Hill Repeats are a key workout that runners should build into their training program once they have established a strong running base. Akin to Standard Track Intervals, this should be considered “the jam” that goes on top of the bread and butter provided by intervals as it creates strength and a huge confidence boost. Nothing can be more rewarding, or challenging, than finding “the hill” that you run up and down multiple times. It may become a running love affair with pain…. that offers massive gains.
Why Run Hill Repeats
From a physical standpoint, Hill Repeats satisfy several parts of a runner’s needs, the first of which is strength. As you lean into and push your way up a hill, the impact and physical forces working against you act as resistance training so that you are literally strength training by running hill repeats. Particularly focused on the hamstrings, calf, and quadriceps muscles…. your shoulder and arms will also gain a boost from this training activity.
This translates into injury prevention, as well as, increases to speed as the running body adapts to the increased strain while hill training. Want proof? Just run a few Hill Repeats then see how fast your legs want to turn over once you hit flat land. This is not to state that hill training is a replacement for speed training on a track in order to get fast, but it prepares your body for better speed work.
Running on hills can also work wonders for your running form, as it requires a slight lean, lifting of the knees, and arms pumping at 90 degree angles to maximize efficiency. This is doubly reinforced when jogging back down the hill during the repeat session as this effort forces control and learning how to relax into a slower pace with good form. The refined running form, combined with increased physical strength, translates into higher running efficiency.
Beyond the physical gain, Hill Repeats offer several mental and emotional benefits. The most obvious of these is mental toughness, as these repeats will break you down mentally just as much as physically. As you learn to overcome, race day or a tough mile becomes much easier to defeat… as do the competitors that dare to challenge you. This is not to say that they aren’t training with the same intensity, just that you will be more prepared to match them bearing in mind that the greatest adversary you will ever face is yourself.
This is where the emotional battle of conquering self-doubt comes into play. If you can prove to yourself that you can run up the steep hills again and again, when you see a large hill looming in a race or workout, instead of “I think I can” you will respond with “I already have”. This powerful self-affirmation is core to a runner’s confidence whether you are a beginner or highly competitive runner. This will also cross into other aspects of your life, providing the mental and emotional benefits of running will all crave.
How to Run Hill Repeats
While the concept of running up and down a hill seems trivial, there are some important considerations to properly run a Hill Repeat workout. Specifically:
- Warm up and cool down for at least 1 mile each
- Find a hill or hills close to your home as traveling to run up a hill is even more daunting
- If possible, try to find 3 hills: one short hill of 100-200 meters with a steep incline, a middle hill of 200-400 meters with an incline between a short and a long hill, and a long hill of 400 meters or more with a gradual incline
- Run less repeats on long hills and more repeats on short hills (ex. 2-4 long hill repeats and 8-10 short hill repeats)
- Beginner runners should attempt only a few repeats of a hill and add a hill repeat a week up to 10 hill repeats
- Attempt to run at 5K pace or greater so long as you can maintain your running form
- Lean into the hill but don’t hunch over while ensuring to lift your knees, keeping your arms at 90 degree angles, to power up the hill
- Jog back down the hill while maintaining a comfortable controlled running form
- Always run past the crest (top) of the hill as stopping or slowing at the top of hill negates the physical benefit of learning to pace once you have powered over the hill and the mental advantage of coming over the top of a hill strong without breaking
- Be aware of your surroundings, as you are isolated in one place while running Hill Repeats
- Run with a partner if possible to challenge each other, keep safe, and help each other get up and over the hills
- Once you are comfortable, challenge yourself by adding more repeats (up to 10 per hill type) and perhaps mixing your Hill Repeats up by running repeats of each hill type in one workout
What to Avoid When Running Hill Repeats
Hill Repeats have a core element of resistance training to them, and as such, running injuries can occur. Keep in mind the following to avoid mistakes that place you in danger or lessen the effectiveness of your Hill Repeat session:
- Consult with your doctor before attempting Hill Repeats or any intense running training session/program
- Build a strong running base and gradually move into running Hill Repeats
- Never static stretch before a workout as this can lead to pulled muscles and other injuries. Instead, perform dynamic stretches to gently warm up your muscles
- Don’t run Hill Repeats if you are injured or recovering from an injury
- Don’t run Hill Repeats the day after a race or intense workout
- Don’t run down the hill after a repeat, as you may fall and are increasing additional injury risk due to poor form and over striding on muscles that need recovery
- Only run Hill Repeats once a week, noting that many runners opt to run Hill Repeats on Monday, Track Intervals on Wednesday, Race or Light Speed Work on Saturday, and Long Slow Distance (LSD) on Sundays