Hill Training- Building Speed, Power and Endurance

Mixing up your training is critical to your improvement as a runner for overall development and making you faster.

Hill work is an extremely effective way to gain more power, increase running economy and improve speed. The repetitive nature of hill workouts forces the muscular system to develop in response to the stress being placed on it, while the nervous system increases firing patterns to fast-twitch muscle fibers. Completing hill workouts also increases speed and endurance because of the resistance inherent to running up hill and the associated increase in heart rate.

Hill workouts can serve as a way to transition into more formal speedwork, or to balance intervals performed on a track or flat roads

Hills should be thought of as a form of speed work and included intentionally; they help introduce the body to faster work with less impact at a slower pace. Injury-prone runners who struggle with adding faster work will find hills provide the same stimulus.

Although hill workouts are not easy, they should be planned for and embraced as a positive training element.

Varying the steepness and length of hill repeats from short, steep sprints to longer, rolling hill runs hits all the physiological bases- speed, strength, efficiency and endurance.

They are useful for gaining more power and improving running economy and are beneficial for everyone from track runners to marathoners.

Running economy (RE), the enrgy cost of running at a given pace, is one of the physiological parameters for running performance and used to measure total efficiency of a runner. It uses oxygen intake to represent energy use and is defined by how much oxygen it takes to cover a given distance at a fixed speed. RE significantly correlates with running performance. The three types of efficiency we are concerned with are:


Metabolic
Neural
Biomechanical.

By keeping your heart rate up for an extended period of time provides huge aerobic development. Your body becomes more efficient at taking in oxygen and delivering it to your muscles, enabling you to run faster with the same amount of effort. It also improves anaerobic capacities.

We can use short hill reps for speed and long hill reps for endurance and strength. You will certainly reap the benefits on race day.

To tackle the hills use exaggerated, proper running form – exaggerated knee lift and arm swing leaning slightly forward from the ankles into the hill. 

Your body will naturally adjust your stride to accommodate the effort. Steeper inclines usually yield smaller and quicker steps, close to the ideal stride rate of 180-185 steps per minute. Running uphill also forces your to lift your knees, a critical element of good running form. By lifting the knees, you are recruiting the hip muscles which give you more power and propulsion with every step. The neuromuscular pathways are reinforced that make good form a default setting, even on flat courses. Another positive is that it also forces your foot to strike directly under your centre of gravity. Ground contact time is minimized by using high cadence and good running form which helps with efficiency.

Hill sprints/Blasts for power and improved stride efficiency. (10-12 sec)

Power in running terms is the ability to move with great speed or force. Power is defined as force by velocity.
In order to develop velocity in middle distance runners, plyometrics has been reported to improve running economy by improve the stretch shortening cycle (SSC)
Running is essentially a series of single spring like hops. A certain amount of force needs to be applied to the ground to propel the athlete forward.


The most specific form of plyometric training for runners is sprinting.
Steep hill sprints/blasts can be used as a method of power development to start with and then progress slowly to flat sprints on the track.
The emphasis shifts slowly from power development to a more plyometric type effect and more specific running form.
Starting with just a few blasts (running in the best technical model)
e.g. 3-5 with a full recovery of 2-3′ and increasing the volume very progressively up to 10. 

The athlete should focus on a running technique which has vigorous arm drive and high knee lift, with the hips kept high, so that they are ‘running tall’, not leaning forward.

Your first session will stimulate physiological adaptations that serve to better protect your muscles and connective tissues from damage in your next session. Known to exercise scientists as the “repeated bout effect”, these adaptations occur very quickly.

Hill Repeats – running hard up a fairly steep gradient for 45 sec to 2 minutes followed by a recovery jog back down. These are similar to speed training in nature where turnover, mechanics, power and consistency are the primary focus.

Sample workouts include

8-15 x 45s

6-12 x 1 minute

5-9 x 90s

4-8 x 2 minutes.

Descending ladder: 3 x 90s, 3 x 60s, 3 x 45s starting at 10k pace and getting progressively faster.

These workouts should be run on a hill with 4-6% gradient with good footing. Hills repeats can also be blended with tempo run efforts in between sets.

In addition to doing straight repeats, hills can be blended into the workout so that portions of the workout are done on flat ground and portions on a hill for example, 6′ tempo run, 5 x 300m hill repeats, 5′ tempo run 4 x 300m hill repeats. By doing the workout this way, you are introducing a strength component that will force muscle fibre recruitment during the hill session and then train those fibres on flat ground portion. 

 

A sufficient warm up of at least 10-15 minutes easy running and is necessary

 
Give them a go🙂⛰

Michelle Greaney
Athletes Ireland Level 2 National Endurance Coach

Strength Training for the Distance Athlete-Time to Build a Robust More Resilient Body

Simply put, strength is the ability to produce force. With my strength training approach for distance athletes, it is multidimensional and follows a planned series of programs with the goal of improving your stability, postural control, strength, power and running economy and performance. Prehab work will focus on strengthening supporting muscles to facilitate proper biomechanics to avoid injury. 

Before doing a strength and conditioning program, it is recommended that athletes go through an anatomical adaptation phase (AA) in order to maximize training adaptations and to prevent the onset of overtraining syndrome. A methodoligically structured AA phase is the foundation on which the other phases of strength training are built.

Low to medium loads at the start will aid in the adaptation level of your musculoskeletal system and prepare the body for the more challenging program inherent in the following phases of training. It also aids in the improvement of inter-muscular coordination (balance, coordination and neural firing patterns).
I incorporate drills, core strength and stability work as this will help help to prevent injuries, improve biomechanics and performance. 

