Do you train for mountain adventures? Fascinated by the magnitude of majestic mountain ranges? Up in Scotland or in the Alps? If you are living in those areas, you are spoilt for choice. Training grounds for any ability and ambition, views for days.
Well and if you aren’t and are stuck like some of us in a city, the closest you can get to a mountain is to run up stairs in a tower block or do hill rep after hill rep to accumulate a mere hundred meters of elevation. Sounds like fun? Barely. But with the right attitude and some fun workouts we can even turn our concrete jungle into a fantastic training playground.
We’ve written up a few hill sessions and a little bit about the benefits of incorporating hill effort into your swim/ bike/ run and ultra training.
↠ Why should you incorporate hill training sessions?
– Hill training sessions are a great way to increase your power, stamina and form. More muscles get switched on (arm drive, knee drive, working from your glutes and core) compared to running on the flat. And as much as we loathe hills, they surely translate into flat speed. Hill work is speed work in disguise. Hills strengthen your lower body and work your core (stability / posture). Those sessions are perfect to mix things up, especially when you are crunched for time. Incorporate a hill session or run a hillier route once a week. If you train for trail and mountain races – build more of those sessions into your training plan. Some easy runs on a rolling route, a dedicated hill session plus adding 1-2 strength sessions to your running regime. Body weight exercises targeting your legs and core (hips / back / upper body – you’ll need all of this on the trail). If you feel confident in delivering those with good technique, add weights.
↠ TYPES OF HILL SESSIONS ↞
There are many ways to structure a hill session. And even in a relatively flat city like London, you can always find an incline to play with.
• Slopes and inclines
find an incline (bridge / fly over / hill / grassy slope / etc). The shorter the climb, the faster you want to tackle it. The steeper, the shorter your stride becomes, focussing on landing under your hips, upright position, slight forward lean from the ankles. Engage your glutes and core, drive the elbows back. Don’t cross your arms in front of your body. Look ahead / slightly up. Breathe naturally, deep into your belly not at the top of your lungs.
track down a set of stairs and work your way up. Taking every step (short stride / high cadence) and then drive every two (longer more powerful stride / power). As a warm up: dynamic squat jumps upwards, landing wide and light under your hips. Using rebound momentum to drive you up the stairs. Really use your arms for this, coming out of a low squat – drive upwards and forwards. Easy jog down.
• Time, effort, pace, rest
different inclines, different session. You can work with reps or time based. Effort – the shorter the harder, same effort up or down, hard effort up easy down. Rest can be active: easy jog down, walk or stationary: stop until your heart rate has come down enough to tackle the next rep. Aim to hold your last rep as strong and fast as your first. If you can’t do this, either pace yourself better in the beginning or opt for fewer reps. Build sensibly over time. Adding lots of hill work into your running will work your body differently – watch out for ITB / back / knee / calf issues. Too much too soon will get you into trouble. Give those big muscle groups a good stretch afterwards.
• Hill sprints
short and punchy, these can be anything between 15 to 45 seconds of hard uphill effort. Turn around at the top and recover on the down with a very easy jog. Go again. Start with 5 reps and add 1-2 each week.
• Kenyan hills
as mentioned above: steady to hard sustained effort up AND down. Rest at the bottom. Start with 5 reps and add 1-2 each week.
• Pyramid hills
15, 30, 35, 60 seconds uphill effort (hard). Jog back recovery. Great for working aerobic and anaerobic power. A pyramid means going back down as well: so if you feel good do 15, 30, 45, 60, 45, 30, 15 seconds. Take a good rest after each set. Start with 3 sets. Add one every other week.
• Long hill reps
3-5 minutes of continuous uphill effort. Well that’s going to be a challenge here as we won’t find a hill long enough for this. Find one that you can run up for around 60seconds (steady). Try to continue at the top, you may need to increase your pace once you hit the flat. Carrying over a harder effort. Start with 4 sets, add one every week.
• Progressive hills
Set yourself a set time or distance and with each rep you’re trying to become quicker: either run further in the time you’ve set (15sec to 5minutes), or reach the same distance (half way up the hill / top of hill) faster each time. In order to achieve this, start your first rep(s) easy (6/10 RPE). Build into steady (7/10). Steady into hard (8/10). Into all out (9/10). Opt for 4-5 sets and build more over time.
• Summit attack
Something like getting progressively faster. Find your hill and work 75% upwards at a steady effort (7/10). Attack the final 25% with a sprint. Or if you are lucky and have a hill that kicks steeper at the top: try to keep your legs turning all the way to the summit without slowing much (London: Primrose Hill). Start with 4-5 reps. Add on one when you revisit this set.
• In between heaven and hell
A killer set which will make you see power and endurance come together in no time. This session is particularly fun if you don’t have much of a hill or incline to run. Simulating fatigue in the legs by adding resistance work. Building essential overall strength too. Start at the bottom of a slope and get into a lunge position. 15 controlled repetitions of low, pulsing ones, 15 full range lunges. Swap legs. Then sprint up the slope/ hill as hard as you can. At the top, drop straight into 15 press ups (alternatively on your knees or a few less). Jog back down to the start. Repeat this cycle five times. No rest at any point. Catch your breath during lunges or the easier downhill section. Take a few minutes of standing recovery and go again. Opt for 2 sets (2×5) and build more over time. You could also play with the amount of repetitions (lunges / press ups), alternatively do wall squats (against a tree?), hold for 30-60seconds. Then sprint up. Here’s a little video of a session Claudi has down before work. It won’t take long and will leave you pretty toast.
↠ TRAINING PROGRESS ↞
To see if this is working – record your reps / time / distance of your first session. Any location, any session. As they are all different, note it down each time you do a new session. These ‘first hills’ will become your benchmark session. After some time (weeks / months) – revisit the session and see what’s different. You should become stronger, faster and fitter. Draw from those successes and keep up the good work.
Hills never get easier. But we hopefully we have showed you how to love them a little more. If you want more tips or are looking into getting coached, join us every Tuesday for our First Light sessions in London (free). You can also drop us a line firstname.lastname@example.org. And follow what our community has to say on Facebook.
Tell us how your hill sessions are going. Or if you have any questions? What do you hate or love about hill work?
Your DB Coaching Team!