King of the Hill: 5 Hill Run Exercises to Supercharge Your Speed

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The weather’s heating up and you’re no longer confined to training in a dank, dark weight room or a musty indoor track. One great way to take advantage of the sunny days of summer and integrate the outdoors into your training is with hill workouts. Training on a hill dramatically kicks up the intensity of your workout and can do wonders for your speed, acceleration, endurance and lower-body strength.

We’ve seen a huge number of athletes use hills in their training, including Misty May-Treanor, Jerry Rice and the San Antonio Spurs. If you want to take your game to the next level, try these five exercises the next time you head out for some hill-based training.

Note: If you’re performing these drills on a grass hill, we suggest you wear cleats.

Uphill Sprints

Uphill Sprints are probably the most common hill-based exercise for athletes. They’re simple but super effective, because they force you to shorten your stride and increase your leg drive to ascend the hill.

Essentially, Uphill Sprints are resisted runs. The hill increases the difficulty, forcing you to make changes in your running form that will ultimately make you a faster and more explosive athlete. Uphill Sprints also require you to drive your feet into the ground behind you to propel yourself forward, which helps build proper running technique.

How-To:

  • Start in a two-point stance.
  • Drive out of your stance and sprint up the hill as fast as possible.
  • Sprint a distance of roughly 20-30 yards on each rep.
  • Slowly walk back down the hill between reps.
  • Perform for 6-8 reps with 45-60 seconds of rest between.

Downhill Runs

You might think running up a hill is the best way to train, but running down a hill has awesome benefits, too. They are an example of what’s known as over-speed training, which is the opposite of resistance training. Downhill Runs let you run faster than normal while expending less energy.

This has a large number of benefits. Your muscles elongate to help you control your speed, and your body gets used to proper running technique at maximum velocity, which ultimately helps you run faster. It’s important to know which hills are fit for Downhill Runs. Look for a hill with a slight incline—somewhere around 5 or 10 degrees. Anything steeper and you’ll be risking serious injury.

How-To:

  • Start in a two-point stance.
  • Drive out of your stance to begin your descent.
  • Don’t fight the force of gravity—embrace it.
  • As your speed increases, use your arms for balance. Let your elbows swing farther away from your body if need be; your arms need to counteract the speed of your lower body.
  • Maintain a slight forward lean and use short, quick strides to keep your feet underneath you.
  • Land on your forefoot, not your heel. A common mistake on downhill running is to land heel first, slowing you down and enforcing bad habits.
  • Run a distance of roughly 20-30 yards each rep.
  • Slowly walk back up the hill between reps.
  • Perform for 4-6 reps with 45-60 seconds of rest between.

Uphill Speed Ladders

Performing the same old speed ladder drills day after day can turn your training stale. Placing a speed ladder on an uphill incline adds a fun, challenging twist to your workout and simultaneously improves your footwork, coordination and lower-body strength. All-Pro cornerback Patrick Peterson loves to spice up ladder workouts by performing them on a moderate incline.

How-To:

  • Find a hill with a slight to moderate incline.
  • Perform your speed ladder drill as you would normally, progressing up the hill.
  • Once you’ve stepped through the final rung, immediately sprint 5 yards.
  • Walk back down to the start of the ladder and repeat as necessary.
  • Feel free to include a wide number of speed ladder variations.

Uphill Backpedals

If backpedaling isn’t hard enough on its own, backpedaling up a hill provides a uniquely difficult challenge. Uphill Backpedals will torch your lower half and help you improve your coordination and strength. If you’re a defensive back, Uphill Backpedals are a phenomenal exercise for training a common movement and enforcing good backpedal technique.

How-To:

  • Start facing away from the bottom of the hill.
  • Begin your backpedal up the hill, focusing on leaning forward and keeping your chest over your thighs.
  • Use short, quick steps to propel yourself backwards.
  • Focus on staying low as you make your way up the hill.
  • Run a distance of 10-20 yards for each rep.
  • Walk back down the hill.
  • Perform for 6-8 reps with 45-60 seconds of rest between.

