Hill training is a highly specific form of strength/resistance training that has many benefits for the endurance runner including improvements in stride frequency and 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). Research has shown that high intensity hill running leads to a greater level of muscle fibre activation and recruitment in a number of muscle groups compared with running on a level slope (Sloniger et al., 1997). In particular uphill running appears to increase a greater activation of the vastus group (quadriceps), gastrocnemius (calf), soleus (lower calf), and gluteus maximus (buttocks) and reduced activation of the hamstring group of muscles (Swanson and Caldwell, 2000; Sloniger et al., 1997). Therefore, the integration of regular hill training is a highly sport specific way to increase muscle activation and hence lead to improvements in muscle strength and neuro-muscular co-ordination. Hill training also increases both aerobic and anaerobic power – hill training places a much greater emphasis on anaerobic energy metabolism than is the case when running across flat terrain.

Types of Hill Running Workouts

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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