ISSA, International Sports Sciences Association, Certified Personal Trainer, ISSAonline, Hill Workouts for Speed, Strength, and Endurance


Hill Workouts for Speed, Strength, and Endurance

Reading Time: 4 minutes 32 seconds


Date: 2021-07-06T00:00:00-04:00

Hill workouts, though often overlooked, are a good way for clients to work on their speed, strength, and endurance outside the gym. However, when it comes to hill running, not many people look forward to this type of workout.

So, why are these workouts worth the effort and how can you implement them into your training? Let's start by diving into the benefits hill running offers.

Benefits of Hill Training

Running hills involves no equipment but makes the workout more challenging. How can exercise be challenging without external resistance or weights? Well, the short answer is, you are moving up an incline and this is resistance.

Think of performing a resisted sprint on flat ground. Then take the resistance band away and sprint up a hill. These two exercises are very similar. Hill training though can take an athlete's speed to a whole new level.

A structured hill running workout will provide benefits such as:

  • Strength and endurance

  • Maximum force production

  • Stride length and foot turnover

  • Speed and conditioning

  • Running efficiency and muscle flexibility

Many of these benefits result from muscle recruitment in major muscle groups. As clients run uphill, large muscle groups like the glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, and calves are activated. Just like weight training promotes muscle growth in these large muscles, so does hill training.

Clients may choose between uphill or downhill running. Both options offer some of the same benefits. Uphill running demands more from the entire body. While downhill running engages more stabilizer muscles, mainly in the front of the leg.

Many running workouts build speed and endurance. Though clients who choose hill workouts should expect an increase in workout intensity. This leads to a higher heart rate and an increase in respiration. The rate of calorie burn becomes even greater. No matter how much you run on flat ground, you will reach failure faster when running uphill.

Endurance athletes benefit more from focusing on using a long hill for a long run and easy pace. This helps the distance runner improve VO2 max and aerobic endurance. For anaerobic benefits, speed workouts and strength endurance come through short hill speed work.

They are also good for preventing injury. By working against gravity, you reduce the impact on joints. Athletes also reduce the risk of injury by building stronger, more fatigue-resistant muscles.

What Is the Best Type of Hill Workout for Your Client?

Every runner or athlete can benefit from hill workouts to increase strength, power, speed, and endurance. You can use different approaches for hill running such as the following:

  • Short hill sprint variations

  • Hill interval training

  • Steep hill running

  • Tempo run or hill repeat training

When it comes to putting a hill workout into action, consider one of two options:

  • Short, maximum effort hill sprints

  • Speed endurance hill sprints

Novice clients should always start with less time or reps than advanced clients. This is dependent on the type of hill training they are executing and customized for each athlete.

Hill Running and Speed

The muscles used during hill training are the same muscles used during a sprint. Training these muscles on an incline will improve running speed on flat ground. Short hill reps for no more than 60 seconds are effective for building speed and strength.

When running hills for speed, focus on short duration and maximum effort. This is best for anaerobic training and recruiting fast-twitch muscle fibers. Max effort sprints require running as fast as possible for a specified duration.

Always include a recovery jog back down the hill. It is important to have an additional rest before completing another set. This is especially important when training for power output, acceleration, and speed. Allow muscles to recuperate to generate enough energy in the next sprint.

Hill Running and Strength

Running on an incline provides resistance to the body. This is just like resistance or strength training using weights. It provides stress to muscles and helps build muscle strength throughout the body, especially the lower body. If you have clients who don't like weight training, try incorporating hill running as an occasional alternative.

Hill sprints in general increase stride power just as a lower body strength exercise would. This includes better running economy or efficiency. This results from strengthening muscles, bones, tendons, and ligaments.

Speed endurance hill sprints can help with strength as well. These reps are usually longer in duration than hill speed training. The resistance helps build lower body strength in muscles because of the tension applied.

Hill Running and Endurance

Do you work with clients who are long-distance athletes or runners? If so, include hill training in their program. Hill running helps improve endurance levels through steady pace runs. Running on an incline or uphill is more difficult than flat ground. Therefore, when runners go back to flat ground with the same distance, it will feel easier.

Runners who have a specific elevation they are training for can use hills to mimic the course. This not only prepares athletes physically but also mentally. It helps ease an athlete's mind of unexpected course obstacles. It even boosts confidence.

Long hill reps or runs for 2-5 minutes with a jog back down are great for building endurance. Longer duration hill runs help promote more aerobic or type I muscle fiber benefits. Be sure to understand the difference between aerobic and anaerobic training. Know how both these workout types change the body.

Maximize Your Hill Workout with These Exercises

Consider these options for your client's next hill training program:

  • Sprints - Short, maximum intensity runs up the hill

  • Backpedal - Turn it around and hustle up the hill backward

  • Shuffles - Instead of forward or backward, your client will side shuffle up the hill

  • Bounds - Instead of a regular sprint, your client will leap as far as they can, covering as much distance as possible with each step

  • Lunges - Your client can lunge in place on the hill, facing uphill or downhill, or they can step lunge their way and down the hill

  • Side lunges - A little bit of a combo of the shuffle and lunge, these can be stationary or progress all the up and down the hill

  • Bear crawl - Add in some upper body work by having your client bear crawl up the hill

  • Push-ups - Another upper body option, face uphill or downhill to adjust the degree of difficulty

Remember that performance is a crucial aspect of all sports. Help athletes achieve their optimal performance with everything you need to build the best strength, agility, and conditioning training that sports science has to offer. Get certified with ISSA's Strength and Conditioning course!

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