Hill Training For Trail & Ultra Runners

Training on hills is one of the best ways to improve running strength and build endurance muscle. Running on inclines forces muscles to work harder. This makes you a stronger, faster runner and helps you to become more fatigue resistant, improving your muscular endurance.


The best way for most people to train on hills is by doing hill repetition training. Me and hill reps have a love-hate relationship. I love the benefits of hill repetitions, but they are hard work both mentally and physically.


When you run down a hill, turning around and running back up it multiple times is probably not your idea of a good time. However, this will make you stronger, you will reap the benefits, and that is the part that you will enjoy.


I regularly do hill repetition training sessions and also schedule them for many of my coached athletes on a regular basis.

Why Hill Repetitions Are Good For You

Hill repetition training sessions carry many benefits including;

  • Strength training – running uphill greatly intensifies difficulty of the running motion making hill repetitions an excellent strength training session. Hill repetitions will engage your core and leg muscles making you a stronger runner, not only on hills but on flats too.

  • Cardiovascular fitness – because of the increased intensity, your cardiovascular system will benefit from a high intensity workout similar to interval training or sprinting. This in turn will provide benefits including stronger endurance, speed and cardiovascular health in general.

  • Hill running confidence – many runners lack confidence when it comes to running uphill. The only way to get over that in confidence is to run up some hills! Like most things, practice makes perfect and the more hills you run up, the easier you’ll find them.


How To Incline Train?

There are many different ways to incorporate hill training into your plan. You can vary the duration of the repetition, adjust the gradient, or change the amount of repetitions you are doing. This makes it easy to progress and make the sessions harder and longer over time, so you keep improving. Here are three different levels of hill repetition runs:


Beginner hill repetitions – warm up for at least 10 minutes running at an easy pace and finishing at the bottom of a reasonably steep hill. Sprint up the hill for 30 seconds, turn around and walk or slowly jog (recover) back down. Repeat this process 3-5 times and then cool down with another easy 10 minute run.


Advanced hill sprints - warm up for at least 20 minutes running at an easy pace and finishing at the bottom of a steep hill. Sprint up the hill for 2 minutes, turn around and walk or slowly jog (recover) back down. Repeat this process 5-10 times and then cool down with another easy 20 minute run.


Endurance hill repetitions – this is one of my favourites and is very beneficial for endurance runners. warm up for at least 20 minutes running at an easy pace and finishing at the bottom of a reasonably steep and long hill. Run uphill for 5-10 minutes at a high intensity pace, but a pace you can sustain for the entire duration without walking. Turn around and walk or slowly jog (recover) back down. Repeat this process 5-10 times and then cool down with another easy 20 minute run.


Long Run Hill Repeats - this is always good fun and can be super tough but is often less mentally brutal. Plan your long run in a hilly location. Every time you get to a hill, run it twice instead of just once. You'll almost double your elevation gain on the run and this will make it a much harder and more productive session. I have to give credit to my good friend James Hutchins for this idea!


When Should I Do Hill Repetitions?

High intensity sessions should make up around 20% of your training plan. Hill repetitions are considered high intensity so you should not do them too often. When I am scheduling training for athletes, I will usually program a 6 week hill training block where there will be one hill repetition session every week for that 6 weeks until we move onto another block which will probably be based on a different focus.


It's tough to say how much hill training you need, as this varies from person to person and also depends on your goal. Just use hills to get stronger, it will work!


One final tip is to always start hill repetition runs with a snack and some water. This will allow you to perform at your best and make the most of the session.


Hill repetition sessions are always tough when you first start out, but they get better, and you will be a stronger runner for doing them.


Thank you for reading my blog, I hope you found it useful! Please take some time to browse through my website and read about the coaching and training camps that I have on offer at the moment.


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