Athletes should be looking to maintain muscle balance and stability and proprioception and work to maintain mobility around key joints like the hips as the miles take their toll on the body while working all planes of motion. The aim for middle distance or distance athletes is to have a big engine with a small frame and very high efficiency. We don’t want to increase our non specific muscle mass too much using conventional weight training as it will create a larger payload to be carried around the track or the road. The muscle should be very specific to running otherwise it is a liability that will come at a high energy cost.

Glute max is the largest muscle in the human body and its primary function is to extend the hip. Exerts large forces on the ground generates greater propulsive forces and controls trunk pitch. Glute medius and minimus provide hip stability and control.
Quads key function is to flex the hip and extend the knee, rectus femoris is active during swing and early stance.
Hamstrings key function is to extend the hip and flex the knee, active during late swing to prepare the limb for contact and during early stance phase.
Calf Muscle Complex-Triceps surae- gastric- soleus. Gastroc is biarticular, soleus contributes 50% vertical support force required to accelerate the body, the calf is the engine for the achilles tendon.
Foot and ankle-multiplanar and subtalar joint and plantar fascia allow the foot to pronate and expand to absorb impact during stance phase. Each individual has varying degrees of pronation and supination.

The focus in recent years has turned to the power capabilities of runners and in particular the rate of force development (RFD). This essentially refers to the speed at which force can be produced. Power then in running terms is the ability to move with great speed or force. Power is defined as force x velocity, therefore by making runners stronger, you increase their force capability. Rate of force development (RFD) plays a large role. Running is a function of power and therefore RFD. How quickly can we exert the force needed to maintain our pace.
What we want are neurally induced gains in strength and muscle fiber recruitment.
Max strength training component aims to fatigue the muscle between 4 to 6 repetitions for 3 to 5 sets with an extended rest period between sets. Exercises should be compound in nature and target the full body and are at the start of the program. A closed chain exercise like the deadlift lifts the weight upwards and away from the ground as our trunk opens up and extends just like when we run and accomplishes what we want for approx. 90% of the skeletal muscle used in running.
Athletes alike should be aware of proper technique and execution of exercises. .

Variables like contact time, flight time, vertical oscillation or leg stiffness, among others, have shown to be well linked to running performance. Specifically, those variables have been used to measure the cost of running, i.e.the energy used to move ourselves forward at a certain speed.
Thus, shorter contact times, higher flight times, shorter vertical oscillation (i.e., the vertical displacement of the Center of Mass while running, a metric indicating how much do we ‘bounce’) and higher leg stiffness (i.e., how ‘reactive’ are our steps, the higher leg stiffness, the higher elastic energy produced by our tendons) would mean greater running economy. A stiffer spring is more efficient because it delivers and receives impact force very quickly so that little of this energy is lost through dissipation.
Running Economy is the oxygen cost of maintaining a given pace. A stronger athlete with appropriate strength, stability and mobility will cover the same distance more efficiently than an athlete who has poor RE.
Runners with good RE have greater stride length and frequency than those who struggle to control their technique due to a weak body so it is important to keep this up. Running economy has been correlated with running performance

Balance the Weak Links

Just because running is a uni-directional movement, it doesn’t mean there is not a lot of rotation and lateral motion going on to produce that movement.
When we predominantly train the muscles which work to produce straight line, sagittal plane movements (quads, hamstrings) they become the ones which get worked the hardest and developed strongest, leaving the muscles which get loaded more effectively through rotation and lateral movement (glutes, obliques and adductors) yet are responsible for providing stability as we run to remain weak and deconditioned.
Many of the weak links in runners occur in the frontal (side to side) and transverse (rotational) planes of motion.
A good choice of strength exercise is the crab walk exercise which mirrors this multiplanar movement
Function at the ankle, knee and hip is maximal when the hip displays great stability.

Clamshells

Plyometrics

KEEP IT SIMPLE A variety of hops, skips, jumps, and bounds make up the plyos runners use. These exercises teach the body how to maximize our rate of force development. They represent the last step in converting the muscular force development into specific running improvements.
Reactive strength-The focus here is on minimizing ground contact.
Running by itself is a plyometric event and with that in mind, the volume and complexity of plyos should be kept low and have ample recovery in between sets to keep the quality of the movement high. Sprinting is the most specific plyo to do as the ground contact times are about as low as you can get and a large amount of force is generated in a very short time.
Plyometrics improves RE by improving the concentric and eccentric coupling of muscles (stretch shortening cycle) thereby developing velocity. These are a great way for runners to learn to absorb, store and produce larger amounts of force. The potential of these exercises can only be realized if used correctly!
The first phase is learning how to jump and land.
Developing eccentric strength for landing is the most important part of plyometric training.
*The more softly a runner land’s the better.
*Landing should never be deeper than a half squat position.


Core Exercises- A little goes along way

The function of the core is to prevent excessive torso rotation, transfer force and stabilize the spine. Core training should be multi-dimensional and should begin with stability and progress onto more dynamic mobility exercises.Your ability to control your torso is essential for optimal Running Economy (RE). Just as essential is the ability to use the core section of the body to transfer force from the upper and lower extremities. An inability to transfer force, due to a weak core, leads to an inefficient RE and thus a waste of energy. Additionally insignificant core strength and imbalance can lead to compensation by other parts of the body which can lead to a number of acute and overuse injuries.

As mileage during competition phases is reduced, the volume of strength training is also reduced according to fixtures and heavy periods of mileage.
The power benefits can be maintained with regular plyometric drills incorporated into the training plan without having an adverse effect on performance.

 

Michelle Greaney, (MG Coaching), Strength and Conditioning, Athletics Ireland Level 2 Endurance Running Coach