Jim2's Running Page

Hill Repeats vs. Weight Training

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I wholeheartedly agree with the value of hill repeats. Too many runners overlook them and focus almost entirely on intervals and tempo runs. Hard hill repeats provide both strength and cardiorespiratory development. I think that regular hill repeat sessions should be part of every serious runner's regimen. Further, as many easy and long runs as possible should include some hills, rather than be just all flat. Hills are a great resistance training tool for strength development....and not just in the form of structured hill repeats.


I used to train in a park in Baltimore (Patterson Park, for any locals who might be reading this) that had a 2-mile paved figure-8 loop that was 1/3 flat, 1/3 continuous uphill, and 1/3 continuous downhill. I think that it was an ideal training ground. A third of every easy run, long run, and tempo run was uphill and another third was downhill. I used the flat sections, which were as long as a half mile, for intervals. And the 2/3 mile, two-section uphill and similar 2/3 mile long, two-section downhill were great for any set of either long or short hill repeats, which are two related but different workouts that I used.


However, relying solely on hill repeats for strength training has one disadvantage relative to weight training....they can't be done as often. Once a week, at the most, is about it. Any more than that and you are not paying proper attention to some other element of training, probably either threshold or VO2max training. In fact, most training programs don't even call for hill repeats every week. Once every other week, or about 8-10 sessions in a 16-week schedule, seems to be about the most that many training programs call for.


OTOH, weight training can be done 2-3 times/week, each and every week....not in lieu of running, but in addition to any and all running that you are doing. I think that a well balanced program includes three hard running sessions/week....a long run and a combination of two of either hill repeats, VO2max intervals or threshold workout....plus two weight training sessions. The weight training sessions are probably best scheduled on easy running days or days that one doesn't run at all. However, I have often started a workout with a weight session at the gym, then either headed straight to a nearby track for a set of intervals or run a tempo run on an indoor track at the gym. I also had a regular routine for several years of doing my weekly long run of up to 24 miles on the roads, then going straight to the gym for a weight training session.


My point is that one doesn't have to be either/or concerning weight training vs. hill repeats. Incorporating both into a training program is best.


I do agree that weight training should consist of light weight and high reps. However, leg weight work doesn't have to be limited to working against your body weight. In fact, I don't know how a very valuable form of leg weight training for a runner....leg extensions....would be done just using body weight.


Another reason for a runner to do weight training is for upper body strength. Many runners think that upper body weight training is not important, or even useful, to a marathoner. I strongly disagree.


A strong upper body can serve as an auxiliary engine to help power a runner through the last 20-25% of a race of any distance from 5k to marathon when lactic acid has accumulated, fatigue is setting in, and one's legs are shutting down. If the upper body is relatively fresh from having coasted during the first 75-80% of the race while the legs were doing all the work, it can take over in the last stage of the race. If one can focus on maintaining arm swing cadence, leg stride rate, which often slows in the late stages of a race, must follow which helps to maintain or increase pace. I call it running the last part of a hard race on your upper body. The key to it is the degree of "freshness" of the upper body at that late stage. That's particularly important to a marathoner.


For every running stride there is a corresponding arm swing. If one takes 40,000 steps in a marathon, which is about average, s/he will also experience 40,000 arm swings. That will tire the upper body. The stronger the upper body going into the race, the less tired it will be in the latter miles and the better prepared it will be to take over and drive the end of the race. That's a benefit of upper body weight training for marathoners that you can't get from hill repeats.


Actually, my use of the term "the complete physiological entity" was intended to relate to the totality of a well balanced training program, not to specific workouts. I don't know of any single workout that adequately addresses all elements of "the complete physiological entity"....except for a marathon race itself. ;) The point that I was making was that one should not just try to modify biomechanics to achieve a longer stride....again, except to correct overstriding. Rather, one should rely on a well balanced training program to produce both a longer stride and faster stride rate, as well as more advanced VO2max and LT. The net result is a faster pace over a given distance. The key is a balanced training program, which should include both hill repeats and weight training.