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Hill Training: Why All Runners Should Do It

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I used to hate running hills. They just mess up your pace statistics, and can be a real source of agony when showing up unexpected in a race. But through experience I soon learned that proper hill training can make the hills much easier to deal with on race day. Hill training has many other benefits too. Even if you live in a completely flat area, I give some alternatives too.


* It is a very good cardiovascular workout. Just check your pulse right after running up a hill.

* Hill training is a very effective form of strength training for runners, because it gives the runners a strength workout while they are actually in the motion of running.

* Hill training strengthens the quadriceps, hamstrings and calves, which enables you to run better on any surface.

* The increase strength & flexibility in the calve muscles is very beneficial to speed training. In fact, hill training should form part of your base period training that precedes any speed training program.


* How steep should the hill be?
Moderate, not more than 15% incline.

* How hard should I run my repetitions?
Run it at approximately your 10km race pace, maybe slightly faster as you start getting stronger.

* How many repetitions should I do?
If you are starting out, start with 4 repetitions. Add one more every week, and work your way up to 8. You can even push it up to between 10-12 if you really get into it.

*What distance should each repetition be?
Approximately 100m should be enough.

* Should I walk or jog the downhill?
Easy jogging is best, because there are specific muscles and tendons that work when you run downhill, and they need to be exercised too. Take a few seconds to rest at the bottom before you start your next uphill, should you feel that you need it.

* Should I lean forward on uphill running for more efficient running?
No, line your body up perpendicularly to an imaginary horizontal. It’s the most effective running form, and keeps your chest and stomach straight for the faster breathing that comes with hill running.


If you live or train in a very flat area and can’t get to a hill, try one of these:

* Treadmills – not my personal favorite, but sometimes they just have to do. The advantage here is that treadmills have built in hill simulating programs, but unfortunately it can’t simulate downhill running.

* Stadium steps – a great workout, just be careful not to fall as your legs get more tired later on in your workout

* Running up a flight of stairs – maybe you live in an apartment building or work in a big office building (this can lead to some confused looks from your colleagues)

* Beach running – running on beach sand will work out the same muscles as hill running, but always run with your running shoes, not barefoot. Pick a stretch where the sand is not hard, but also not completely loose.

* Aqua jogging – Like treading water in a swimming pool, but simulating running motion. Usually recommended for injured runners (because there is no impact), this can be done with or without the use of a flotation device.


If you hate hills in a race, the only way to beat them is to prepare for them. In addition to that, hill training is an excellent form of strength training, and provides important preparation for speed training, which decreases your chances of injury.

Waldo Pienaar is a former competitive runner, who competed in middle distance track racing at high school, and converted to road racing and cross-country while studying at the University of Stellenbosch, South Africa. A combination of injuries and his career as an accountant has limited his running to a social level, but he still enjoys researching information on health and training.


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  • Posted On September 1, 2006
  • Published articles 283513

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