Hill Training Guide

Running uphill is a serious challenge. Not only is gravity going against you, you’ll also be using muscles you use less often and feeling a real burn. To make sure you get the most out of this intense training method, read our hill training guide to learn about the benefits of hill training for runners, and learn some drills to do when you hit an incline.

There are no hills near my route – can I hill train?

We don’t all live in hilly places – although not every drill requires a 45-degree gradient! Even a gentle slope in your local park will give you something to get started with. If you’re a member of a gym, one option is to set a treadmill to a steep gradient – this will give you many of the same benefits that hill running does, without having to find a slope.

Who should do hill training?

Any runner can benefit from hill training. However, if you’re planning on doing a distance race in a hilly city or cross-country route, building hill runs into your preparation is vital. It will get you used to the intensity of climbing slopes and tackling declines and give your calf muscles more experience with the strains that running up hills puts on them.

What are the benefits of hill training for runners?

Hill training offers runners all sorts of invaluable benefits. These include:

  • Improved performance: There’s strong scientific evidence that hill running improves performance significantly – tests have shown that runners who do plenty of incline training have greater VO2 max, lactate threshold and time until exhaustion over runners who only train on flat ground.
  • Develops muscle fibres: Running uphill develops your slow, medium and fast twitch muscle fibres. Essentially, that means your muscles have more power to deal with challenging terrain.
  • Burns more calories: Training on a gradient burns significantly more calories than running on flat surfaces, so if you wish to lose weight, adding as little as 5% to the incline can work wonders.
  • Increased endurance: By regularly running up hills, you’ll notice your endurance on ‘easier’ flat runs is significantly improved.

How often should I do hill training?

Like any intensive exercise, it’s best to gradually build up the amount you spend training on hills. To begin with it can be pretty tough and you needn’t do more than a few sets once per week. However, over time you’ll be able to increase this to a couple of times per week. Especially if you’re training for a race in a hilly location, you’re going to need to build up to a point where at least half of your training involves at least some form of hill work. Hill training guide for runners

We suggest you build some of the following kinds of hill training exercises into your running routine – you’ll notice the benefits (and the burn!) in no time.

  1. Hill sprints
    • What you’ll need: A steep hill or a treadmill at a 10- to 12-degree incline
    • Why hill sprints help your running: They demand a wide range of motion from your stride and engage all your muscle fibres.
    • How to do hill sprints: Warm up on flat or easy ground. Next, mark out a 50-metre distance on your chosen hill and do 4 to 5 reps sprinting up the hill at around 90% of your maximum effort. Once you reach the end of the sprint, walk slowly down to the beginning and recover for around 1 to 2 minutes before repeating.
    • Over time, you can build up the number of reps you do, perhaps reaching a maximum of 8 to 10, but no more.

  2. Timed hills
    • What you’ll need: a fairly easy hill (or section of a hill) that takes around three minutes to run up
    • Why timed hills help your running: They’re invaluable for getting your body used to sustained inclines if you’re running in a hilly marathon or similar long-distance race.
    • How to do timed hills: After warming up, run up the hill aiming to keep your pace so it takes exactly three minutes to reach the top. On completion walk (or lightly jog) down and repeat three times.
    • Over time, you can increase the time of the run and maybe choose a steeper incline too.

  3. Hill ladders
    • What you’ll need: a gentle but reasonably long incline (at least 150 metres)
    • How hill ladders help your running: They build up resistance and endurance
    • How to do hill ladders: After a 10-minute warm up, sprint for 5 seconds up the hill. Stop, then walk down to the beginning. Next, sprint uphill for 7 seconds, before stopping and walking downhill. Increase the distance 2 to 3 seconds at a time, until you’re doing a 15-second sprint.

Do you have the right gear for hill running?
Hill running puts a lot of strain on your feet. So, if you’re running outdoors or on trails, make sure you’ve got suitable trail running shoes which offer the support, grip and stability you’ll need.