30 Apr

The Only Way Is Up

Terry running up that hillHills needn’t be scary and are more than worth the effort. Here we look at three hill sessions that will give your training a boost...

In terms of time involved, hill reps are perhaps the most effective training session of the lot. They provide three significant benefits; an increase of power in each stride, better running efficiency and strengthening of muscles - all three of which will allow you to train and race faster.

Running at incline engages your glutes, quads and hips and is a fantastic way to prepare your body for the rigours of endurance running. Equally, hill training can be a useful way of preventing injury - with the distance between the ground and foot shortened, hill sprints decrease the amount of stress you put on your body - particularly your knees.

Outside of the physical benefits, the psychological advantages shouldn’t be overlooked; knowing you have the power and energy to tackle a tough incline is a great confidence booster on any run. Here, we’ve picked out three sessions that you could incorporate into your regular schedule.

Explosive Sprints

The name sounds scary but you can start with just a few repeats for a phased introduction. Short, steep hills approached with around 90-95% effort and for a maximum of 30 seconds per rep. These are the perfect way to work on building up some explosive speed and really target your anaerobic threshold.

With shorter hills, it’s harder to maintain good form, so try to keep upright as much as possible, aim for a high knee lift and focus on short strides. While you will be using your upper-body a lot more here - especially at the start - you don’t want to be flailing about, so try and keep your arms and shoulders relaxed with your elbows in.

The great thing about this session is how little time it takes, even factoring in a warm-up and cool down, there’s a good chance you will be finished within half an hour.

What’s Involved

  • Warm-up of 10 minutes at a decent pace
  • 15 second sprint uphill, aiming for faster than 5k pace throughout
  • Stroll downhill and give yourself at least one minute of recovery
  • For first-timers, aim for 5 reps, then build up to 8-10 over the coming weeks
  • 10 minute cool-down

Kenyan Hills

Kenyan Hills are noteworthy as they don’t allow for a rest in between sets. Ideally taking place on a circuit that has a relatively steep incline and decline, the idea is that you speed up the hill and descend without stopping.

The downhill section here is essentially your recovery time, although you should try to maintain an even speed throughout. On top of aiding your speed and aerobic capacity, this session will also give you opportunity to practice your downhill form. If you can’t find a circuit nearby, just run up and down the same section.

What’s Involved

  • 10 minute warm-up
  • 30-60 second uphill at just less than 5k pace - ideally a hill at less than 10% gradient
  • Make your descent, either as a circuit or straight back down, sticking to an even pace
  • Repeat process with as little, or ideally, no recovery time in between
  • Aim for 6 reps to begin with and increase week by week building up to 10-12
  • 10 minute cool-down

Rolling Hills

This session involves incorporating some fairly testing inclines on a medium to hard run, preferably at the end, to simulate how your body will react to hills during a race.

Rolling hills not only build up your aerobic stamina but allow you the opportunity to practise some accurate pacing. By teaching your body to maintain an even pace, rather than bound up them and waste your energy reserves, you’ll be far more composed and more likely to hit your target time.

We found this session to be particularly effective after reaping the benefits of the previous two. This can take a bit of pre-planning to ensure you hit your designated hills at the right point, but it will really bring your training together.

What’s Involved

  • 5 minute warm-up
  • 20 minute run at tempo pace
  • First hill of around 30-45 seconds, tackled at slightly slower than tempo pace
  • Even out and return to tempo pace for 10 minutes
  • Second hill of around 30 seconds, again slower than tempo pace
  • 10 minutes of tempo
  • Final hill (30 seconds) just below tempo pace
  • Last 5 minutes, at tempo pace or higher, before cool down

Summary

Hills are inevitable: treat them as such and you will begin to love them. There’s nothing quite like seeing a climb on the horizon and having the confidence to scale it with relative ease. Watching a fellow runner struggling up a tough hill is never something you want to see, so make sure you don’t look back when you’re whizzing past them en route to hitting a new PB.