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

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