Hit the Hills

Being that we reside in Western Pennsylvania, it is hard to avoid hills and changes in grade that result in running uphill but that doesn’t stop us from trying. The truth of the matter is that we should incorporate hill workouts into our training regimen. In this week's blog post, we will cover just that- hills. Why should I add this to my training regimen? How often should I do hill workouts? What benefit will it serve me in doing so? All of these questions and so much more will be answered in this blog so that hopefully, you’re excited and eager to tackle the rolling hills of Western Pennsylvania.

First, let’s tackle what a hill workout is. While it seems very self-explanatory, it is more than running up a hill one time. That being said, a hill workout is much like any other programmed speed or track workout- there is a pace, a rep, and a set. For example, let’s take a typical interval session- 4 x 400 meters at 5K pace. For this workout you are running 400 meters at a 5K pace, four times. Now, let’s take these same principles and apply them to a hill workout- 4 x 200 meters uphill at a 5K pace. So for this workout, you are running uphill for 200 meters at a 5K pace, four times. Hill workouts do not have to be very detailed or extensive, in fact, they can be quite simple and still effective, such as the one above.

Much like any other type of running workout (interval, tempo, fartlek, ladder, etc) you can adapt your run based upon your goal and the size of the hill that you are conquering. If I want to tackle speed and form, I can do so by sprinting uphill and focusing on knee drive. If I want to work on endurance, I can do so by setting the pace and programming the appropriate intervals. Don’t let hill workouts scare you, scale them up or down by finding the right hill for you, and plan your run accordingly. The best part about it- we have plenty of hills to choose from here in Western Pennsylvania so there’s no shortage of options.

So now that we’ve set the groundwork as to what hill workouts are- let’s chat about why they are important. When training for any event, sport, or task, variety is your friend. Training under the same conditions, environment, and stressors each day sets you up for an event and/or race day under those exact conditions. That being said, the aforementioned form of training is not ideal for anyone. Basketball players do not only practice layups, sprinters don’t only work on starts and baseball players don’t take batting practice by only hitting fastballs. So it is important to vary your training, your workouts, and importantly, your environment. Adding hill workouts to your training regimen allows you to 1) increase the difficulty of your run, 2) address various domains of outcomes (endurance, capacity, speed, power, and strength), and 3) allows you to work on your form. As a result of safely incorporating hill workouts into your training regimen, you can become a stronger, faster, and more efficient runner.

Finally, this brings us to how you should phase hill workouts into your training plan. The answer is simple, just as you do with any other type of run, gradually. While there are plenty of hills here in Western Pennsylvania, you should not be doing hill sprints 5 days a week. That would be detrimental. You should slowly incorporate these workouts into your running routine- building from once every other week to once per week but no more than two per week. It’s much like a speed workout on the track- no more than two of these workouts per week.

Start with an easy hill workout like the one below and build upon that based upon your goals. As mentioned previously, these workouts can be modified to meet the outcome you are hoping to achieve. There are plenty of hills around so make sure to choose a hill that works for you and most importantly, is safe. Do not run on a hill with a blind corner, reconsider running on a busy road, and always take into consideration the condition of the sidewalks and/or roads you are running on. Give this introductory hill workout a shot and let us know how it goes:

  • 30-second gradual uphill climb at a moderate pace
  • Walk downhill
  • Repeat once you get to the bottom of the hill
  • X4-6