When you think about doing hill workouts, what image comes to mind?
If you’re like a lot of runners, hill repeats are the end all be all.
Now, I’m not saying hill repeats are bad.
But what I am saying is that if the only hill workout you find yourself doing is a sprint up and recovery back down, you’re missing out.
Benefits of Hill Workouts
Before we dive into the weeds, let’s talk about some benefits of running hills.
Here are a few of the big benefits, in no particular order:
- Increased muscle activation, especially the glutes.
- Less physically taxing than other high-intensity workouts (potentially).
- Mental boost for race day, especially when there’s that random hill on a “pancake flat” course a mile from the finish.
These are just a few of the benefits of doing the occasional hill workout, but if you’re still not convinced that hill workouts are valuable just go ahead and google “benefits of hill workouts” and you’ll get approximately 47 million blog posts/articles that list the same dozen or so reasons to do some running on the hills.
Variety is the Spice of Life
So running on hills, at least occasionally, is a good thing.
But here’s the part where I tell you that there’s a great big hilly world out there that includes a lot more than the simple hill repeat.
Again, I’m not saying that hill repeats are bad. I’m not saying that you can’t/shouldn’t do hill repeats at least semi-regularly.
All I’m saying is that a little variety isn’t a bad thing in pretty much every aspect of life, including hill workouts.
What other hill workout variations are there?
Inverted Hill Repeats
If the standard hill repeat is running up the hill hard and then recovering, by walking or really easy running, down, I bet you can wager a guess as to what an inverted hill repeat would be.
Walk/power hike up, run the downhills.
Obviously, you don’t want to get out of control on the downhills.
But because of the benefit of gravity, you’re really able to go fast on some downhills without pushing the effort as much.
And running downhill with a bit of conviction is definitely going work on your turnover in a big way, so there’s that.
Tempo runs are probably my least favorite workouts because they are so fricking hard.
A tempo run on a hilly route?
That said, a hilly tempo run is maybe the “perfect” hill workout because it kind of checks all the boxes.
Pushing the ups. A controlled push on the downs. A relatively steady effort as the terrain changes.
A hilly tempo run is definitely not for the faint of heart, but it’s probably one of the hardest/most beneficial hill workouts you can do.
Long and Hilly
When was the last time you were out on a long run with the ability to choose between relatively flat and all the hills, and you opted for the hills?
That’s what I thought.
I’m not exactly keen to head for the hills for what is supposed to be an easy long run, but it’s not a bad idea once in a while.
A few reasons, honestly.
One being that for some of us, myself absolutely included, our form can get a bit sloppy over the course of a long run at an easy effort.
Mix in a hill at mile 12 (or wherever)? It can be like hitting the reset button for your form.
Another reason is that a random hill here or there can help break up the monotony, both physical and mental, that a long run tends to produce.
Forcing yourself to shift gears going up a hill and recruit some different muscles is definitely not a bad thing.
Lastly, and not for nothing, but grinding up a good hill during a long run just makes you feel like a bit of a badass.
There is a certain sense of accomplishment that you get, or at least that I get, when I crest a hill and keep going.
Always With an Eye Toward Race Day…
For those of us that are at least marginally motivated by race day, the fact of the matter is that hill workouts help you on race day.
Especially if you branch out beyond the “traditional” hill sprint type of workout.
Being confident in your ability to grind up a hill on race day, and then fly down it while you recover, doesn’t just happen for most of us.
So my advice, for whatever it’s worth?
Mix in a few hills once in a while.
You may not love it in the moment, but future you will be thankful you did.
How often do you do workouts on the hills? And what is your “go to” variety?
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