Uphill Zigzag Drill

Your flat terrain speed training doesn’t just consist of straight-line running, so why should your hill training? The Uphill Zigzag Drill is a simple speed drill that works on multidirectional movement and explosiveness coming out of your cuts. By adding an agility element to your hill training, you ensure that both your straight-line speed and your ability to change direction will improve.

How-To:

  • Placing the first cone slightly above the bottom of the hill, set up five to seven cones 5 yards apart in a zigzag pattern ascending the hill.
  • Start at the first cone in a two-point stance.
  • Sprint to the second cone.
  • Breakdown and cut around the second cone to sprint to the next cone, keeping your hips low and your feet underneath you.
  • Repeat for entire pattern, sprinting out for an additional 5 yards after you reach the final cone.
  • Perform for 4 reps with 60 seconds of rest in between.

Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock

3 Reasons Explosive Hill Sprints Will Make You Run Faster

Do you love them or hate them?

Most runners either enjoy that familiar burn that hills bring, or dread it more than almost any other workout. One good thing about them for lovers and haters is that they are over relatively quickly. Especially when you are talking about the explosive kind that we are looking at today.

Explosive hills can be used by almost any runner, and today we are going to explain why they will help you in more ways than you realize.

Why Would I Want to Add in Hill Sprints?

After a lot of research and experimentation on myself, I believe inserting short hill sprints into the training of the athletes I coach has had a tremendous benefit on their overall fitness and speed.

Specifically, I will have my athletes run between two and twelve 10-12 second hill sprints up a steep incline at 95% effort with full recovery.

When I first assign this workout a lot of the athletes think I must be crazy when I ask them to interrupt or end a distance run for 2x10sec hill sprints.

To them, and to me at first, it would seem to be a big waste of time. However, this article will put to rest those inhibitions and shed light onto the benefits of this new idea.

I first heard about this idea from Brad Hudson about 5 years ago. Brad is the former coach of Dathan Ritzenhein and currently coaches many other professional runners.

Over the last few years I have begun to conduct my own evaluation of the research to see if this was a useful and practical training tool. After some extensive reading I do believe that the physiological and neuromuscular benefits of these sprints are numerous and can serve as a critical piece into most athletes training systems.

What are the Benefits of Running Explosive Hill Sprints?

There are three main benefits that come from doing the hills sprints. First, there is the strength building and injury prevention aspect, second there is the neuromuscular development, and lastly there are the cardiovascular adaptations.

Strength

The most obvious training aspect of the three is the strength development.

Hill running is the most specific form of strength training that a runner can do. We can do squats, lunges, and hamstring curls until our muscles sear but nothing compares exactly to running.

When you run up a hill there is an increased resistance and thereby an increase in specific running strength. The explosive reaction caused by the lifting of the hips, glutes and quads up the hill utilizes the same principle mechanics behind doing plyometrics.

However, what a lot of runners don’t realize is that these hill sprints can help ward off injury as well.

Running no more than 10 seconds ensures that there is no lactate build-up in the muscles and little fatigue, the main culprit behind most overuse injuries.

It get’s better:

The hill shortens the distance your foot has to fall or land before it hits the ground, thereby decreasing the amount of shock on the body.

Additionally, if the sprints are progressed in a safe and appropriate training program the strength benefit of the hills helps strengthen the muscles, ligaments and tendons that so often become injured.

Neuromuscular development

You might be wondering:

What does “neuromuscular development” mean anyway?

The neuromuscular system is the communication system between what your brain and your muscles.

A boost of “fitness” to the neuromuscular system allows your body to increase the speed at which it sends signals to the muscles and, more importantly, allows your body to activate a greater percentage of muscle fibers and fire them more forcefully.

The execution of short, explosive hill sprints greatly enhances both of these neurological factors making you more efficient.

Cardiovascular Adaptations

The final training adaptation these short hill sprints evoke is the increase in the maximal stroke volume of heart.

