Why you should be running for the hills

7 October 2015 by
First published: 13 May 2015

An off-road hilly high-intensity fartlek is great for fitness and developing super leg strength

Ascents can be a scary prospect for a runner, but here’s why you should be running for the hills – and attacking them.

You’ll be out on a run, plodding away as usual, and then out of nowhere a massive hill appears. Now there’s no going back, especially in a race, so it’s head down and you try to power up the seemingly endless incline that stands before you. Your breath quickens, your stride shortens and you definitely start to question what you’re doing.

Yep, hills are tough, but they’re also a great way to build strength and become a better runner. We caught up with training ambassador for the new Bristol + Bath Marathon, Martin Yelling, to find out more.

Whether you’re looking to mix up your training plan, getting some strength in those legs for a strong finish, or taking on a challenge like the Bristol + Bath Marathon, hill training can benefit all runners. There are also lots of ways to incorporate hills in to your training so that you can get the most possible out of those tougher efforts, whatever you’re training for!

Hill pyramid

Martin’s first suggestion is a hill pyramid, a mixed pace hill workout that’s easy to fit in to any routine. You’ll need to find a hill that takes you 60 seconds to run from bottom to top (top tip: you’ll need a stopwatch for most hill training sessions – you can pick one up cheaply from most sports shops or online). It doesn’t have to be a steep hill; in fact Martin cautions against running hills that are too steep: ‘Your muscles usually do not have the strength to optimise the work rate for very long and hence you cannot maintain a high heart rate for very long.’

Do it:
• Run 60 seconds hard up the hill, turn at the top and recover on the down section. Repeat three more times, speeding up to run 45 seconds, then 30 seconds, then 15 seconds. Martin explains, ‘As the duration of the uphill effort reduces so the intensity of your running should increase. The 15-second hill power effort is flat-out! Take 5 minutes and repeat this hill pyramid set in reverse order. Then do a two further times.’

Off-road hill fartlek

Fancy trail running? Well this is the workout for you! ‘An off-road hilly high-intensity fartlek is great for fitness and developing super leg strength,’ says Martin. ‘As the trail climbs up you have to shorten your stride, push up on to the balls of your feet, drive your knees and arms and lean into the hill in order to generate maximum forward and upward momentum. As you crest the climb and defend the other side relax, focus on maintaining your balance by using your arms, and let gravity and your legs carry you down.’

Martin comments that running off-road isn’t just great for developing leg strength; ‘It’s demanding on the large muscles required for changes of direction, pace, acceleration, endurance, power on the ascents and control on the descents, and also focuses on the more subtle muscles required for stability, proprioception and control.’ So a fantastic overall workout!

Do it:
If you’re heading off-road, Martin suggests you ‘choose a varied and hilly route for between 30 and 60 minutes. Run all the hills you hit hard and recover on the descents and the flat section’. For trail running it’s worth investing in a trail shoe like the Merrell All Out Charge for maximum stability, agility and improved foot protection.

City limits

What if you’ve not got any hills? ‘Urban running on the flat can be great for hill training too,’ says Martin. ‘Instead of picking a run route that appends steps, stairs or ramps, go and actively seek them out.’ Martin’s top tip: ‘Multi-storey carparks are great places to start. Progressively build up the number of flights you can run up, you could even grab your friends and make a competition of it!’ Just watch the cars, yes?