The Huge Benefits of Hill Running
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Hill runs are synonymous with great runners and are an integral part of their training programme. But when should you use them? How do you put them into practice? And why are they so important.
Hill running can be seen in many shapes and sizes. They make up an important part of programming whether you sprint, or run marathon distances Sometimes they are short and sweet, sometimes they are longer and leave you sucking in the big breathes. They are the essential activity to develop speed and strength in your running.
- What are they?
- Why do we use them?
- When do we use them?
It sounds simple – and it is? But like many things, underneath the simple answer is a more complex truth. I hope to uncover it here.
What are they?
Yes! A hill, is a hill, is a hill. Well no. Actually yes, but they differ slightly. We use hill runs to build strength in running, that strength gives us returns on investment in the form of running speed. Whether you are a 100m runner, or a marathon runner – there should always be hills in your programme. If you are a middle-distance runner, or 5km and over they will usually come in the form of between 30 seconds and 2-minute repetitions. They are often ignored, or the specific runs that clients tend to leave out. This is because they are some of the hardest and most cardiovascularly difficult runs you can experience. A few tips, stand as tall as you can when running up the hill – leaning into it makes it more difficult as it shortens your hip flexors and quads. Then drive your knees through when running up the hill as best you can.
Why do we use them?
As stated previously, we use hill runs to improve strength. It’s similar to lifting weights. Due to the pitch of the hill, running against gravity requires more force to maintain the same speed as running flat. And we actually accentuate this by running faster than a traditional interval. Using this improved force training our central nervous system. It tells your brain to recruit more muscle fibres for a certain activity. In this case – sprinting up a hill. The more often you stimulate these signals, the stronger they become. And therefore the easier it is to recruit them again THis is how you use hill runs to improve your speed! As you get used to running at a certain speed over a period of time, it becomes more sustainable. Therefore extremely applicable to middle and long-distance running.
When do we use them?
Hills can be taxing. The load on the muscles (although good on the joints) can cause delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). Especially if you train hard. In that case, if you are on a four day a week running programme – which we would recommend. One of these would likely be a hill. Early in your week, so you are not affected before your longer or race-specific run. Of course, progressive overload is used, so they will begin usually at a shorter length of run and gradually increase throughout the programme as your running improves. As for when to use them, we like to have an 8-10 week consecutive programme of hills within a 16-week programme. That gives time to develop into your programme and build some tissue resilience (4 weeks). Then the hills begin. For the central nervous system to adapt and that threshold of running at speed to be reached, we desire at least 8 weeks of training. This will leave you with between 2 and 4 weeks for your programme to reach its peak training load, and then taper down for your event.
I know they are hard, I know they burn, I know they will make you faster! Get on those hills!
- Running hills are great for speed. From a short distance, all the way too long!
- They work your muscles to improve strength through muscle fibre recruitment.
- It takes 8-10 weeks to get the maximum benefit of hill training.
- Don’t run downhill if you can avoid it, and don’t skip the sessions! They are so beneficial!
Creating Running Form through Training