If you’ve done a bit of running you may have noticed that hills can be quite hard. Most advice for getting better at running up hills is to run up hills. This can take many forms, it may be choosing a hilly route to run regularly, or doing hill reps. For this most I’m going to focus on the latter of these suggestions and go into detail about why they can help.
WHAT ARE THEY?
Hill reps are a term given to the motion of running up and down the same hill multiple times. Some hill rep sessions may require that the hill is a certain length or has a certain average gradient, but just finding a hill that is tough for you to run up is a great start. You can vary the pace at certain points of the session. There’s the option to jog gently up and down each repetition, sprint up and jog down, or jog up and sprint down. Each of these speed variations will target a slightly different muscle group and help you train for different routes and races.
WHY DO THEY HELP?
On the whole hill reps help by strengthening your leg muscles. They do this through practical use of the muscles as part of your running motion. Leg muscles, just like any others, can be strengthened in isolation through strength work in the gym or at home. But hill reps work with the muscles in the function they’d be used, creating specific muscle memory. Meaning the muscles are learning when and how to contract in time with all the surrounding supporting muscles, like the ankles and hips, within your stride. When running up hill you’re working on the power transference that pushes you along the road, as you are forcing the body to overcome gravity. This extra power can assist you on courses that require hill negotiation, but will also help you when it comes to the flats too. Running downhill has benefits too, as it will work on ankle strength and stability that results from the additional force going through the leg as it hits the ground. Additionally if you regularly practice the downhills, in races you’ll be a little less fearful of them and may be able to use them to your advantage.
WHERE TO BEGIN?
To begin my suggestion would be a road hill, one that you can run up and down on the pavement, without too many interruptions. Start by finding a hill that is just slightly out of your range, a long gentle climb is best to begin with. Depending on the hill, do 3-4 reps of just gentle jogging up and down it. Rest after the downhill if you are able to, but try not to stop once you get to the top just head back down and then rest if needed. This is simply to keep the legs under tension and help with cardiovascular adaptions. When you’re in a race knowing you can get over the hill before needed to stop can give you more determination to keep going, where many others will stop! When beginning I would try for one session every 2-3 weeks, adding in an extra repetition or swapping the hill gradient if it starts to become easier. Then you can go on to challenge this by sprinting the first 30 seconds either up or down, before trying to run fast up or down the whole climb.
WHAT RUNNING FORM SHOULD I USE?
In short you want to use the best possible running form you can. You want to lean forwards a little and try to keep your legs turning over underneath your hips. Focusing on keeping the core engaged and your feet pointed forwards. The same applies when going down hill, you don’t want to relax fully as that will increase the risk of you rolling an ankle, but you don’t want to be clenching your body too hard as that will make it harder to absorb the downhill force. You’ll want to shorten your stride when going up hill to help keep the legs underneath the hips and on the downhill you’ll find your stride elongates a little. Running up hills will actually help promote good form as you’ll naturally have a little more time to think about where your body is in space, and the terrain will make it harder to over stride. A common mistake here though is bending at the hips, you still want to keep your eyes focused ahead pulling your head towards the sky.
For some session ideas there’s a runner’s world post article with 5 different ideas for sessions that also give alterations for anyone new to that type of session.