Get Faster With These 5 Hill Workouts
Hills shouldn’t be a dirty word for runners. Although they might sound intimidating, adding hill running workouts into your routine can improve strength and increase your performance.
“From the mental point of view, hill drills aren’t as much of a grind as other running drills,” says Kathy Butler, a past Olympian and USATF Level 3 certified coach and USATF Coaching Education instructor, based in Boulder, Colorado. “At most, you are two minutes up and then back down.”
During a hill running workout, you put a lot of effort into a short amount of time. Your leg muscles work harder when you’re running uphill, compared to running on flat ground — and that can help you build muscle and strength.
Here are five hill workouts to try.
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1. Best Outdoor Hill Workout: Short Hill Sprints
Short hill sprints can be done after your warm-up or at the end of an easy run. These sprint intervals can increase your lactate threshold, which can help you become a more efficient runner. Aim to do them every other week (alternating with other sprint exercises).
- Start at the base of a hill.
- Begin to sprint uphill, as fast as you can, for 10 to 15 seconds.
- Turn around and walk or slowly jog back down to your starting point.
- Catch your breath and start again. Repeat three to five times.
2. Best Treadmill Hill Workout: Tempo Run with Maximum-Effort Hills
On a tempo run, your pace is one you can sustain for a few miles — think a pace for a 10k race rather than a marathon, says Butler. This drill is great for the treadmill because you can set your pace and increase the incline as needed.
- Begin your run with five to 10 minutes at your tempo pace.
- Roll into 60 to 90 seconds of hills with the incline at a medium grade.
- Repeat for three total sets. (One set is the tempo run plus the hill run.) Adjust the time variables depending on how you’re feeling.
3. Best Hill Workout for Beginners: 30/60/90 Hill Intervals
If you’re just starting to incorporate hill drills into your training, this is the drill for you, as the longest hard effort is only 90 seconds. This hill workout is perfect for the treadmill, but you can also do it outdoors on a long, gradual hill.
- Warm up at an easy pace for five to 10 minutes on flat ground.
- Run uphill for 30 seconds at a 3–5% incline. Speed-wise, you shouldn’t be at your maximum effort, but the end of each hill interval should feel hard, Butler says.
- Slow your pace and run for 30 seconds at a 0% incline.
- Run uphill for 60 seconds — again, at a moderate-to-high intensity — then slow your pace and run for 60 seconds at a 0% incline.
- Run uphill for 90 seconds at a moderate-to-high intensity, then slow your pace and run for 90 seconds at a 0% incline.
- This is one complete set. Perform this drill for three to four sets.
4. Best Boredom-Busting Hill Workout: Rolling Terrain Fartlek
Fartlek is a Swedish term for speed play, a type of interval running workout in which you vary your speed during a long run. With a rolling hill fartlek, you change your pace and intensity due to hills, rather than simply increasing your speed while on flat ground.
Butler recommends finding an outdoor running route that has rolling, steep hills. (You can also do this hill workout on the treadmill by adjusting the incline throughout your run.) Push yourself on the uphills to build endurance and strength, and recover on the downhills. Butler recommends adding these rolling hill runs once a week.
5. Best Hill Workout for Mileage: Long Run with a Long Hill
Once every week or two, aim for a longer run with a long, gradual uphill portion. If you’re outdoors, look for a moderate-grade hill where you can sustain the same amount of effort for the entire uphill portion. If you’re on the treadmill, choose a moderate incline.
One key benefit to running outdoors: After you’re done running uphill, you get to run downhill. (Some treadmills have a downhill incline setting, but it depends on the model.) Butler stresses that you still need to pay attention to your form during the downhill portion — it’s easy to slack off while running downhill, which can lead to injury. “If possible,” Butler says, “find a route where the uphill is steep and the downhill is more gradual, or the downhill has switchbacks.”