When training for an endurance event, we’re forever reminded to go “hill running”. But what does that mean exactly and why should we be doing it?
Scientists have proven hill running to be one of the best ways to tax the cardiovascular system, while strengthening the lower body. As soon as you encounter a hill while out running, you’ll notice your breath shorten, and your legs begin to feel increasingly like led – hence why it’s not uncommon for runners to avoid them on their weekly runs. However, it’s exactly this feeling of physical and aerobic exhaustion that will make you a stronger runner.
Running uphill improves the elasticity of the muscles and tendons, allowing the legs to run for longer without getting tired. Researchers at Japan’s Institute of Sports Sciences, who did a study on the benefits of uphill running, found it activated significantly more muscles in the upper leg and around the hip joint, including the hamstrings and iliopsoas, than running on the flat.
Likewise, hill running works the cardiovascular system harder. “Your heart has to work overtime to meet the increased demands that come with fighting gravity,” explains Louise Sutton, head of the Carnegie Centre for Sports Performance and Wellbeing at Leeds Metropolitan University.
Targeting a hilly route on your regular runs is a great way to integrate hill work into your training. However, it’s also worthwhile allocating one day a week to hill work. Hill sessions are a perfect way to mix up your training and are great for those days you’re short on time! That said, to make the session worthwhile, marathon coach Bruce Tulloh recommends spending at least 30 seconds per rep running uphill. It’s also worth running to the hill location to warm up your legs, and taking a detour home afterwards for a decent warm down. Here’s three sessions we recommend:
10 sets of 20secs running up a steep hill at a fast pace with jog-back recovery. This session is designed for maximum effort, hence why the reps are short, so really give it your best effort! These sessions are specially designed to improve speed and power, so run fast!
4 sets of 60secs, 45secs, 30secs with jog-back recovery. Short hill repeats are a great way of improving aerobic and anaerobic power.
4-6 reps of 3min hills. Long hills develop your strength endurance – perfect if you’re training for a longer distance event. If you can’t find a big enough hill to run up for 3mins – don’t worry. Find a hill of around 60secs and make up the time by running longer at the top once you’ve completed the hill.