How to Add Hill Training to your Running Routine

Want to get faster? Run longer? Be a stronger runner? Add Hills!

Incorporating hills into your regular running routine can help you improve your form and increase speed, even if the race for which you are training is relatively flat. Training on hills builds strength, and hill repeats in training make running on flat ground easier. 

Translation: you can run longer before feeling fatigued. 

Increased speed and endurance happen on hills. Regular running on hills has also been shown to boost speed and endurance over runners who do not train on an incline. 

Just like with short intervals on flat ground, doing hill repeats can increase the lactate threshold, meaning you can run faster and/or longer before you start feeling that muscle burn. Explosive running also comes with hill training, allowing you short bursts of energy during a race without wearing you out too much.

When incorporating Hill Intervals, you always want to begin with a good warmup that includes dynamic exercises and an easy jog. On the hills, stay upright rather than lean into the hill on the way up, and stay perpendicular to the incline when running downhill (read, lean slightly forward rather than sitting back).

There are many different types of hill workouts, which you can see in this video.  

Workouts that include a “Main Set” of Hills means you push pace up that hill for 30-60 seconds. You might also do this on a treadmill at a 5-10% incline. Turn around to return to the bottom of the hill and repeat the process. Start with about 6 of these and work your way up to 10 or so. Your pace on this will “feel” like a rate of perceived exertion of about 8-9 depending on the length of your hill interval. Hard to sustain, and you are ready for that recovery interval after 30-60 seconds. 

If you are Training for a hilly course (you know, those course descriptions that say “rolling hills”), incorporate these hill repeats into your race pace miles. After a warm up, do a few hill repeats, recover for a bit before getting into your goal race pace miles.

Another version is using a longer, slightly steeper hill — 2-3 minutes at 5-15% incline, but you will adjust your effort down (slower) accordingly. This isn’t an all out pace, RPE 7-8, and you work up to 5 or 6 of these as you progress. 

Hill Strides are high-intensity hill repeats done at the end of your run. Steeper grade, short and fast repeats of 10-20 seconds. Start with 4 repeats and work up to 10 or so.

What if you live in a flat area? You have a couple of options. Obviously, treadmills are great for this kind of work. The trick is to try to keep your hands off the rails, though. Only use those if you feel you are off balance. Concentrate on form as you are going up the incline. You might start your hill work as low as 4%, but work up to 5 and up as you progress, and based on the type of hill work you are doing. For short, intense repeats, use a recovery interval that will allow your breathing and heart rate to return to normal. 

Another option for flat-landers would be stair work. A step mill (a Stair Treadmill, not a “Stepper”) is a good source of gaining elevation, but so are Stadium Stairs. While not as fun, in a pinch you might use the stairs in an office or apartment building if you have access to one.

Hill workouts can be done up to once a week, but if you are new to hill work, every two to three weeks will be just fine. It doesn’t take much to get some benefit from incline training!

Bottom line is that regardless of your goals, Hills are a great way to build overall running strength and endurance. But what do you think of Hills? I’d love to hear from you.