Workouts

Hill Repeat Progression

Hill repeats are a super-effective 5K workout. Here's how to schedule them into your training.

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You know the benefits of both repetitions and hills, let’s combine them to create a super-effective 5K workout: hill repeats. Hill repeats include reps that last between 30 seconds and 2 minutes, with rest intervals (jogging and walking) that are double or triple the length, in time, of the reps.

While workouts like distance and tempo runs, VO2 max reps, and long hill runs trigger adaptations in the number and size of mitochondria in your muscle fibers (i.e., you develop bigger, more numerous mitochondria, thereby increasing aerobic energy–producing potential), intense workouts such as hill repeats turbocharge those mitochondria, significantly increasing their output of aerobic energy. If standard workouts are like outfitting your home with radiant LED security lights, then hill reps are the switch that turns those lights on.

Hill repeats also improve your ability to produce force quickly. That’s important because the prime directive each time your foot lands during a stride is to generate enough force to get back into the air. The quicker you do that, the quicker you start your next stride. Generating force is a two-step process. First, you accelerate your foot downward, creating force when your foot collides with the ground. Second, your muscles generate additional force while your foot is on the ground. Because hill repeats shorten the distance your foot travels downward (lessening collision force) and require extra overall force generation to fight gravity, they improve your ability to produce muscular force on the ground. Back on level terrain, the result is a quicker cadence (i.e., more steps per minute) and increased stride length. In other words, you get faster.

Hill repeats also stimulate other training adaptations:

  • They significantly strengthen all muscle-fiber types.
  • They rewire your nervous system to recruit all fiber types simultaneously.
  • They increase your heart’s stroke volume.

You’ll need to find a hill that’s challenging, but not so steep that you can’t maintain a good stride. You don’t run hill reps by pace. Instead, you target an effort that is slightly more intense than what you’d expect to exert during a 5K race (e.g., 1500–3K effort). Your goal is to finish all reps with a little gas left in the tank—that is, you could probably run one more rep if you had to.

After each rep, turn around and head back down the hill to your start line. Walk for the first 10–15 seconds of your recovery interval, and then jog the rest of the way down. If you reach your start line with time remaining in your recovery interval, do a short walk. For longer recovery intervals, it’s okay to stand for 15–30 seconds at the start line after your short walk.

Chart of hill repeat progressions
This is a typical progression of hill repeat workouts. Do no more than one session per week. It’s OK to skip weeks between sessions.

Remember not to turn your hill repeats into a distance run. You need a full recovery, so avoid jogging continuously from the end of one rep until the start of the next. Walk, jog, walk, stand, recover.

Hill repeats require intense effort, so one session during a training week is plenty, and no more than two to three sessions per month. The Workout Progression for Hill Repeats table maps out a typical progression of hill-repeat workouts. This progression works even if you skip a week or two between hill rep sessions.


Adapted from Fast 5K by Pete Magill, with permission of VeloPress.

Fast 5K