If you’re a runner like me you most likely don’t like running up hills. If you’re not used to running up hills and you run into one you will feel outta shape quickly. The good news is that with regular hill training you will start to feel like running up hills is no big deal. The idea is to find hills that are out of your comfort zone. Run up them at an effort that is close to race pace. If you do this for 3-6 weeks you will become a stronger runner and you might break through a plateau. If your goal is to improve as a runner. It’s important to work on the weak links in your running game and running hills is a weak point for many runners. Here’s our take on the benefits of hill training for runners.
Running hills builds strength
Many runners understand that strength training is important to improve running. Doing hills might be better than hitting the weight room. The reason for this is because when you run up hills at a fast pace you build strength. Strength is built in the running muscles while doing a running-related exercise. When your goal is to improve something it’s important to follow the principle of specificity. This rule says: “A basic training principle which states that, in order to improve a particular component of physical fitness, a person must emphasize that component in training. A training program must stress the physiological systems used to perform a particular activity in order to achieve specific training adaptations. Consequently, a weightlifter who trains only for strength and power will probably be stronger than an untrained person. That same person will have no better aerobic endurance.” This is why doing hill intervals is a better bet than hitting the weights. Strength is built in a couple of ways one is to recruit more motor units in a muscle and the other is to increase muscle size. The second option is not optimal for runners because increased muscle size is not a great idea for running performance.
Check out our article on how to run a faster marathon.
Hill training reduces the chance of injury
Doing high intensity running on hills is a great way to improve running performance and keep you from getting injured. The reason for the reduced risk of injury is that you’re deloading the force from gravity when you are running up a hill. The opposite occurs when you run downhill because each time your foot lands you will have more force applied to the leg. The impact from running downhill or on a flat surface will cause more wear and tear on the joints/muscles. Running uphill will allow you to get the heart rate up without the negative effects of running on a flat surface. Hill intervals will force your body into correct running form which helps with injury prevention. The way hill repeats force you to run correctly is that you will run on the balls of your feet and you will lean forward slightly. When running downhill or flat you can cheat but when running uphill you cannot. Lastly hill training will improve running form when you switch to flat running and this will help you to stay injury free when you’re racing or doing track work.
Improves VO2 max
One of the major benefits of hill training for runners is that you will see improvements in VO2 max. What is VO2 max? VO2 max defined: “VO2 max (also maximal oxygen consumption, maximal oxygen uptake, peak oxygen uptake or maximal aerobic capacity) is the maximum rate of oxygen consumption measured during incremental exercise; that is, exercise of increasing intensity”. Having a higher VO2 max means that you will have a better capacity for training and running fast. The more oxygen your body can use during aerobic exercise the better you will perform. Doing hill training will cause your heart rate to go up to a high level without the fast paced running. This can be beneficial because you won’t get injured as easily. You’ll get the same increase in VO2 max if you were running on flat ground. To put this into practice your hill interval pace might be a full minute slower than running on flat ground but you will hit the same heart rate in both workouts. This will improve the VO2 max without causing wear and tear on the body.
Improve running economy
As stated before running uphill improves running form. Improving running form will help with running economy and many experts agree that this may impact running performance more than VO2 max. The reason that running hill repeats improves running economy is that it puts the body in correct running form. Hill work will help to strengthen the posterior chain which includes the glutes and hamstrings. Having strong glutes and hamstrings will help with force production and allow more hip drive while running. A strong posterior chain will allow more ground to be covered on each stride improving pace and allowing more ground to be covered while running. All of this will improve the running economy which helps with conserving energy.
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