How to use hill interval training to improve 5km running performance

Looking to improve your 5km running speed? Including regular hill running, as part of a structured training program, is a great way to improve your 5km running speed.

Hill running is a highly specific form of strength training for runners, leading to improvements in muscle strength, power, efficiency and running speed.

But what type of hill running is best? Should you run long hill intervals, short hill repeats, or hill sprints? And what speed or intensity works best?

What’s the best hill workout for 5km running speed?

Researchers attempted to answer some of these questions by looking at the effects of 5 different hill running intervals, on 5km running performance, in a group of well trained runners (Barnes et al., 2013).

About the hill running research

Researchers looked to compare the effects of 5 different hill running workouts on 5km running performance. To do this the runners were randomly assigned to one of 5 groups. With each group completing intervals of a different length and intensity, ranging from short intense efforts (similar to hill sprints), to longer threshold intensity hills.

Before commencing training, the runners completed a series of tests including a 5km time trial, an incremental running test, and jumps on a force plate.

Each group then completed 6 weeks of hill training, consisting of 2 weekly interval hill running workouts.

After completing the training period, the runners completed the same series of tests, to assess the performance benefits of the different hill running sessions.

Hill running and 5km running performance

The most interesting finding from the research was; there didn’t appear to be an optimum hill running intensity for improving 5km time trial performance.

In fact the improvements were surprisingly similar across all 5 hill training intensities (~2% improvement).

Other findings from the research:

The researchers concluded that 5km running performance will benefit from any form of high intensity hill training.

Practical implications for hill run training

Clearly, the main finding from the research is, any form of high intensity hill running can make you a faster 5km runner. And most likely faster over other running distances as well.

However, the reason why each hill workout improved 5km running speed appears to be different.

Firstly, short intense hills – like hill sprints and short hill repeats – appear to be best for improving running efficiency, max velocity and running cadence.

In contrast, slightly longer hills (~2-5minutes) run at close to VO2max intensity, appear to be better at improving measures of aerobic fitness (VO2max, velocity at VO2max and lactate threshold).

Neither of these findings should be surprising when we consider the importance of specificity of training.

With this in mind, it makes sense to use a range of running speeds/intensities when completing hill workouts – especially in view of the different benefits observed using short fast hills (improved running efficiency, speed, cadence) and longer aerobic hills (improved aerobic fitness).

Putting this into practice:

The best approach is to include different hill workouts within your running training. Below are links to some different types of hill running workouts that you can use in your training:

View all the hill running training articles.

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]

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