Unlocking the Challenge: the Ultimate Hill Running Workout Guide

hill running
You may be looking for that one specific hill running workout that can make you better.

You may just be after some hill running tips.

Whatever the case, I have got your back. Let's face it. Hill running is tough. Whether in a race or in training.

Not well prepared for the hills? Then a tough climb can really mess up your race.

Depending on the length and the steepness you can lose seconds and/or minutes. Believe me, I have been there.... :)

But conquer the hills and you will reap massive benefits.

You will become a stronger, better runner as a result.

I am lucky enough that in the area I live in there are plenty of hills. So I make them part of my long and easy runs quite often.

I really notice the difference it makes in races. I fly by people who don't have the hill running experience. It can make a big difference to your performance. Hill running is strength training in disguise!

So read on for five hill running tips and some secret hill running workouts that are guaranteed to boost your performance.

Hill Running Workout Tip #1: Off-Road

hill running
Running hills is tough enough as it is. Therefore, when possible, try to train it off-road. Going uphill there is not that much impact on your knees and legs.

But running downhill can provide quite a shock to your knees and legs.

Especially on the tarmac.

So protect your legs and find yourself some trails if you are new to hill running!

Hill Running Workout Tip #2: Effort not Pace

hill running
When you are running up a hill, try to stick to effort, not pace-rule. So run up with the same effort you were previously doing, but not the same pace.

Trying to maintain the same pace will wear you out quickly. It will inevitably lead you to building up too much lactic acid in your legs.

You might then be the fastest going up the hill, but after the hill is over, you do not have any strength in your legs left to run the rest of the race!

famous quote from Emil Zatopek

Hill Running Workout Tip #3: Go Beyond the Summit

hill running
When you get to the top of the hill, your initial reaction is to relax and take it easy. After all, the hard work is done, your body is screaming for a rest.

It is however better to not immediately relax, but push through a little longer. This will start the recovery process immediately and help your body get rid off the built up lactic acid in your legs.

In races you will pick up quite a few places with this tip. The natural reaction of almost anybody when they get to the top is to relax and slow down a little bit. Not you, you'll be flying past!

Hill Running Workout Tip #4: Downhill

When running downhill try to get used to landing on the front of your foot, instead of on your heels.

hill running
When you land on the bottom of your feet you are unconsciously holding yourself back, slowing yourself down.

"Ball-of-the-foot striking"
instead of heel striking may come unnatural to you at first, especially running down a hill which can sometimes make you feel like you are losing control over your legs.

You need to practice "hurling" yourself down a hill a good number of times, to get comfortable with it.

As always start off slowly. Find a nice gradual hill to practice, lean forward, land on the ball of the foot, then work towards steeper descends.

I have done plenty of trail races where it is not the uphills, but the downhills that make the difference between me and my competitors.

When you get some good training in running downhill and you practice running with a slight forward lean you can build up so much distance between yourself and others who are not doing this.

It is amazing how much faster you can go when you stop holding back!

hill running tips

So many of us hold back, whereas you just need to practice to let go. A friend of mine has two simple rules for going downhill: let go of your legs and let go of your brain!

Hill Running Workout Tip #5: Uphill Small Steps and Use Your Arms!

Climbing up the hill is a lot easier if you follow a few simple rules:
  • Lean forward
  • Reduce your stride length, but increase your stride rate
  • Use your arms to power yourself forward

  • Smaller steps will help you get up that hill much easier.

    hill running
    Compare it with going up the stairs.

    Taking the steps two at a time is much harder than taking the steps one at a time.

    So take small, fast steps and it will be easier to battle those hills.

    And don't ignore the arms! Next time you are running uphill, I challenge you to run without moving your arms. Then repeat, and run with moving your arms... It's the best way to realise how much work your arms are doing when running uphill. It's night and day difference.

    The Best Hill Running Workouts

    Below are some of my best hill running workout ideas.

    hill running
    Hill Running Workout #1: Theshold Hills
    Run at threshold effort, not pace. Run up 1 min, run 1 min - 90 seconds down. That's one repetition. Repeat 12 - 20 times. The benefits of this workout are that you build a lot of strength and muscle endurance.

    You can make the threshold efforts a bit longer and jog back down to the start. One workout I do once in a while on a hill close by is running up at threshold effort for 2 minutes, then jog down for 3. It's a tricky workout. The uphill really starts to hurt quite quickly. Two minutes is a long time on hills!

    By the way, another great way to build up strength in your legs is via "normal" tempo running workouts.

    Hill Running Workout #2: Speed Endurance Hills
    Sprint up the hill for 30 - 45 seconds. Then walk or jog back to the start. Repeat this sequence 8 to 12 times.

    This helps you increase your power, strength, your speed endurance and also your mechanical efficiency.

    Hill Running Workout #3: Off-the-top-hills
    The previous two workouts will really help you conquer the hills, but in accordance with hill running tip #3 before, "Go Beyond the summit", you also need to train yourself to go hard once you have reached the summit.

    This will help you condition for a race when you should do this as well, even though you will be inclined to relax and take it down a notch.

    So, run up 30 - 90 secs hard and then run down for 30 - 90 secs at the same effort. Repeat 8 to 12 times.

    hill running tips

    Hill Running Workout #4: Hill Sprints
    Hill sprints of 8-10 seconds are a great alternative to strides.

    Find yourself a steep hill and run up it at max speed for 8-10 seconds. Then walk down, slowly. Take a break. For a good 90 seconds - 2 minutes. I know. That long. Then do another repeat.

    running tips and techniques

    When you start doing them, start with one or two. Then every week, add one or two more, until you get to about six to eight. That's plenty. You do need to take those breaks in between the max effort sprints though! Why? Because otherwise your hill sprints will become a little less max effort and the point of these hill sprints is to do them with maximum power output for a strong, powerful stride.

    hill running
    Also check out the speed training for runners page for other ideas to boost your power and running economy.

    Incorporating hills in your normal workouts is a pretty good way to build up your strength and endurance.

    I need to ask you to really make use of these tips... The forward lean, the use of the arms, the charging past the summit... It will make a massive difference to your hill running experience.

    Include a few of my hill running workout ideas in your training schedule and you will even reap more benefits.

    Do hills consistently and see what happens the next time you compete in a hilly race.

    I bet you will be pleasantly surprised!

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