I think that most people are aware that here is Utah, we are not hurting for hills to run. Yet, the question still remains, “Should I run hills in training? If so, how much, what pace, how steep, how often?” It is clear that some of you who run have no choice but to run hills based on where you live or work. In a nutshell, hills are good. Actually, hills play a vital role in run training especially if you don’t spend much time in the weight room. But, just like any other part of training, too much or incorrect application can backfire. But, it is time to clear up a couple things so that everyone can use those hills their advantage in their quest for fitness and faster times. Here are two important uses of hill.
Hills, the uphill battle.
Long Slow Hills
To build strength.
Keep this kind of workout as close to conversation pace as possible. It is okay to keep it slow. The goal is to do about 30 minutes worth of going up during a 60-90 minute long run. The only time to consider running this hard is if you are substituting a hard flat tempo day with this hill workout.
You will, no doubt, come across different grades of steepness when you run that long. That is just fine, but the most productive hills are still shallow enough to run up. When it is too steep for too long, then the difficulty gets in the way of the run specific strength work. It is common knowledge that there are some hills that you can power walk faster than you can run, but stay disciplined! You are trying to train your run specific muscle groups so keep running and mix those tougher hills in with some that are more moderate in grade.
When and how often?
Doing this kind of workout once a week pretty much all year is a great idea. Doing this one too often will be too taxing though so more is not always better here. If your legs start feeling heavy all the time then that is an indicator of too much. On the other hand, the only times to let it go completely would be during recovery periods before your most important races/events or during that initial off season period where you are trying to really kick back and relax.
In the summer, when the trails are wide open and lead upward straight into the blue Utah sky, it is easy to find enough long hills for this workout. You might have to be more creative when most of those trails are inaccesible in winter, but don’t give up because winter is a perfect time to run long hills. If you are an ultra distance trail runner, then you obviously will walk more of those uphills than stated above and just flat out be doing them more often and for longer.
Also,when on trails, take the opportunity to really run fast down the hill where possible. Make sure to read this blog article on downhill running
Short Fast Hills
To build speed, strength and power
5-10 fast Sprints of 15-30 seconds long with a walk down as rest.
Very steep! Like the kind of steep that you really could power walk faster.
When and how often:
This is a great workout to do throughout the year. Some people will throw in 5 or so hill sprints at the end of a 60-90 run to stimulate the fast twitch fibers. Another place to put it is after doing some once a week short sprints on a track when you are already working on your fast twitch fibers (you could even use stadium stairs for this if they are a long enough set). If you do this, then shorten your speedwork session a bit. If you want to know more about a speed session, read this speedwork post. And there are those who like to use this workout just towards the end of race prep period to sharpen the saw so to speak. Either way, once a week IS PLENTY!!
Always take plenty of rest in between these sprints by walking down the hill. You should start the next one only when you feel recovered. If your legs are a bit tired, then do less. These are a bit tougher to do on a rough trail. You will want good footing for sure.
So there are some ideas on how to use hills to your advantage. Hills are great to build strength, speed and power. Happy climbing!