Hill workouts are one of the most versatile workout that a distance runner can complete.
They can be run during the base phase of training or just a few days before the final race of a season. They can build endurance, top-end speed, or improve VO2 Max.
Just look at all the benefits:
- Hills promote more economical form
- Uphill repetitions are easier on your joints and connective tissues than similar efforts on flat terrain
- Running hard up steep grades builds more power than running on flat ground
- Hills are “specific strength work” for runners, using gravity to increase strength
In other words, hill workouts improve many aspects of your running so that you ultimately become a better runner. You’ll have more power, resilience to injury, speed, and endurance.
What’s not to love?
Let’s go over three valuable types of hill workouts so you can plug these directly into your training and start seeing improvement.
Long Hill Reps
This workout has you run hill repetitions of 2–4 minutes with a jog back to the bottom of the hill as recovery.
They’re not as intense as the next two workouts because of their duration, so this session is best used during earlier phases of training, like the base phase. They can be plugged into your training for several reasons:
- To vary a tempo workout (as long as the pace is 10-20 seconds slower per mile than tempo pace)
- If shorter repetitions were scheduled but an easier day is warranted
- To build strength in the beginning stages of a training season
A similar workout on the track might be longer reps of 1,000m—1 mile at roughly 10K race pace. Both are examples of what I call “high quality endurance”—faster efforts that support tempo pace.
The grade of the hill should not be too aggressive—about 4–5 percent is ideal. Structure this workout as 4-6 repetitions so the total time of uphill running is about 12–16 minutes.
A few examples include:
- 4 x 4min hills @ 10K pace
- 6 x 2min hills @ 10K pace (or slightly faster)
- 5 x 3min hills @ 10K pace
Short Hill Reps
This type of hill session is most similar to what many runners think of when they imagine a “hill workout.” You run uphill for 60–90 seconds with a jog back to the starting point as recovery.
Short reps are intense, just like a VO2 Max workout, so they’re best used during the middle or later phases of training when you’re more focused on speed.
The pace should be about 2 miles to 5K race pace on a hill that’s roughly a 6-8 percent grade. The grade of the hill and the speed at which you’re running make this a fantastic workout for developing power, strength, and your ability to deliver precious oxygen to your muscles.
A few examples include:
- 8 x 90sec hills @ 5K Pace
- 10 x 60sec hills @ 2-mile Pace
- 3x90sec, 3x60sec, 3x45sec that begins at 10K pace and gradually gets faster
This type of hill workout has the most flexibility, so feel free to alter the pace, duration of the repetition, and the number of reps to suit your specific needs.
Even though I don’t technically consider hill sprints a “workout,” they’re included here because of the immense benefit they provide to runners.
Hill sprints are literally sprints—meaning you run literally as fast as possible. They’re only 8-10 seconds long and unlike the previous types of hill workouts, they’re run after an easy run rather than as a stand-alone session.
Find the steepest hill you can find and run 4-8 repetitions of 8-10 seconds uphill at your top speed. The first rep can be slightly slower to help yourself warm up. The cool down is at least 90 seconds (but preferably two minutes) of walking (not running).
Because of the effort and the grade of the hill, hill sprints recruit an enormous number of muscle fibers.
This gives runners tangible benefits:
- They increase stride power (just like strength exercises)
- They improve running economy (i.e., your efficiency)
- They strengthen muscles, bones, tendons, ligaments, and other connective tissues
If you’re an injury-prone runner, gradually adding hill sprints into your training once or twice per week can result in far fewer running injuries.
Every runner—no matter their experience or ability—stands to benefit from the strength, power, and speed that’s gained from these hill workouts.
If you’re training for a hilly race, hill reps provide the specific type of workout that can help boost your performance on race day.
If you’re injury-prone, hill reps and sprints build strength and, working against gravity, reduces the impact forces on your joints and muscles.
If you’re a beginner, hill reps reinforce good form and build power—two skills that are critical as you become more advanced.
Choose the type of workout that’s most appropriate for your goals… and hit the hills!
Originally published September 2017