Hill repeats are always good workouts. Combining an interval workout with strength training. Reducing impact forces and lowering injury risk for other more technical reasons. There are all kinds of benefits to hitting the hill for your next interval workout.
During this time when many of us still can’t get into gyms and even tracks may be either off limits or not wise to go to for some, hill repeats can be even more powerful. Sure, you can get in a good strength workout in your living room and, with GPS watches, you can do almost any kind of interval workout you want anywhere. However, hill repeats can combine all of these things in one workout.
Benefits of hill workouts
So what are the benefits of hill workouts? I addressed some of them above but let’s lay the main benefits out now.
Strength training: By working against gravity, you’re adding resistance to the workout you would otherwise be doing on level ground. This added resistance means you’re not only getting in a good interval workout but stepping up your game by adding a strength component you wouldn’t get as much of while running on level ground.
Reducing impact forces: When running uphill, because you don’t have to “fall” as far to meet the ground, you don’t hit the ground as hard at foot plant. This makes the impact forces you experience while running at a high intensity lower. Just watch the downhills as you might increase the impact forces there. Walk back down if this is a major concern. Fortunately, impact forces are much lower when running more slowly so your overall impact forces, even if you do jog back down, will be lower overall and your peak impact forces will definitely be lower.
Other ways of lowering injury risk: Many runners, especially as we age, worry about pulling a hamstring by doing short, very intense workouts. One of the additional benefits of taking your workouts to the hills is that you don’t extend your knee as far just before foot plant, meaning you put less strain on your hamstring. There are other benefits but this is the biggest one for many runners and an example I hope I can explain well without a visual demonstration.
How do I do a hill workout?
Well, this depends on what you have available and what you’re trying to accomplish.
Since we need to work with the local geography, unless you’re taking the workout to a treadmill in which case you can do pretty much whatever you want to take your favorite interval workout to the incline, everyone’s options will be a little different.
So start with what you have available. Do you only have a short hill? Then you’ll be doing short, more intense repeats. Do you have a long hill available, maybe a half mile or mile long? Then you can do almost any type of workout you want. Just run part way up for shorter repeats or go the whole way for longer ones.
The grade of the hill you have available also matters. Generally, we want something that’s not so steep it greatly affects your form. However, if all you have available is a steeper hill, then you work with what you have. Regardless, we’re on hills so we’re not trying to hit a specific pace. We’re running for effort. Maybe, if you get familiar with the hill, you’ll know what kind of splits you should expect but don’t go in expecting a certain pace on your first workout.
As for picking a workout, you can really just pick your favorite interval workout that fits on what hills you have available.
Do you like half mile repeats? Then, if you have a hill that’s at least a half mile long, take that workout to the hill. Just remember that your recoveries are going back down so they need to be at least as long as the repeats (you could always add some extra recovery but, unless your hill is real long, your recovery will need to get you back down to the bottom).
Want to take some strides or short repeats to a hill? Great idea! As a bonus, all you need is a short hill.
As for actually doing the workout, run up by effort and walk or jog back down for recovery. So, if you want to do half mile repeats at 5K effort/pace, forget about pace and do your half mile hills at 5K effort. A recovery jog back down the hill will be suitable recovery and you’ll be ready for your next repeat.