A few weekends ago I was out on the roads doing my long run when I came across this long hill around mile 9 of the run. What a place for a hill, right? As I was making the almost half-mile ascent and wishing I had gone in a different direction, it got me thinking about the many benefits of incorporating hills into your training and also the variety of ways in which you can do this.

A couple of weekends later, I ran a route on the roads that included a quarter mile hill at mile 1, another quarter mile hill at mile 4, a couple of 200-300m hills between miles 8 and 9, and a 1,000m hill at mile 9.5. It was a doozy!

There are many ways to incorporate hills into your training, such as the example above where you map out a route that includes a few different hills of varying distances. They don't even have to be long; most of the ones I've come across have been less than a quarter-mile long, though there are a few very memorable exceptions. So why all this talk about hills, you ask? The value of hill training is undeniable. Hill training is a very effective way of developing running strength and some of the many benefits include:

Better Form Development
Running hills requires a higher knee drive which helps strengthen your hip flexor muscles and can lead to a better stride. It also forces you to use your arms more, encouraging you to develop better arm carriage and a higher foot cadence which can help you run more efficiently and reduce your chance of injuries.

More Running Power
Running hills recruits and strengthens muscle fibers throughout your leg all at the same time, from hip flexors to quadricep, hamstring, gluteal and even calf muscles. These muscles not only become stronger, your body learns how to use them together more efficiently to generate speed and power.

Simulated Speed Work
Running hills is speed work in disguise. The aerobic and anaerobic energy systems used while running up a hill are very similar to those used while doing an interval workout on a track or on a flat surface. Running hills can benefit your aerobic capacity, VO2 max and anaerobic strength in very similar ways to running workouts on flat ground.

Low-Impact Running
The slope of a hill ensures that you are landing lightly with each step, on the balls of your feet, which reduces the overall stress on your knee and hip joints, while giving you a great workout. Now that's what I call a win-win!

Ease of Planning
Hills are everywhere, including quite a few in our own back yard! The great thing about hill training is that you can do it just about anywhere you have access to a hill. Just make sure you know the distance first before you decide what the workout will be. You can map it online or simply measure it with a GPS watch for more accuracy.

The type of hill training you do should be aligned with what you are trying to accomplish. Short, fast hill repeats/intervals are the best suited to develop speed and power. Longer hill repeats are more suitable for developing aerobic capacity and endurance. Hill repeats should be run at a pace that is at or faster than goal race pace. If the hills are a part of a longer run, such as a tempo, a fartlek, a progression or a long run, they should be run at an effort that is at or faster than the effort required to maintain goal race pace. Race pace effort is usually a number of seconds slower than actual race pace. Feel free to ask me if you want to learn more about how to plan a hill workout.

Remember, it's always a good idea to start your hill repeats with some dynamic warm-up stretches and a warm-up run. Treat your hill workout like any other run.

Now get out there and crush those hills!!!

Run Better. Run Smarter. Run for Life.

Coach Mwangi