A Few Thoughts about Hill Training 
Many excellent running programs incorporate hill training.  Hill training promotes the development of lower leg and quad strength; a good hill training session combines the benefits of weight training with the aerobic and anaerobic conditioning of running.  In addition, hill training strengthens you mentally; completing these tough workouts will help you deal with the physical discomfort of racing. 

While there are a number of different types of hill training, here are three of the most common types of hill workouts: 

  • Speed and Power Hills - short, fast runs up steep hills with ample recovery between reps to promote explosive speed
  • Downhill Sprinting or Strides - short, very fast runs down a gently sloping hill to promote quick leg turnover
  • Stamina Hills - longer, "crisp" paced runs over moderately steep hills to promote endurance and strength
STAMINA HILLS are generally the most useful workout for most distance runners.  The remainder of this article will focus mostly on STAMINA HILLS. 
Rectangular Hills 
The problem with the way many people do STAMINA HILLS is that  too much  recovery is taken between reps.  If you run up a  hill hard and jog down it, then you are going to be doing a 1:1 work/rest ratio at best (and probably more like 1:1.25 or 1.5.)  This is too much rest.  A better way to do hills to build stamina is to have about a 1:0.5 work/rest ratio. 

So how do you do this short work/rest thing. (Get driven down the hill?  This doesn't work well - we actually did this in high school!!!)  Nope, the key is running RECTANGULAR HILLS.  How is this done? 

  • Find a hill that will take you about a 1 to 2 minutes to climb. 
  • Run hard for 30 seconds in a direction 90 degrees from the up hill, then turn right   and run up the hill, then turn right and run 30 seconds at the top of the hill. 
  • Now jog down the hill back to the start.  This should result in about a 2 to 3 minute hill rep with about a 90 second recovery between reps. 

If you can't find a 1 to 2 minute up hill, then there's nothing wrong with making yourself a  2 to 3 minute hill circuit course with 2 or even 3 shorter hills in it.  Again, if you do this, limit the recovery jog to about 60 to 90 seconds. 

A RECTANGULAR HILLS workout should take you between 35 and 65 minutes to complete. For example, you could start by warming up with 10 minutes of jogging, then run 15 minutes of hill reps (i.e. 5 x 3 minute hill reps), and finish with 10 minutes of jogging.  By adding 5 minutes to the hill reps part of the workout per week, you could be at 65 minutes for the workout in 7 weeks (i.e. 10 minutes warm up, 45 minutes of hills, 10 minutes of cool down.) 

Hill Training FAQ 
Here are answers to a few frequently asked questions about hill training: 

WHEN SHOULD I HILL TRAIN?  Hill training can be incorporated into a number of different training programs: 

  • Marathon Training - From Week 12 to Week 7 in a 16-week marathon program
  • Cross Country - During the entire cross country running season with the exception of the last two or three weeks.
  • Track or Road Racing - For 6 to 12 weeks in the late base or pre-competition phase of training
WHEN SHOULD I AVOID HILL TRAINING?   Hill training should be avoided: 
  • Very early in the training cycle - You need to build up some basic endurance and strength before starting hill training.
  • Very late in the training cycle - Hill training can take the "snap" out of your legs for a few days, exactly what you don't need when you're peaking for an important race.
  • When you are injured - Hill running (especially down hill running) is very stressful on the legs.
HOW OFTEN SHOULD I HILL TRAIN?  As a general rule, hill training is done once per week - done properly, these sessions are very demanding.  One exception might be with cross country training where you might add a second weekly hill training session.  However, this second session should focus on speed and power hills (i.e. run quickly up a steep hill of about 10-20 seconds, walk down slowly for nearly full recovery, repeat 10 to 15 times.) 

HOW LONG AND STEEP DOES THE HILL NEED TO BE?  Obviously the geography of where you live and train will dictate the type of hill you can train on; you've got to work with what you've got.  The ideal hill for a strength and stamina hill workout should take you about 90 seconds to climb.  The grade should be steep enough that you "feel the burn" in your legs over the last half or quarter of the hill repeat, yet not so steep that your normal running form is significantly compromised.  A grass or soft dirt surface is preferable for running up (and especially down) hills. 

WHAT ABOUT INCORPORATING HILLS INTO MY EVERYDAY RUNS?   There is nothing wrong with running  up and down hills as part of your everyday runs.  In fact, if you plan to race over hilly courses, you need to practice running over hilly terrain at least two or three times per week.  However, like almost anything else, you can overdo it.  You should avoid hilly terrain on your recovery runs.  Also, more than three days in a row on a hilly course is more than most runners can handle. 

WHAT MODIFICATIONS TO MY RUNNING FORM TO I NEED TO MAKE?  Climbing hills requires a slightly modified running technique.  This involves shortening your normal stride, dropping your shoulders to ensure a lower arm carriage, and leaning slightly forward into the hill.  You should aim for a strong, steady and consistent pace throughout the hill rep. 

Running downhill also requires some modifications.  Again, shortening the stride and leaning slightly forward is helpful.  For steep down hills, thinking about leaping from one foot to the other can be an effective way to quickly negotiate the hill. 

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