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4 Hill Workouts for Runners + the Benefits of Hill Running

Completing a hill workout for runners is not only satisfying, but incredibly beneficial in your training. Hill running has so many benefits – whether you’re just getting started or are training for a specific goal.

However, many runners fail to incorporate hill workouts in their training. Whether it be for lack of accessibility or because they simply don’t know how, many runners miss out on the great benefits of hill workouts.

Benefits of Hill Running Workouts

Regularly incorporating hill running workouts in your training has numerous benefits. Contrary to popular belief, hill workouts can be beneficial for runners of all ability levels, and not just those hoping to increase their speed.

Here are some of the most versatile reasons to try a hill workout for runners. You’ll gain strength, speed and improve performance with just a few simple hills each week.

  • Easier on joints and connective tissues due to lower impact
  • Helps prevent many different types of injuries
  • Encourages a faster cadence with increased turnover
  • Helps build strength and power in the lower body
  • Promotes better form
  • Hill running has less risk of injury that flat ground
  • Improves mental strength and endurance
  • Provides variety in training
  • Can help increase speed on flat surfaces

These are just some of the benefits that come from completing regular hill workouts during training. Many runners say that hill running is “speedwork in disguise”, and for good reason – many of the benefits translate into factors that will increase your speed on flat terrain.

A 2015 study by the International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance studied athletes who completed sprints on uphill surfaces, and found that uphill and downhill training was more effective that training solely on flat surfaces.

When to try running hills?

Most runners find themselves ready to start incorporating hill workouts once they become aware of all of the benefits. However, trying to add something brand-new to your existing training can be overwhelming. Even with the best of intentions, it’s easy to let running hills fall by the wayside.

Here is exactly when to try out a few hill workouts for runners. Whether you’re a brand-new runner, seasoned pro, or in the beginning or end of training, there is some form of hill running that can be of benefit.

Who can benefit from hill workouts:

  • New runners
  • Those training to increase speed
  • Those training for a hill race
  • Those beginning a new training plan
  • Injury prone runners
  • Runners wanting to lose weight
  • Runners stuck at a plateau

When to include hill workouts in training:

  • Base training: any type of hill workout in place of speed workouts
  • Early training: workouts with long hill reps or hill sprints
  • Mid-training: hill sprints or workouts with short reps
  • Late training: hill sprints or hill circuits

How to Properly Execute a Hill Workout for Runners

Simply finding a hill workout won’t get you very far unless you know exactly how to execute the workout. In order to reap the benefits of hill running, you’ll need to understand the general structure of each workout. While hill workouts vary from short sprints to long circuits, each workout contains the same general flow.

  • Complete a warm up on flat ground for at least 10 – 15 minutes
  • Choose different hills for different workouts – steeper hills for short reps and more gradual inclines for longer reps
  • Run up the hill at different efforts depending on the length of the interval – harder efforts for short reps and easier efforts for longer reps
  • Jog or walk down the hill for recovery intervals
  • Continue to repeat as prescribed
  • Complete a cool down on flat ground for at least 10 minutes
These 4 hill workouts for runners will increase speed, boost strength, improve performance and prevent injuries. Try one this training cycle!

4 Hill Workouts for Runners

Once you’re ready to get out there and tackle some hills, you’ll want to find some quality hill workouts to include in your training. The type of hill workout that is most beneficial will depend on your goals and where you are in your training, but every type can be beneficial in some way.

Here are some of the best hill workouts for runners. Each workout falls into a different category of hill running: hill repeats or sprints, short reps, long reps, and hill circuits. Try adding one or all of these to your regular workout rotation to see how your running improves.

Hill Workout #1: Hill Sprints

This first hill workout can be completed at any point during training. It is a great way to build strength, power and improve overall running economy. These short, fast sprints help strengthen the muscles and connective tissues to provide protection from many types of running injuries.

Hill sprints should be completed on a hill with a relatively steep grade, and run at a high level of effort. Giving maximum effort for the uphill interval is key to maxing out the benefits of this workout – but be sure to properly recover in between.

  • Warm up: 15 – 20 minutes of easy running on flat ground
  • Hill sprints: maximum effort sprinting uphill for 10 – 12 seconds, repeat 10 – 15x
  • Recovery: jog or walk back downhill, repeat 10 – 15x
  • Cool down: 10 minutes of easy running on flat ground

Hill Workout #2: Short Reps

This hill workout for runners is similar to hill repeats, and often completed on the same type of hill. Look for a steep hill with a 4 – 7% grade to get started. These short reps are usually completed at about a 5k pace, clocking in slightly slower than sprints. However, the interval length is significantly longer, usually around 60 seconds. This is a great workout to help increase your VO2 Max.

  • Warm up: 10 – 15 minutes of easy running on flat ground
  • Hill sprints: fast, hard effort uphill (5k pace or faster) for 45 – 90 seconds, repeat 6 – 10x
  • Recovery: jog or walk back downhill, repeat 6 – 10x
  • Cool down: 10 minutes of easy running on flat ground

Hill Workout #3: Long Reps

This running hill workout is a great way to boost endurance and running economy. These longer hill reps require focus and sustained effort for extended periods of time. During this hill workout, you’ll want to look for a longer hill with a mild grade. You’ll need to sustain a tempo effort for about 2 to 4 minutes, so the hill will need to be long enough for each rep.

  • Warm up: 10 minutes of easy running on flat ground
  • Hill sprints: tempo effort uphill for 2 – 4 minutes, repeat 2 – 6x
  • Recovery: jog or walk back downhill, repeat 2 – 6x
  • Cool down: 10 minutes of easy running on flat ground

Hill Workout #4: Hill Circuit

This hill workout for runners can be one of the most difficult because the “recovery” interval is completed at a faster pace. The uphill portion of the run is usually 1 to 2 minutes in length, completed on a hill with a moderate grade.

During the uphill portion, you’ll want to give a 10k effort or faster. The difference here is that when you turn around to run back down, you’ll still want to give a half marathon effort. Jogging or walking are not completed during the circuits unless a break is needed.

  • Warm up: 10 – 15 minutes of easy running on flat ground
  • Hill sprints: 10k effort uphill for 1 – 2 minutes, repeat 4 – 8x
  • Recovery: run downhill at half marathon effort, repeat 4 – 8x
  • Cool down: 10 minutes of easy running on flat ground

Proper Form for Running Hills

Completing any hill workout for runners is beneficial, but you’ll want to be sure that you are executing the workout with correct form. Running hills with improper form will not only reduce the benefits, but can create a risk for injury.

Proper form when running hills is very similar to regular running form, but with a few slight tweaks. Here are some simple adjustments you can make to ensure you avoid injury when running hills.

  • Increase arm swing speed for steeper grades
  • Shorten the stride and increase turnover
  • Focus on maintaining the same effort as flat ground – not pace
  • Don’t hunch shoulders or lean forward
  • Heels should stay under the knees

Adding hill workouts to your training plan is a great way to mix things up, build strength, increase speed and gain mental toughness. Hill running adds a great deal to any training plan, and doesn’t have to involve long efforts or repeated workouts.

Simply adding a few hill repeats to the mix of speed workouts will improve your training in many ways. Try one or all of these hill workouts for runners during your next training season.

More hill workout ideas and tips: