Hill Training: is it really necessary? | The Sisterhood of the Shrinking Jeans LLC


I think one of my favorite race signs came during a particularly nasty hill.  The sign read, “It’s just a hill, get over it!”  I’ve also seen this on a shirt and I’m pretty sure I need it.

I won’t lie – I’m not a huge fan of hilly runs.  I live in an area that’s mostly flat but I can find some gentle rollers if I want.  I’ve run a few races that were exceptionally hilly and having not trained for hills – you can imaging how the races went.  OUCH!

So, hill training: is it really necessary? YOU BET IT IS!

Many runners thing they only need to incorporate hill training into their workouts if their goal race is a hilly one.  This is most certainly not the case.  One of our Shrinking Jeans readers, Andy, asked how to add hill training into workouts and why.  Today I’m going to try to answer that question.

There are a number of benefits to hill workouts:

  • Hill work is like strength work for your legs. Running uphill forces you to lift your leg higher with each stride resulting in increased power.  This will then turn into increased muscle fibers and stronger legs.
  • Hill training can improve your endurance.
  • Running on hills teaches you to run on tired legs – a very important skill for the end of a hard race.
  • Short hill repeats can teach you to recover more quickly.

How can you add hill training into your plan?  Just like other quality runs (tempos, farklets, etc) there are a number of ways to make them happen. (Note – before adding hill work into your plan, you should be able to comfortable run 3-5 miles.)  Most of my training plans alternate tempo runs with hill runs (one week is tempo, the next is hills), but if you are already running 4-5 days a week, you can probably do a tempo and hill run in the same week, just listen to your body to stay healthy and uninjured.  Here are a few ideas:

  • Warm up with a 1-2 mile Find a steep hill that’s about 1/2 a mile long.  Run up the hill as fast as you can, then jog or walk back down, turn right around and go again.  Do this 4 times then run the flat route you took to get there back home as a cooldown.
  • Find a hilly long run to work on endurance – a great plan if your race is going to be hilly.
  • If you are truly a flatlander, hill training can also occur on the treadmill.  Start with an easy 10 minute warmup then do intervals.  Increase the incline to 3% for 2-3 minutes at a sprinting pace (whatever that is for you), then back to zero for an easy 2-3 minute recovery.  Repeat this several times and finish with a cooldown.  If you are on Pinterest, there are literally hundreds of treadmill workouts to choose from, just adapt them to your paces (most are crazy fast, IMO, but if you can run 7-8 mph at an incline of 4, by all means go for it!).

Like the shirt and sign said – It’s just a hill, get over it.  Adding hill training to your workouts once a week or once every other week can result in some nice speed and endurance at your next race.  No race? They’ll just blast a boat load of calories.

Do you have a favorite hilly route to run?

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