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Hill Running
The Extra Effort That Goes a Long Way

Whether you’re training for a marathon or simply enjoy staying in shape by running, incorporating hills into your routine can have incredible effects on your performance. Though it’s an undeniably tough workout, hill training can increase speed, intensity and strength.

When running hills, the body provides resistance against gravity. This requires muscles to work harder to provide power to the legs. In fact, hill training uses two to three times the muscle fibers that are used when running on flat ground. The muscles must also contract more powerfully and with better coordination in order to support the body as it goes uphill. The body eventually adapts to the stress of this hard work, vastly improving overall performance. The benefits of hill training are numerous; it is agreed by experts that hill training is crucial to becoming a stronger, faster runner.  Some of these benefits include:
  • Better whole-body coordination due to consistent coordination required when hill training
  • Faster, longer strides
  • Increased endurance, power and elasticity of tendons, muscles and ligaments
  • Better control and greater stability (downhill running)
  • Increased lactate tolerance (running mixed hills)
In addition, studies have shown that hill training can improve strength and speed and boost performance in other ways. One such study, published in Runner’s World, followed the progress of  marathon runners who ran hills twice a week for twelve weeks. The results showed that “the athletes’ running economy had improved by three per cent” and that “that improvement would still have helped them clip as much as two minutes off a 10-mile time or six minutes off a marathon.” Personalrunningsolutions.com cites a study, led by Dr. Bengt Saltin, which found heightened levels of aerobic enzymes in the quads of those who trained on hills as opposed to flat ground. Aerobic enzymes increase the length of time that muscles can operate at high intensity and allow for increased speed and better knee lift.

If you’re new to hill training, you can still make the most of this challenging workout. The key is knowing how to correctly train to maximize the benefits. There are a few different types of hill training, including downhill sessions and hill intervals, and proper technique for each is important.

When running downhill sessions, you will start on a slight slope with a flat base and jog for 10 minutes. Carefully do a short burst into the descent, making sure to work with the pace of the hill. This means that you should not sprint or try to slow yourself with quads and feet. Go with gravity, maintain control and posture, and keep feet close to the ground. Do not let feet slap the ground as you drop them. Using uphill and downhill running together will help you to get used to the transition between the two. In fact,  according to Runner’s World, “Running down after a hard climb, rather than taking a breather, is one of the key skills of hill running.” Hill interval sessions are basically interval runs performed on a steep incline. You will use high-intensity on the ascent at a little more than a 5K pace, then jog until you’ve recovered and repeat 4 times. You can increase number of reps as you train.

Regardless of which type of hill session you’re running, there are a few techniques that should always be used. During an ascent, the upper body should be kept straight and breath should be maintained. Faster breathing means that you’re running too fast or your strides are too long. Use a slower pace and shorter strides than you would for flat terrain. And since hill training puts a lot of strain on the body, limit yourself to one session a week. Doing any more can lead to injury.

Though it requires extra effort, hill training is absolutely worth it. It gives your body the ability to power through longer runs at greater speeds and most experts agree that it’s a crucial part of achieving your PR. Add hill training to your regimen today to reach your maximum potential!

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