Hill Training: Easier Way To Get The Benefits

Hill Training Running Alive

Hill training is often the nemesis of the runner. We can make great gains from it, but it is often hurts. It doesn’t have to be so difficult. In fact you can get many of the benefits of hill training by backing down the speed a bit and changing your focus.

 

Benefits Of Hill Training

Hill training provides so many benefits to your running. The obvious ones are:

  • increase in strength
  • increase in power
  • improved¬†performance on hills

They are the no-brainers. Yet there is so much more, and it doesn’t just translate to the hills.

  • increased range of motion
  • improved foot landing in relation to centre of mass
  • improved toe off
  • increased strengthening and activation of posterior chain
  • improved running economy
  • increased mental focus
  • improved injury resistance

 

Speed Training Versus Hill Training

Training flat doesn’t improve hills.

Training hills improves your flats.

 

It’s a general guideline. Of course we can find exceptions to it, but it seems to apply well. There are plenty of runners who are exceptionally fast on the flats, but fall apart as soon as the gradient goes up.

 

Running fast on the flats provides many benefits. Some people have an injury history where flat intervals put them at risk. Substituting hill repeats can often reduce the chance of injury, but give many of the gains for these runners.

 

Hill Training Running Alive

Risks Of Hill Training

Of course hill training isn’t without it’s risks. Like anything in running, doing too much too soon is likely to cause problems. There are ways around this. Every runner is different. We all have different biomechanics, experience and injury history. There are however, some common risks that affect many runners.

 

Launching into near maximal efforts without a period of building up is likely to cause problems. Watch for tightness around the ankle and over the front (dorsum) of the foot. They are warning signs. Heed them.

 

Beware the descents. The impact when running downhill is higher, but that isn’t the only issue. Most of the impact is under eccentric load. This is when the muscle lengthens as it is applying force. More damage occurs with this type of loading. You can get great benefit, especially in fatigue resistance from down hill running. The risks are higher pushing down the slopes.

 

Find The Feeling

Hill training doesn’t have to be at your absolute limit. You will probably gain more benefits to keep the intensity under control. Running hill repeats right on your maximum is likely to limit your gains in the early stages of development. There is a time and place for maximal effort hill sprints, but there is more benefit in chasing form than intensity.

 

Practice makes permanent. So you want to be practising great form.

 

Use the following cues for good form:

  • run tall
  • drive down with your glutes and hamstrings
  • push your ankle and spring off your toes
  • aim for a feeling of snap and spring on toe off

 

The body likes to take the easy way out in the moment. If you haven’t convinced it that great technique is the best option, it will find ways to cut corners. It will cut your stride short, reduce your drive through your toe off, drop your hips and take out the hamstrings. None of this helps you go faster.

 

Make technique the most important element. Back off the volume and speed to ensure good form. Do not exceed your abilities to maintain form. You will make bigger gains in the long term with this approach. Your body will tell you when it can handle more.

 

Your Body Will Tell You

If you begin with just a few repetitions focussing on great technique your body will adapt. A little bit goes a long way. At first it often feels awkward. Keep chasing find a smooth, snap and spring in your up hill running. After a few sessions it will feel easier. You will probably be a little bit faster too. Take notice of this. Next time add a little bit more. Your body is ready.

 

When you add more pay attention to how you feel in added distance. If you lose the feeling of great form, then stay at that level. Anybody can write you should do 8 x 200m repeats in advance. It is hard to know how the body will behave for those repetitions. You might struggle with form and stop at 7. On the other hand you might be in the flow, with it feeling relatively easy. Maybe it is worth extending out to 10 repetitions.

 

If you pay attention hill training will highlight your form. Both good and bad. It gets easier to hold your technique over time. If you avoid just chasing the grind, you will find a flow that lets your body progress better. It can feel like you’re not doing enough at the beginning, but trust in your body. When it’s ready it is easier to progress.

 

 

How To Do It

There are many different ways to train hills. This approach will reap many benefits. The process will suit many looking to introduce hill training or coming back from an injury or lay off. It will certainly add to your performance if you are not regularly including hill work.

 

The Setup

Include a session weekly or every 4 to 8 days (depending on how you structure your training). Find a moderate hill. Nothing crazy steep. No bending over, hands on knees should be needed. It doesn’t have to be extra long either. Anything that takes somewhere between 40 seconds to 2 minutes to run up.

 

Perform your preferred style of warm up and get into your first up hill repeat.

 

The Repeat

Run up at a pace where you can maintain the technique given above:

  • run tall
  • drive down with your glutes and hamstrings
  • push your ankle and spring off your toes
  • aim for a feeling of snap and spring on toe off

This is a not a sprint. The effort should be solid. You need to be working, but the most important element is getting the technique right. You need to be able to maintain your form through the whole repeat. This will also exercise your ability to focus.

 

Once at the top. Turn around and very gently walk/jog back down to the bottom. Do it all over again.

 

And Again

How many times?

 

That depends on a lot of factors. If just introducing hills definitely err on the side of extreme caution. If at any point you find you have significant  difficulty maintaining form or your speed drops, then it is time to stop. That might only be 2 repeats. The idea is to practice great form. You will make great gains from doing this, but it is likely to feel slow going in the first couple of sessions.

 

After you have performed a couple of these sessions. You can look at progressing things. Add one or two repeats as along as you can hold your form. Mix up the hills you use. Go longer, shorter, steeper, milder. Variety will be good. Don’t look to force your speed. Over time your speed will come naturally as your body adapts. Better yet, this speed will be a result of efficiency and should naturally incorporate a good level of relaxation. Your speed will naturally go up.

 

It is not just what you do, but how you do it.

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