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  • Writer's pictureHenry Wright

Why We Love Hill Running...

Some people love running on hills. Others hate it. But most of us can agree that there's something hardwired into our brains that makes us want to push past a challenge. That's the reason why you'll find runners out pounding the pavement, sweating in the gym, and getting up early to fit in a run before work.

We love it so much that it's an integral part of our weekly training schedule, and a part of most of our monthly athletes individual training plans, for running as a standalone sport and for our triathlon.

Why should I be incorporating hill training into my schedule?

Hill training improves your muscular strength, can help quicken your cadence, expand your stride length, develop your cardiovascular system and even enhance your running economy. The benefits of hill training are shown to take effect relatively quickly. Within six weeks of regular training you can see an improvement in your muscular speed and power.

Hills are a more natural form of strength training than the gym.

Most runners today use a combination of strength work to compliment their regular running. Whilst strength based gym work is very beneficial, most exercises and gym equipment will develop said strength benefits in isolation of your running, focusing instead on individual joints and muscles.

Hill sessions force the muscles through your hips, legs, ankles, and feet to contract in a coordinated fashion while supporting your full body weight in the same way you do in your normal running. The difference is that by going up hill you are forcing your muscles to contract more powerfully than they would on the flat ground as you are forced to overcome gravity to move up the hill. More power should leads to longer and faster running strides.

That which goes up, must come down. Here are a few tips for going both up and down to get the most out of the hill, and avoid injury.

Going Up:

  • As you start the uphill, shorten your stride, and bring down the pace. You can to aim for equal effort, not equal pace.

  • Hold your rhythm. Keep your cadence up, trying to keep the same foot turnover you had on the flat.

  • Keep the posture upright, try not to lean forward or backwards, maintain your spine length through the hips.

  • Control the breathing, and try to keep the heart rate under control, as it will most probably increase on uphills. Being out of breath is a sign that you may be pushing too hard.

  • If you are on undulating hills them run through the top of the hill, and accelerate gradually into the downhill.

Going down:

Running downhill is significantly different from going up, and is a skill that needs to be developed in its own right. You need to gently find the balance between surrendering to gravity and controlling your descent. There is a much bigger use of the quads when you go downhill so weaker quads will definitely lead to soreness if you suddenly start a lot of downhill work.

  • Maintain that same upright body position as we go down

  • Keep your feet close to the ground, and aim to stay nice and light as your foot lands.

  • Your stride length will increase somewhat, but aim to again focus on cadence rather than longer strides.

  • Start with shorter strides and a quick cadence to stay in control. As your pace increases then gradually increase the stride length to find the best controlled rhythm.

  • If it starts to feel like you are losing control, shorten the stride until you regain your composure.

Hill sessions are similar to speed or interval sessions, at least in their level of effort. They can be hard on your body, so we normally only prescribe one hill session per week. For trail runners this can be a different story, especially in Hong Kong, as most of their race courses have a lot more varying elevation.

You can vary the intensity by choosing hills with different gradients, the harder the gradient the harder it will be to run up!

Types of hills sessions:

Uphill Intervals:

A basic but very beneficial session. Start with 4 reps and gradually build to 8 by adding one more each week.

The main set would be something like:

4 - 8 x 150m uphill + jogging easy back down between as:

2 - 4 x tempo

2 - 4 x 50m steady 50m tempo 50m fast

30 sec rest between.

This set should boost your leg power, and give you quicker longer strides.

Rolling hills:

This is a good session during race prep for a race that is on a course with plenty of up and downs. It’s very simple, during one of your longer runs choose a course that has some lower gradient undulating hills. When you get to the hills instead of slowing down, attack the hills with a strong pace but still keep yourself relaxed, balanced and under control, both on the up and down. See the more flat sections between the hills as steady recovery.


This is more of a drill than a set. After a decent warm up put in some bounding drills on your regular interval hill. Spring from one foot to the other with exaggerated body movements, think like a gazelle. Make sure you’re landing on the front of the foot. Start with 3 - 4 reps and gradually build up each session.

Treadmill Hills:

You can also train hills on the treadmill! As always make sure you do a warm up, this can be without any incline.

5 mins @ 1% incline @ 30-40 seconds per km slower than 10km pace.

2 mins @ 5% incline @ same pace.

5 mins @ 0% @ easy.

Start with 3 sets and gradually build from there. As you become more conditioned you can also reduce the easy run to 3 - 4 mins.

As with anything new, make sure that you gradually build any hill sessions into your training. If you want to join our group session that focuses on hill training shoot us a message and come down to our Monday running at Happy Valley.

Keep running and have fun on those happy hills!

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