly/undulating terrain is a good way to improve the strength of muscles and tendons, running efficiency, and ensure you work all the major running muscles more evenly. Running on undulating terrain also ensures that muscles contract using both concentric and eccentric contractions.

Hill Running Training Benefits

One of the key benefits associated with hill running is a significantly greater level of muscle fibre activation and recruitment in a number of key muscle groups (Sloniger et al., 1997). In particular uphill running causes a greater level of activation in the vastus group (quadriceps), gastrocnemius (calf), soleus (lower calf), and gluteus maximus (buttocks). In contrast to running on flat terrain there is reduced activation of the hamstring group of muscles (Swanson and Caldwell, 2000; Sloniger et al., 1997).

In this way including regular hill training is a highly specific form of resistance training that leads to increased activation of key muscles used when running. As such hill training leads to improvements in muscle strength, power and neuro-muscular co-ordination. And since these are all linked to improved running efficiency, you can expect to see improvements in running economy – essentially making you a more efficient runner. In fact research has confirmed that running efficiency is improved through regular hill training.

Another key benefit of Hill training is improvements to both aerobic and anaerobic power. This is not surprising since any improvement in strength, power and neuromuscular coordination should improve our ability to generate force both aerobically and anaerobically. As well as improving strength hill training, especially intervals of 30seconds or longer, work the key energy systems used when running – the aerobic systems and anaerobic “lactate” energy systems. In particular hill training places a much greater emphasis on anaerobic energy metabolism than is the case when running across flat terrain. As an added bonus this also leads to significant improvements in aerobic metabolism.

Hill Training is a highly specific form of strength training for runners

Hill training is a particularly good type of strength training for endurance runners since it is sport specific – sport specific refers to when you are working muscles in a way that is similar to their use during a particular sport (therefore hill training is a very running specific type of strength training). By increasing muscular strength, hill training also improves: running economy – this reduces the energy cost of running at any sub-maximal speed; leads to improvements in the lactate threshold speed, and; increases the fatigue resistance of muscles. In particular hill training is one of the best ways to develop hip flexor strength which can lead to increases in stride length, stride rate and improve stability in the hip and pelvic region, all of which can help to improve running economy.

Downhill running and delayed onset muscle sorenesss (DOMS)

Downhill running is often integrated into running training as a means of overspeed training (training at speeds that are faster than could be run on a level slope) or to help protect the leg muscles from the negative effects of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).

Intense, or prolonged, periods of downhill running are known to lead to significantly increased levels of DOMS. The increased levels of DOMS following downhill running is due to the increased amounts of eccentric muscle contraction (where a muscle exerts force whilst it is still lengthening) that occur during downhill running – Intense or prolonged amounts of eccentric contractions are known to lead to increased levels of muscle soreness. Research has shown that DOMS can negatively effect strength, stride length, running economy and aerobic metabolism for up to 3 days after a period of down hill running (Chen et al., 2007; Braun and Dutto, 2007). However, the negative effects of DOMS can be reduced by regularly including downhill running into your running training plan. Research has clearly shown that the negative effects associated with downhill running – strength loss and DOMS – can be reduced through either eccentric exercise or downhill running (Marqueste et al., 2008; Malm et al., 2004; Eston et al., 1996;)

Combining downhill and uphill running for even greater benefits

Most runners concentrate solely on running up hill intervals with very slow down hill recoveries, however research suggests that the combination of up hill and down hill intervals may be particuarly effective at improving the maximum running speed (Paradisis et al., 2009; Paradisis and Cooke, 2006). Although these studies were investigating the benefits of up hill and downhill running on sprint running performance they found that combined uphill-downhill running was more effective than horizontal sprint training for the development of maximum running speed and the motion characteristics of sprint running. This is important since improvements in maximum running speed gives athletes the potential to run at faster sub-maximal running speeds. Recently researchers have found that horizontal intervals appear to be more effective than up-hill intervals for improving run time to exhaustion at VO2max (Ferley et al., 2012) and therefore a combined uphill downhill interval may provide additional benefits beyond standard hill intervals.

A simple way to integrate uphill and downhill intervals into the same session is hill tempo training which is similar to short hill repeats however you maintain a steady pace on the down hill phase rather than the usual easy pace jog recovery.

Hill Running Workouts:

  1. Running across hilly terrain – as the name suggests this simply involves continuous running across hilly terrain.
  2. Short hill intervals – this is the most popular type of hill interval and normally involves 10-16 intervals of 150-300m intervals run up a moderate slope
  3. Long hill intervals – this typically involves running 4-8 intervals of 400 – 1600m duration up a moderate slope
  4. Tempo hill training – this variation involves running 20-30minutes of continuous hill reps, up a moderate slope. Uphill efforts are run above lactate threshold intensity, whilst downhill recoveries are run at a steady pace that is only slightly slower than the uphill.
  5. Treadmill Hill Running – involves running hill intervals on a treadmill.

Hill Training Summary

  • Hill training is a highly specific form of resistance training for runners
  • There are a number of benefits to hill training including increased muscle strength, power and power, stride frequency and length, neuromuscular co-ordination, running economy, fatigue resistance, muscular endurance, aerobic and anaerobic power and helps to protect leg muscle-fibres against damage and DOMS
  • Hill intervals increase muscle fibre activation and recruitment of muscle fibres in key leg muscles.
  • The muscles that show the greatest increase in activation during uphill running include the quadriceps, calf, and glutes, with reduced activation of the hamstring group of muscles
  • Hill training is particularly effective at developing hip flexor strength which may improve stride length, stride rate and stability in the hip and pelvic region.
  • Downhill running can have short term negative effects including DOMS, reduced strength and running economy. These negative effects last for up to 3 days and then return to normal levels. Integrating downhill running into training can help to protect against DOMS and strength losses following subsequent downhill running.
  • Combining downhill and uphill running appears to be effective for improving maximum running speed.
Hill Running Training References:

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