Hill Running

Hill Running Workouts

  • Dean 

Ditch the Junk Miles and Add Some Gravity to Your Running

For many runners, winter is the time for building a solid endurance base of fitness. That usually means frequent, steady, easy runs: The more time you can spend running at a low intensity, the more running specific endurance benefit you will get. That’s an accepted wisdom, but this type of steady, high volume training can be hard on the joints, especially when you’re running exclusively on roads. Off-road options aren’t an easy option at the moment, with lots of mud and water compromising surfaces on trails and in parks.

So rather than racking up junk miles at the same pace week in, week out, why not mix it up with some shorter, quality sessions to beat the boredom and the potential of wear and tear injuries?

Here’s a couple of hill running workouts with different training aims that you can easily slip into a lunch hour. You’ll feel the gains by just dropping one of these sessions in every week. The good thing about hills is they actually limit the force of impact in your feet and legs, due to the gradient of the surface and the reduced forward travel distance of your legs. Resistance in the form of gravity is also a major factor in saving you from any overly ambitious sprint heroics!

Workout 1: Hills for Endurance

Hill intervals are a good way of building aerobic endurance into your running and they prepare you mentally for sustaining effort when things get difficult. The following session should feel equivalent to running 800m efforts on the flat.

  • Run at your easy pace, on the flat, for 10 minutes or so. This will get your aerobic system and muscles nice and warmed up for the work ahead. Plan your route so that you arrive at your hill ready to go.
  • Choose a long hill with a gradient that’s not too savage. Use your judgement, but a long steady effort (500m+ at 5% gradient, say) is what you want. The aim is to run for for a few minutes to get from the bottom to the top of the hill while maintaining your on-the-flat cruising pace: a measured, steady effort, with controlled breathing and no drama. You should feel the burn and be breathing heavily at the top.
  • Jog back down to the start at a nice easy pace to recharge, keeping your feet turning under you lightly and quickly. Repeat without a pause. Once you feel your running form deteriorate, or you start noticeably slowing, wind up the session with a 10-15 minute cool down run home.
  • Aim to build up to four repetitions, but let your body be the guide. The aim is to get your body to adapt, not to hurt yourself. Once you’ve cracked four reps comfortably and consistently, incrementally add more over the coming weeks and months.

Rather than racking up junk miles at the same pace week in, week out, why not mix up your running with some shorter, quality sessions to beat the boredom and the potential of wear and tear injuries?

Workout 2: Hills for Speed and Power

Hills are also a great tool for building speed, with the added benefit of lower impact. So if you’re somebody who doesn’t do lots of sprinting (that will be most people) it’s a perfect intro.

  • For this session, you want to measure out anything between 60 and 200 metres on a hill. That may seem like a broad range, but use your judgement: if the hill is a 20% gradient, keep the distance shorter, because the goal of the session is for maximum effort. Mark out a tree or a lamppost as your finish line. You want to be aiming for 15-30 second, anaerobic efforts where hitting the finish line is a real effort. The focus is on running fast, not long!
  • Remember not to overcook the first repetition – feel your way into the gradient, the effort required to produce speed and your breathing rhythm. Aim for “80%” effort on the first rep, bringing your knees up high, leaning slightly into the hill while keeping your chest up and arms pumping to counterbalance the legs.
  • Walk slowly down from the top ready for your next rep. Stop completely if you need to recover before you go again. You should be aiming for a recovery of about twice the time it took you to run your rep (a 1:2 work to rest ratio).
  • The same rules apply for speed intervals as for endurance – warm up properly first and, once you feel your form start to deteriorate on the reps, wind up the session with a 10-15 minute cool down run home.
  • By ‘form deteriorate’ I mean any, or all, of the following:
    – Feet ‘slapping’ on contact with the ground or tracking becomes squiffy
    – Excessive rocking of the hips or knees coming together
    – Arms flailing or coming across the midline of the body
    – Head/shoulders falling forwards or rounding of the back
  • This session shouldn’t be easy – be aware of any deterioration in your form and concentrate on correcting it for as long as you possibly can before you bail!
  • Aim to build up to 10 reps max. These sessions are best followed by a rest day – or at least a rest from any heavy leg exercises (including – and especially – running!)
  • Only do this session once per week, max.

Enjoy. Happy hills!


About the author
Dean is a full-time fitness enthusiast and a qualified personal trainer in Godalming, UK


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