Are you wondering whether running hills will make you slower or faster? If you’re a triathlete or runner, you’ve probably heard mixed opinions on the matter. Some people swear by hill training as a way to improve their speed and endurance, while others believe that hills are a surefire way to slow you down. So, what’s the truth?
As for me personally, when I was a junior elite triathlete training and racing in Germany and then later became pro triathlete, I know firsthand the importance of hill training for triathlons and running events.
Quickly, I learned that hills can be a powerful training tool to boost speed, strength, running economy and improve my running form.
In this blog post, we’ll delve into the benefits and drawbacks of hill training and help you determine whether it’s right for your training goals. We’ll examine the science behind hill running and consider the pros and cons of different types of hill training, such as hill repeats and hilly -extensive/long- trail runs.
As an experienced athlete, you know that every training program is different and that it’s important to find what works best for you. I’ll take a look at various approaches to hill training and help you determine the best way to incorporate hills into your own training plan. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced runner or triathlete, I’ve got you covered.
It is important to understand that hill running does recruit a larger number of muscle fibers, which can help improve neuromuscular strength.
When you run uphill, your muscles have to work harder to lift your body against gravity. This requires more muscle fibers to be activated and can lead to greater muscle recruitment. As a result, hill running can be an effective way to improve muscle strength and endurance.
In addition to recruiting more muscle fibers, hill running also requires greater muscle coordination and stability. This can help improve your overall neuromuscular control and reduce your risk of injury.
It’s important to remember to use proper form when running hills: keep your chest up, lean forward slightly from the ankles, and take short, quick strides. Besides, to help build the muscles you’ll need for hill running, it is also a good idea to include other types of strength training in your routine, such as squats, lunges, deadlifts and leg press.
With time, practice (repetition) and patience, you’ll be able to improve your hill running and see your overall running form improve a lot as well. Trust me!
Should you focus on long or short hills?
Both long and short hills have their benefits for triathletes and runners. I like to include a mix of both in the training program of my athletes.
Here are a few specific benefits of long and short hills:
- Long hills: Long hills are typically steeper and require more endurance to complete. Running long hills can help improve your muscle endurance, cardiovascular fitness, and overall running economy. They can also help improve your mental toughness and confidence as a runner.
- Short hills: Short hills are typically shorter and less steep than long hills. They can be a good way to improve your V02max, lactate tolerance, speed and power. Short hill sprints, which typically last 10-30 seconds, are intense, high-intensity efforts that require a lot of power and speed. They are ideal for training the anaerobic energy system because they rely on stored energy sources and do not require oxygen.
Long hills can help clear lactate and improve your LT2 (lactate threshold 2) and reduce your VLamax (maximal lactate steady state). This can help clear lactate from your muscles and improve your overall endurance and running economy.
Lactate is a byproduct of muscle metabolism that accumulates in the
blood during exercise. As you run, your muscles produce energy through a
process called glycolysis, which involves breaking down glucose and
releasing energy. As a byproduct of this process, your muscles produce
Lactate threshold (LT) is the point at which lactate begins to
accumulate in the blood faster than it can be removed. There are two
main lactate thresholds: LT1 and LT2. LT1 is the point at which lactate
begins to accumulate in the blood, and LT2 is the point at which there
is a rapid increase in lactate accumulation.
I like to mix things up but I tend to add hills year-round, but it’s
important to approach hill training gradually and I recommend that you
are listening to your body. If you’re new to hill running or if you’re
coming back from an injury, it’s a good idea to start with small &
short hills and gradually increase the length and steepness as you
become more comfortable and confident.
For experienced, elite triathletes and elite runners it can be a good idea to include hills in your base training phase. During base training, I like to give generally small hills and gradually increase the length and steepness as my athlete becomes more comfortable, stronger and confident.
There are a few specific times when you may want to be cautious about adding hills to your running program:
- If you’re in the midst of a high-volume training phase: Hill training can be very demanding on the body, and it’s important to be mindful of your overall training load. If you’re already doing a lot of mileage or high-intensity workouts, it may be wise to hold off on hill training until you’re better able to recover.
- If you’re dealing with an injury: If you’re currently dealing with an injury, it’s generally a good idea to avoid hill training until you’re fully recovered. Hills can be tough on the joints and muscles, and they may exacerbate existing injuries.
- If you’re experiencing excessive fatigue or burnout: If you’re feeling excessively tired or burnt out, it may be a good idea to take a break from hill training. It’s important to listen to your body and give yourself time to rest and heal.
Yes, hills are tough on the body for a few reasons:
- Increased effort and energy expenditure: Running hills requires more effort and energy than running on flat terrain because you have to work against gravity to lift your body up the incline. This can lead to fatigue and muscle strain.
- Greater impact on joints: The added resistance of running uphill can also put more stress on your joints, especially your knees and ankles. This can increase your risk of overuse injuries. If you are just coming back from an injury or currently dealing with an injury it is not a good idea to perform (obviously) any type of high intensity running. Be patient!
- Muscular imbalances: If you’re not used to running hills, you may have imbalances in your muscle strength and endurance. For example, you might have stronger quadriceps muscles (in the front of your thighs) than your gluteal muscles (in your buttocks). This can lead to muscle strains and other injuries.
Here are a few tips for incorporating hill training into your running routine:
- Start with small hills and gradually increase the length and steepness of the hills as you become more comfortable and confident.
- Use proper form when running hills: keep your chest up, lean forward slightly from the ankles, and take short, quick strides.
- Include other types of strength training in your routine, such as squats, lunges, and leg press, to help build the muscles you’ll need for hill running.
- Don’t overdo it: hills can be tough on your body, so be sure to include plenty of rest and recovery in your training schedule.
Now, if you do extensive/long hilly trail runs predominately (Marathon/Ultra events …) this could cause a shift more towards the endurance side of the endurance-speed spectrum and potentially result in a decrease in anaerobic power and overall speed.
I think it is generally true that if you focus all of your energy and efforts on one specific area, you may not have as much energy and resources left to invest in other areas. This is known as the principle of diminishing returns, which states that as you continue to invest more and more resources into a particular activity or goal, the incremental benefits or returns from that investment will eventually decrease.
In the context of training, this means that if you focus all of your efforts on a single aspect of your fitness, such as endurance or speed, you may see improvements in that specific area, but it may come at the expense of other areas of your fitness.
For example, if you focus all of your training on endurance, you may see improvements in your ability to sustain a high level of effort over long periods of time, but you may see a decrease in your anaerobic power and overall speed.
Yes, hills will make you tired, slow you down in the short term because they require more effort and energy than running on flat terrain. However, if we train properly (making the right decisions) with a well-rounded training program, allow the body to recover where it can absorb the completed training, I trust that your strength and endurance will build up and you should be able to improve your overall running speed over time.