Two approaches to hill workouts

Hill workouts are generally regarded as an effective and safe way to introduce the body to more high-intensity work.  But it can also be a great way to build strength and reduce injuries.  Because of this, everyone from beginners to elite runners can benefit by incorporating hill workouts into their training.


Let’s look at two different types of hill workouts that you can include in your training and the benefits of each:


Hill Sprints:


One way to add hill workouts to your training is to build power and explosiveness.  You may think that training for power wouldn’t have much benefit in distance running.  But a 1999 study by Paavolainen et al showed that explosive-strength training improved running economy and increased performance in a 5k, even for highly-trained athletes.


Brad Hudson popularized Renota Canova’s idea of using 8 second hill sprints to build power with his marathoners, but they can benefit anyone looking for improved running economy.


Begin with a simple set of 4×8 sec hill sprints on a moderately steep hill.  Walk back down for your recovery.  It’s important that you go hard on the uphill and take a lot of rest on the walk. You should be able to get just as far on your last rep as you do on your first.


As you feel comfortable with this, add one or two reps a week until you get up to 10 total.  After that, you can transition to regular speed work, or keep these sessions up once a week after an easy run for maintenance.


Hill Repeats:


This is probably what you think of when you think of a hill workout — repeats of a set time or distance with a jog back recovery.  I love hill repeats as a transitional, early-season workout — they help build strength and they help the legs adapt to faster running before true speed work begins.


A favorite workout of mine is to do a set of 6-10 hill repeats for a set amount of time (1 min, 2 min, or even more depending on where you are with your training).  Each rep, you mark where you finish and in order to keep going in the workout you have to run farther than you did the previous rep.  If you don’t, the workout ends!


This helps to teach you to run hard when you’re tired and also adds a little fun to an otherwise tough workout!