RUN TO THE HILLS!: The Benefits of Hill Training

RUN TO THE HILLS! (The Benefits of Hill Training)

by Dr. Ken

We all can agree that running or walking the Selden Hills has made us stronger and faster athletes.  But do you know why?  Well, let’s talk about the benefits of hill workout training.

Some of the benefits of hill training:

  • Burn more calories
  • Increase endurance
  • Increase strength
  • Increase speed
  • Improve running form

Burn More Calories

We all know that it takes more effort to run or walk up hills compared to a flat surface.  With that harder effort requires the need to burn more calories for energy.  And who doesn’t want to burn more calories?!?!

Increase Endurance

The benefits of enhancing cardiovascular health, including heart stroke volume and VO2max, also comes with the increased effort of hill training.  For now it is important to know that the improvements in cardiovascular health will eventually lead to increased endurance.

Increase Strength & Speed

Hill workouts will force your hip, leg, ankle, and foot muscles to contract more powerfully compared to training on a flat surface because they are forced to overcome gravity.  This increase in power will then lead to more speed because of the longer, faster running or walking strides that are created.

Improve Running Form

Training on hills allows you to increase your stride frequency and length which can enhance your running form.  Hill sessions can also improve form by developing control, stabilization, and coordination (proper arm action during the driving phase and feet in the support phase).

Additional benefits

It has been shown that hill training can also help improve muscle elasticity and lactate tolerance while protecting the leg muscles against soreness.

In short, whether you walk or run, hill training can make you stronger, faster, and healthier.

 

Types of hill workouts

Now that we have discovered the benefits of hill training, let’s explore the different types of hill workouts.

Hill sprints are designed to activate and improve the function of the neuromuscular system by increasing the speed of the signals that are sent to the muscles while activating a greater percentage of muscle fibers which then fires the muscles more forcefully (increasing strength).  Hill sprints also improve cardiovascular function by increasing maximal stroke volume (the amount of blood the heart pumps with each contraction) which then reduces heart rate because the heart is pumping more efficiently.

Running our beloved Selden Hills is similar to performing long hill repeats (30 to 90 seconds of hard effort up hills with a walk or jog back down the hills for recovery).  This type of hill workout is an excellent way to improve VO2 max (the maximum amount of oxygen the body can use during intense activity) and muscle strength.  Because these types of repeats are often intense and can last up to 90 seconds, the need for oxygen is increased to sustain aerobic activity.  This in turn, will then further develop VO2max.  The forceful contractions of the hip, glute, and quad muscles when running long hill repeats are similar to performing repeated plyometric exercises.  Thus building muscle strength.

If you are specifically looking to improve your race day results, then consider incorporating rolling hills into your training program.  Although our Selden Hills help to improve VO2max and muscle strength, we seldom face these types of steep hills on race day.  Training on rolling hills will provide your body the specific stimulus that it may face during a race by improving form over longer and more gradual hills and maintaining pace up and over the hills.  It will teach you to keep your effort within your target pace range during the race.  Instead of attacking hills too hard on race day and go into anaerobic respiration (causing you to slow down considerably), you will be able to maintain the same effort up and down.  This will save you from exerting too much energy and even out your pace over the entire run for faster race times (hopefully!).   And the best part, you can still execute all the threshold and long runs you need, but by changing your route to include a few rolling hills, you will be specifically preparing yourself to handle the hills on race day.

What goes up must come down! Let’s not forget about those downhills.  Downhill running allows you to go faster without elevating heart rate.  The faster pace means quicker leg turnover.  The premise is to use a downhill that’s not too steep to train your neuromuscular system to turn the legs over more quickly than they ordinarily would on a flat surface.  You can either find a long downhill that takes ten minutes or more to complete or a shorter downhill that you can do repeats on while walking or slowly running back up the hill to stay aerobic.  The important aspect to remember is to make sure the downhill is not too steep which may force you to overstride.  This will put too much stress on the feet, knees, hips, and spine.  Try to keep your stride length about the same as if you were running or walking on level ground.

 

Injury factor

How often do you perform heavy weight training for a specific body region (i.e. chest or shoulders) in the gym two days in a row?  Or, how many times do you incorporate speed drills three to four times per week?  I am sure the answer is either never or rarely for both questions.  Why is that?  Well, these types of workouts are stressful on the joints, muscles, and ligaments of the body which will need time to recover due to the microtrauma created during these types of workouts.  No recovery à add more stress & strain à increase injury risk!  Hill training is certainly beneficial but should be approached in the same manner as resistance training and/or speed work.  It is best to incorporate a balanced approach by mixing in the different types of hill training, as was discussed above, on a weekly and monthly basis.  In other words, do not overdo it.

 

Conclusion

As you can see, there are several benefits to training on hills but not without the risk of injury.  Just as you would for strength/resistance training and/or speed drills, the idea is to keep a balanced approach when incorporating hill workouts into your training plan.  Good luck and see you on the Hills!

Godspeed! – Dr. Ken

About Dr. Nuss

This post was authored by Ken Nuss Jr.,D.C.  Dr. Nuss is a sports rehab chiropractor and the co-owner of Champion Performance Chiropractic Rehab in East Setauket, NY.  He is also a father of two and enjoys training & competing in triathlons.  Follow him on Facebook and the Champion Performance blog or click here to send him a message.

3 thoughts on “RUN TO THE HILLS!: The Benefits of Hill Training

  • December 13, 2014 at 9:21 am
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    Very informative! Thanks Ken!

    Reply
  • February 17, 2016 at 1:18 am
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    Hi Dr Nuss,

    I had a question regarding long hill runs. The hill I run is 370 meters( with possibly a 2 degree gradient) and my “sprints” are not real sprints, but a fast run to the crest of the hill and run back down.

    Do you see any benefits of combining both uphill and downhill running in one interval run compared to just running to the crest and walking back for a repeat?

    Thanks a lot,
    Pavan.

    Reply
    • March 7, 2016 at 3:20 pm
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      Hi Pavan,

      First off, let me apologize as I did not see your comment until today.

      To answer your question, I think it all depends on how much you are challenging yourself on the uphills that will determine how fast you are running back down the hill. When doing hill repeats myself, I usually walk a little bit at the top of the hill (because I’m out of breath! LOL) and then I’ll jog back down the hill at an easier pace to recover for the next hill repeat. If you are totally spent at the top of the hill, then it might be better to do a recovery jog back down the hill. I hope this helps.

      Godspeed! – Dr. Ken

      Reply

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