Most beginner runners despise hill running, as it makes you tired, sore, and slow.
What’s to love about another painful climb, right?!
Well, evidence suggests that hill repeats can significantly improve your running strength and speed. Therefore, you might want to reconsider your hatred of hills. But how do hill repeats workouts make you faster? And what gains can you expect to see?
Training on hilly terrain significantly improves your running speed. Uphill and downhill running increases your muscle strength and endurance, which helps you run faster. Hill training also improves your running stride and economy, making you a better and faster runner overall.
These changes don’t happen overnight. But if we take a closer look, you’ll see how the dreaded hills repeat workout is one of the most effective in our arsenal. It’s basically a a cheat code for performance gain.
Understanding how hill repeat workouts can make you faster will help change your mindset about running hills. Hill training shouldn’t be dreaded but embraced as a part of your general running training.
How Do Hill Repeats Improve Your Speed?
Hill repeats are an important part of running, regardless of the distance you run. Hill repeats not only helps to build your cardiovascular endurance but also help to improve your speed.
There are several ways hill repeats help improve your speed.
First, hill repeats help build muscle strength and endurance. When you’re only running on flat surfaces, your muscles get used to this terrain. However, when you add hill repeats to your workout, your quad, hamstring, glute, and shin muscles are forced to work harder.
This is because they must work against gravity to push you up the hill. Because of the increased strain, your muscles will grow stronger, and they can therefore push you forward faster on a flat running surface.
One of the reasons we hate the climb — that arduous strain — is the driving factor behind why it’s so effective.
In addition to strengthening your muscles, hill repeats also improve your running pace and stride. When you start running hills, you’ll notice that your pace is very uneven, especially when ascending and descending a hill.
However, your pace will gradually improve as you become more comfortable with hill repeats.
Having a better running pace while doing hill repeats will ultimately result in having a better running pace overall. This will ensure that you run smoothly and at a balanced pace, which will help you run faster, especially when doing long-distance running.
As you do more hill repeat workouts, you will adopt a longer stride to help you reach the hill’s peak faster. This will result in a longer stride when running on flat surfaces, which also means… yep, you will run faster.
In addition to these advantages, hill repeats improve your cardiovascular endurance, oxygen usage, and breathing, resulting in a more economical run. By economical, we mean you exert less energy while running a certain distance.
An economical run is crucial for long distances, as you need to save energy where you can for the final push that will drive you towards those personal bests.
How To Effectively Run Hills
Like every runner, you will undoubtedly struggle when first starting a hill repeat workout, and you might worry that you aren’t doing it right.
The best way to get used to hill repeat running is just to start running hills. One at a time. Get used to the mental challenge of ascending and knocking off those hills, before you even contemplate a prolonged repeats session.
Below, we have gathered some tips for running uphill and downhill to help you get the most effective exercise when doing hill repeats.
How To Effectively Run Uphill
The most dreaded part of hill repeat workouts is – of course – the uphill portion.
This is despite the fact that you are statically much more likely to get injured on the downhill part.
Running uphill causes your legs to burn, your feet to drag, and your lungs to feel like they are on fire. However, if you train uphill, your cardiovascular endurance will improve, and your lungs will become stronger. In addition, running uphill strengthens your glutes, quads, and hamstrings, which helps improve your running speed.
To get the most benefit from uphill running and run more economically, we suggest you focus on your form while running uphill. This will help you feel less tired. In addition, your running speed improves faster if you run uphill with the correct form. This is how to run uphill:
- Shorten your stride when running uphill. Doing so will help you move faster without using as much energy as you would when giving longer steps. Shorten your steps as much as you need while maintaining the same turnover time as on a flat surface.
- Don’t try to maintain the same pace. When running uphill, your aim should be to exert the same energy as running on a flat surface. However, don’t try and match the pace to what it was when running on a flat surface, as this will cause you to become exhausted. Strava’s GAP (grade adjusted pace) analysis is particularly useful for a visual representation of what your adjusted pace should be.
- Keep your feet low to the ground and your posture straight. Don’t lean back or forward, as this exerts more energy and focuses on other muscle groups. Instead, ensure your back, neck, and head is straight. Keeping your feet low to the ground helps conserve energy and makes it easier to run uphill.
- Focus on keeping your breathing equal. If you notice your breathing becoming faster or shallow, you exert too much effort. In this case, shorten your pace, keep your feet low to the ground, and ensure your posture is upright.
