4 Powerful Hill Workouts That Provide Major Benefits

Sports & Activity

Develop muscle tone and become a stronger runner with these hill sprints.

Last updated: May 13, 2022
5 min read
3 Major Benefits of Hill Workouts

Hill workouts — or running up and down hills — develop muscle tone and improve running economy. Plus, they’re a great way to switch up your training and get results. While running on a flat surface is more reflective of a race scenario, running at an incline is a great way to train and boost your pace. A hill run can help you improve your cardiovascular fitness and endurance, whether you’re a beginner, sprinter, or marathon runner, and achieve a new personal record.

What Are Hill Workouts?

Hill sessions are running workouts performed at an incline. These are typically performed on a steep hill outside, but they can be reproduced on a treadmill by adjusting the incline for uphill and downhill. They're a type of cardio that can be performed aerobically or anaerobically depending on how fast you do them.

There are various kinds of hill workouts, here’s a quick introduction to four powerful ones.

  1. 1.Hill Repeats

    A hill repeat workout involves running up a steep hill at a moderate to fast pace. When you reach the peak, turn around and jog down at a lighter pace. An athlete should repeat three or more times, depending on the incline and personal fitness levels. Hill repeats are the most common type of hill workout you’ll find in a runner’s training regime. Many running coaches use them for improving running economy and speed.

    • Short Rep Hill Repeats: Short hill reps are done on a hill with a steep four to seven percent grade, with a sprint phase lasting up to a minute. Essentially, they’re done on shorter hills and have a higher intensity. Shorter sprint time means your heart rate is high, and you’re working anaerobically near your heart rate max. As a result, you build upon your speed and power. These sprint workouts can be used in a strength training running program to enhance running power and build muscle simultaneously.

    • Long Rep Hill Repeats: Long rep hill repeats are done on longer hills, with a slower pace in the aerobic heart rate zone. A long rep hill repeat should take up to four minutes. While these might be less intense because of the pace, they can be mentally challenging. As a result, you’ll improve your aerobic capacity and build stamina and endurance that will transfer into performance.
  2. 2.Hill Climb

    A hill climb is a combination of a hill run and a climb. It is performed on extended hills that have a four to 10 percent incline and take longer to run —10 minutes or more. These workouts are not practiced at sprint speed but instead, a runner maintains a moderate pace. Commonly, hill climb runs are done on trails that have a steady ascent.

    Hill climbs improve fatigue resistance, which translates into long-distance running performance. They are key components of any half marathon or marathon training program. By sustaining a moderate pace over a continued incline, runners are forced to adapt. They build muscle and improve running mechanics and endurance more so than running on a flat surface. This equates to better race times.

  3. 3.Downhill Runs

    Incorporating some downhill runs can build leg muscle and improve knee stabilization. Running downhill may seem easy but it requires effective muscle activation and stabilization to resist the force of gravity and prevent falling. Jog lightly uphill, before sprinting down. Because gravity will be pulling you down, you’ll adopt a higher stride rate. This decreases the distance between steps, preventing overstriding. This is linked to injury prevention and an improved running economy.

  4. 4.Hill HIIT Sprints

    If you prefer more guidance in terms of running duration, try a high-intensity interval training hill sprint session. Pick a hill with a gradient that works for your fitness level. The higher the grade, the harder it is. Set a timer that alerts you every 20 to 45 seconds. Each time the timer goes off, switch between sprinting at full power to active recovery. This might be walking or doing an easy jog. The short, timed work and rest periods are highly effective in improving your cardiovascular fitness.

What Are the Benefits of Hill Workouts?

  1. 1.Performance Improvements

    A study published in the International Journal of Scientific and Research Publications split a group of runners into two groups. The first group practiced only endurance training for 12 weeks, while the other group combined endurance training with two hill repeats per week. The researchers discovered that those running hill sessions improved their VO2 max, resting heart rate, speed and race times more than the control.

  2. 2.Improved Training Efficiency

    Another study, this time conducted by South Dakota State University, examined the benefits of hill training for distance runners. The participants were split into two groups. One group was told to run fast on a treadmill at a 10 percent incline for 30 seconds. The other group was told to run at a level grade until they were fatigued, which was on average two minutes 16 seconds. This was repeated twice a week for six weeks.

    The researchers found that both groups improved their time to fatigue and oxygen consumption roughly the same. Despite the shorter duration of the first group, the results were the same. This highlights the efficiency of this training regime, particularly for runners who want results without drastically changing their routine. Simply incorporating a few hill sprints may cut your total training time down.

  3. 3.Better Running Mechanics

    Hill training helps running mechanics by encouraging a higher stride rate, proper foot strike, and better posture while running. Specifically, when you run uphill, you increase knee lift and hip mobility. When you run downhill, you improve the muscles around the knee and in the leg like the glutes and quads. This improves neuromuscular fitness, aka how well your brain coordinates muscle and joint movements.

    In terms of your foot strike and posture, running uphill promotes a forefoot strike. Running downhill encourages a heel strike. Similarly, running uphill encourages a forward tilt, and running downhill causes a backward lean. So hill running can be used intentionally to adjust striking and posture tendencies that may be impacting your running economy.

Originally published: January 14, 2022

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