Run Hill Training

“Hills are speedwork in disguise” -Frank Shorter

I often hear the question “should I sign up for that race, it is really hilly”. Or, “since my A event is not hilly, do you think I should run hills in training?”

Many runners avoid regular hill training or racing hilly courses because, well, it’s hard. Depending on the grade of the hill, lactic acid builds quickly, our heart rate shoots up, several muscles fire all at once, and we tire quickly. Fortunately, you can become proficient at ascending and descending hills by adding a specific workout to your training plan.


Hill workouts are hard. They challenge mind, endurance, strength and speed. They can be unpleasant in events if you are not prepared. Every runner can benefit from hill workouts Hills will increase the intensity of your workout. When you increase the intensity of your workouts you expend more calories / unit of time.

Benefits of hill training

  • Running uphill stresses your body that you can’t mimic on flats.
  • Hills will increase the intensity of your workout. When you increase the intensity of your workouts you expend more calories/unit of time.
  • Hills will strengthen your legs (especially your quads, butt, and calves). Strength precedes speed, so hills incorporated into a progressive training program will lead to more efficient and faster running
  • Hills will strengthen your lungs and heart
  • Hills Provide some variety to a traditional routine
  • Less impact, easier on joints and connective tissues.
  • Hills force you to run with proper form providing a more efficient running stride, driving knee forward while running up and butt kick while descending
  • Running up steep grades build power much safer than running fast on flat terrain
  • Provide specificity with strength work (I encourage you to also develop strength and injury prevention with specific core stability and hip mobility movements)

Training sessions include hill repetitions, both short and long, as well as running over a hilly course on the road or trail. They are so versatile and should to be used during all phases on the training plan (early base and competition)

Types of hill workouts

  • Hills sprints are effective during all training phases. Short reps of 30-90 seconds are great for neuromuscular training done at the beginner phases of training. Or in the middle stages as a precursor to longer hills or incorporate in middle or late season when you are focused on power. Completed at 3k -10k race intensity with a rest interval of jog downhill for recovery.
  • Longer reps of 2-4 minutes in the early and middle phases of the training phase, develop strength and aerobic fitness can be as a precursor to longer hills. These reps used at a type of tempo workout, done at 85-95% effort, recovery easy descent
  • Longer 5 + minute hills done as repeats or over a challenging hilly course and used at the beginning phases of your plan to develop strength and endurance or in the later phases of training is you are preparing for a hilly event at race pace intensity
  • Hill circuits involve a shorter recovery jog and are more aerobically demanding. Used on the later phases of training and simulatulate cruise intervals done at the track.  For example 8X 2 minutes uphill at 5-10k pace, with rest interval done at half or full marathon, so not complete recovery
  • Hill strides/drills. Done at the end of your workout. 8-10 seconds long, done at max effort on a steep hill with full recovery.  Benefits include vast recruitment of muscle fibers, increase stride power, running economy and strengthens connective tissues that help with injury prevention.

Tips while running uphill

  • Start with a warm-up to gradually get your legs loose and heart rate elevated (10-20 minutes)
  • If you are new to hill training, progress gradually. It can be quite challenging on your body when you’re not used to it, don’t worry about pace
  • When running uphill, shorten your stride and pump your arms more to help you attack the hill
  • Mix up the grade and length of each hill you run on for maximum results with fitness, strength and speed.
  • Always Finish any hill workout with easy jog or spin to flush the legs and cool-down.
  • Stretching – focus on the calves, quads, hamstrings, glutes and lowback.

Every runner with the proper base fitness will benefit from running hills. Including hills all year into your training plan by varying pace, length of hills and number of reps changes the dynamic of the workout. Whether you’re building strength or going for a personal best, hill training will complete a well-rounded training regime and help you to become a more complete athlete.

What is your favorite type of hill workout?

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