- Don’t rest at the top of the hill. Many novice runners pause at the top of the hill to catch a breath. However, doing so breaks your rhythm and wastes time. Instead, run through the hill and continue downhill as soon as you reach the top.
If you are doing a hill repeats workout and you have to rest at the top of the first climb, you are going out too strong. Lower the pace significantly or the workout is likely to result in over-training and injury.
Ultimately, the easier it is to run uphill, the more you can do it. The more time you spend running uphill, the stronger your muscles become and the faster you can run.
The biggest mistake novices make on a hills repeat workout is trying to run too fast.
How To Effectively Run Downhill
The other part of hill repeat workouts is that you have to run downhill. You could choose to jog back to a starting position, or walk back down, but we much prefer to train both uphill and downhill since they are two very different types of running.
And in a race situation, you generally have to use both!
While downhill runs appear easier, they are more taxing on your shin and foot muscles. They also place more strain on your ankles and knees. Therefore, if you don’t do it correctly, downhill runs can cause injury and strain.
Having the correct running form when going downhill will help prevent injuries. In addition, it will improve your running economy and muscle endurance, improving your running speed.
Most runners tend to sprint or brake while running downhill.
Not a good idea…
Sprinting is bad because it causes muscle fatigue and stiffness. It results in more wasted energy, which will cause you to tire later in the run. On the contrary, braking downhill puts huge strain on your shins and ankles. Likewise, it tires your quad muscles, further causing muscle fatigue and a longer recovery.
Therefore, when running downhill, aim to keep your pace natural. Let the gravity work in your favour and ride it down the hill.
These tips will help you run downhill more effectively.
- Keep your posture straight while running downhill. Many people lean backward when running downhill to counter gravity. However, doing so places more strain on your joints. You must keep your back straight and neutral when running downhill.
- Keep your feet close to the ground. Keeping your feet closer to the ground helps you control your speed more. This, in turn, helps you run downhill without sprinting or braking.
- Take smaller steps while finding your pace. Many runners tend to lengthen their strides while running downhill. This is an option when you have control over the pace. However, we suggest shortening your stride if you notice that you are sprinting or losing control over your pace. Then, when you control the pace, you can slowly lengthen your stride again.
- Focus on a quicker turnover when running downhill. While a longer stride will help you run faster, it can also cause you to lose control over your pace. We recommend you focus on a quicker turnover of your feet. Ensure your turnover is the same when running downhill as on a flat surface to maintain a moderate running pace.
These tips will help you gain more control over your pace when running downhill. Although sprinting downhill may feel like it improves your running speed, it wastes energy, affecting your running speed later and leading to muscle soreness.
Experienced runners tend to treat downhill sections as ‘free air’. It’s a chance to let gravity take over and focus on the technical aspect of running, whilst giving your cardio system a welcome respite.
Before the next climb. 😉
How Often Should You Do Hill Repeats Workout?
You may still wonder how often you should do hill repeat workouts to improve your running time.
Previous research suggests that you can see improved results within as little as six weeks. But this doesn’t mean you should abandon all your other training and only focus on hill repeats. Absolutely not!
Instead, you should incorporate one or two weekly hill repeat workouts in addition to your other training.
To improve your speed on the road, we suggest doing a thirty-second uphill sprint at a 5-10% incline. You can also do this training on a treadmill if you don’t have access to a hill. Do three to five minutes of walking in between each hill repeat and start with five to eight hill repeats per session. Then, as your fitness and endurance increase, work up to about fifteen hill repeats per session.
By incorporating these hill repeat exercises into your workout routine, you’ll notice increased muscle strength, better control over your pace, and an improved running time.
Hill Repeats Workouts: Painful But Worth It!
Hill repeats can make you faster by improving your muscle strength and endurance.
Not many runners like running hill repeats, but the benefits are obvious. And they are too powerful to ignore.
In addition, doing hill repeat workouts improves your pace, cardiovascular endurance, and running economy. By adding one or two hill repeat workouts to your weekly routine, you can see an increase in your running speed in as little as six weeks.
The main thing to be aware of is correct running form.
If you bring a poor running technique to the physical demands of an intensive hills workout, you will dramatically increase the chances of injury or over-strain.
What makes you stronger… can also make you injured… fast!