Hills Are Worth The Burn


Not only are there many training benefits to running hills, there is also the symbolic obstacle of an object standing in your way just waiting to be conquered.  If it is finally time for you to overcome the PR obstacle or qualify for that race you’ve been dreaming of, you should definitely being doing hill workouts if you want to be a faster, stronger and more efficient runner.

I was in high school soccer when my coach first made me run hills.  I still remember the way my heart felt and how my body ached after that workout.  Coach knew something that as an adult we often avoid – hills are good for runners.

Let’s start with the basics.  Hill training increases your VO2 Max, improves your heart rate and has an overall impact on your race performance.   So, if PRing in 2022 is on your New Year’s resolutions, find yourself a lake a community and run those hills!

In a 2017 study published in the International Journal of Scientific Research Publications  a team of researchers investigated the effect of hill training on the performance and physiological fitness markers of competitive middle and long distance runners (800m and 10,000m).  In this study the control group was only given endurance training while the experimental group was trained on endurance and hills for 12 weeks.  At week 6 and 12 the group that was trained on hills showed significant improvements in their VO2 max, resting heart rate and speed endurance compared to the control.

There was a study in the International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance  in 2013 showcasing the benefits of hill training on the 5k time.  The authors discovered that not only were the athletes running economy more enhanced, but they were also 2 percent faster, on average, in 5k performances.

Hills are beneficial because when you are running uphill you have more engagement of more motor units (the bundles of muscle fibers that ignite when running) enhancing muscular strength and endurance.  You also likely engage a portion of your core more because every time you push your legs harder into the ground you core must compensate for the uphill tilt.  Pushing yourself uphill helps you to produce more power compared to easy running on flat surfaces, even if you are not running as fast uphill.

Including hill workouts in your training will improve your leg-muscle strength, quicken your stride, expand stride length, develop cardiovascular system and enhance your running economy.  The best news is this improvement can happen quickly! Just six weeks of regular hill training and you can expect significant improvement in your muscle power and speed!

Tricks to Run Uphill

Uphill is the direction most runners dread! Here are some tricks:

  • Shorten your stride, do not try to maintain the same pace as you were running when it was flat.
  • Pump your arms.  Moving your arms helps pick up your feet.
  • You want equal effort going up as well as going down, not equal pace.
  • Your posture should be upright, do not lean forward or back.

Tricks to Run Downhill

Now we all love a good downhill stretch.  They are great for recovery and to pick up some time that we lost climbing the hill.  Here are some tips to take advantage of that downhill stretch:

  • Try to visualize gravity pulling you downward the hill (but don’t fall!)
  • Maintain an upright body posture
  • Land lightly and keep your feet close to the ground for control
  • As your pace increases, focus on quicker turnover rather than longer strides.
  • Enjoy the way down!


About TRWS GURU Kathy

Kathy started running in 2005 after getting her first corporate job past college and gaining weight.  Her admin at the time suggested she run her first 5k,  which Kathy trained for 10 months in preparation.  Having a career in advertising and traveling frequently, Kathy discovered that running was a great way to stay fit and see all the cities she was visiting.  Kathy loves destination races having traveled as far as Australia for a marathon, and locally Chicago, New Jersey, Arizona and pictured here at her half Ironman in Indiana.


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