5 Hill Training Workouts

One of the simplest and most efficient ways to improve your running is by adding regular hill sessions into your training. Hill workouts build strength and power in your legs, which, as well as helping you with the hill section in your races, will also make you faster on the flat part of the course.

In addition, hill training will help you improve your running form as it’s almost impossible to run hills without lifting your knees and feet; this will train you to “keep your knees up” more during your regular runs, improving your form.

Before we get to the specific hill workouts, there are some hacks about running uphill and downhill that will help you get the most out of your hill training and ensure you avoid injury.

Running Uphill

When you run uphill, you have to do more work to offset the affect of gravity and many runners do this by leaning forward. However, when you lean forward into the hill by bending forward at the waist. However, while this may feel like it’s helping the negative impact on your running form is significant; it makes it much difficult to use your hip flexors and keep your knees up and makes it more difficult for you to utilize the stored up energy in your calves when you push off in the drive part of your gait. 

The simplest way to run uphill is to remember to “stand tall” and maintain your normal running form. One of the ways you can tell if your form is good is you will naturally have more of a mid/forefoot strike increasing the force through your calves and ankles; if you feel your calves are a bit sore the next day, your form was good. 

Running Downhill

This is an area where I’ve had tremendous difficulty, as I want to take advantage of the downhill section and lengthen my stride to do so; however, I often find myself picking up too much speed and having to lean back as a form of breaking. The combination of over-striding and leaning back saps that extra speed and plays havoc on your running form (and your quads). 

The simplest and most efficient way to run down hill is to continue to stand tall (as you do running uphill), and to take advantage of the gravitational speed by increasing your cadence; depending on the grade of the hill, you may also want to shorten your stride with this increased cadence. 

Hill Repeats

This is the core workout for hill training, and can be utilized by all levels of runners; below is a good hill repeat workout for a beginner. For more advanced runners, feel free to add time before and after the hill repeats as well as increasing the number of hill repeats as you get fitter. In order to do this workout, find a hill that will keep you running uphill at effort for 2 minutes but not at such an incline you can’t maintain that effort for the full 2 minutes. 

  • Run easy for 15 minutes
  • 5X2 minute uphills
  • Walk or jog back for 3 – 4 minutes of recovery
  • Run easy for 15 minutes 

Hill Loops

This is a hill workout favored by the Kenyan runners, and is a combination of a tempo run on a hilly loop. In order to do this one, you’ll want to find a running path that includes uphill, downhill and flat sections; in this workout, you will combine easy runs with moderate/hard effort and the moderate/hard effort should feel to be about 80% of your race pace. This workout is best suited for intermediate and advance runners, and beginners who have built up leg strength through hill repeat workouts. 

  • Run easy for 10 minutes
  • Run at 80% effort for 8 minutes
  • 3 – 4 minute recovery jog/walk
  • Run at 80% for 8 minutes
  • Run easy for 15 minutes 

Hill Pyramids

I personally love this workout, as it combines your basic pyramid workout with hill repeats. For this workout, you’ll need to find a hill that takes around 2 minutes seconds to run at effort; since my hill repeats are for 2 minutes, I’ll usually use the same hill for my Pyramids. As with the Hill Loops, this is best suited for intermediate or advanced runners or beginners who have built up their leg strength. 

  • Run easy for 10 minutes
  • Run uphill for the following time periods:
    • 45 seconds
    • 1 minute
    • 90 seconds
    • 2 minutes
    • 90 seconds
    • 1 minute
    • 45 seconds
  • Jog/walk back down to recover between each uphill
  • Run easy for 10 minutes 

In this workout, you should regulate your speed; faster for the shorter sections, slowing as you climb up the pyramid and increasing your pace as you come back down the pyramid. 

Downhill Training

As runners, we worry about and train for uphills much more than we do for downhills but properly running downhill will not only help you with your speed but will help you prevent injury. Our downhill training is similar to Hill Repeats, except rather than walk/jog back downhill you’ll run downhill at either an easy pace or fast pace. But, remember the downhill running advice; stand tall, quicken your cadence and shorten your stride all while staying loose and flexible. 

  • Run easy for 10 minutes
  • 4 X 2 minutes uphill at effort; easy downhill running pace
  • 4 X 2 minutes uphill at effort; fast downhill funning pace
  • Run easy for 10 minutes 

Hill Bursts

As with other workouts, this one is an offshoot of hill repeats but it is intended to help you with your speed as much as with building leg strength. A word of warning, you should be a more experienced runner and have built a good base of hill running before doing this workout. 

  • Run easy for 15 minutes
  • Burst uphill for 8 – 15 seconds (think of this as a sprint)
  • Walk downhill, recover for 1 – 2 minutes; just enough time to catch your breath
  • Repeat this cycle 6 – 12 times, depending on fitness
  • Run easy for 15 minutes 

If you haven’t run hills before, or aren’t consistently running hills you should start with Hill Repeats until you’ve built the leg strength and confidence to move to the other, more advanced workouts. 

Be safe and keep running!!

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Rich Flaherty is a middle of the pack runner and triathlete, whose only real claim to fame is his daughter Bekah Brooks qualified for the Boston Marathon in her first marathon.

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