This is a fairly complicated cardiologic discussion but simply stated, stroke volume is the amount of blood that can be pumped from the heart in one stoke. A greater stroke volume decreases the heart rate and, in a sense, makes the heart more efficient.

How to Add Explosive Hill Sprints into Your Training Without Risking Injury

The last point I would like to discuss is the reason behind the rather slow progression in utilization of these sprints.

For many people, the introduction of such explosive sprinting into their training is a huge change. Many distance runners go years without ever doing any true explosive or sprint work.

While 2 repeats may seem like a waste of time, it is important to allow the body time to adapt the changing stimulus.

I have noticed that increasing the volume of this workout too rapidly increases the injury rate astronomically.

Starting with two or three repeats for the first few weeks allows the body to adapt to the new stimulus and remain injury free.

How to Run the Hill Sprints

Ideally, you would start the hill sprints with about a mile or half mile to go in your run.

This would allow you to complete the majority of the distance, but still have a small recovery jog home to loosen up.

However, we don’t all have a hill within a mile of our finishing spot. So, if the hill sprints have to come in the middle or the end of your run, that is fine.

Choose a hill that is between and 7-10% grade.

This will be steep, but it doesn’t have to be a cliff.

Before you start the hill sprints, make sure you get in a light stretch and work on any muscles that have been tight.

Stand at the bottom and, from a standing start, sprint up the hill as fast as you can. Land on the balls of your feet and pump your arms.

I like to think you myself “explode, explode, explode” as I head off the line. The sprint is designed to maximum effort, so don’t go over 15 seconds.

Walk slowly and gently back down the hill, rest for 2 minutes or until you are completely recovered, and repeat for as many times as your schedule indicates.

I hope this little article helped explain exactly what it is we are trying to accomplish with these explosive hill sprints. I have included a video at the bottom of the post to help illustrate exactly how these should be done.

Speed-Building Hills Sprints That Sculpt All Over

Hill workouts can make you stronger, too. A study from the University of Colorado found that walking on a nine-degree incline strengthens the glutes, quads, and calves more than hoofing it on a flat surface, thanks to the extra effort the lower body needs to exert to lift your weight. That incline-and decline-also works as a secret weapon for sculpting your upper body. “Doing crunches with your head pointing downhill will cause your abs to work harder in order to resist gravity,” says Greg Bianchi, a track coach for the City College of San Francisco who leads boot camps on the city’s hilly terrain. “Turn around so that your head is uphill during a lying leg raise; the decline makes it much more challenging.”

So don’t dread those hills on your route. Take them on with this routine.

How it Works

1. Seek out a steep 90-foot-long hill, Bianchi suggests. It’s a good length for building speed and strength, because you’ll need to accelerate to get to the top.

2. Do a quick scan of the entire hill surface you plan to use, Bianchi says, so there are no surprise holes and bumps.

3. Bring a towel along if you choose a paved hill, Bianchi says: It will make placing your palms down for certain strength moves a little more comfortable.

0 to 3 minutes

Warm upby jogging at the base of the hill.

3 to 8 minutes

Sprint up and walk down as many times as you can.

8 to 13 minutes

Go up and down the hill once for each move below. Repeat the entire circuit as many times as you can.

Crab Walk

Sit with back to hill, knees bent, palms by hips. Press hips up to reverse tabletop. Walk hands and feet backward to ascend and forward to descend. (FYI, crab walks are one of the 25 Most Deceiving Exercises out there-they tone more than you think!)

Inchworm

Stand facing hill. Fold forward, plant palms, walk hands out until body is in plank. Walk feet up to hands, then stand. Continue. Face forward to descend.

Walking Lunge

Step right leg forward and bend both knees to 90 degrees, then repeat with left leg. Continue, alternating sides. Face forward to descend.

13 to 14 minutes

Decline Spider-Man Pushup

Start in the middle of hill in plank on palms with head downhill. Bend elbows to lower chest toward ground, bending right knee up to touch right elbow. Push back up to start. Continue, alternating sides.

14 to 15 minutes

X Lift

Image zoom

Lie faceup in the middle of hill with feet uphill, legs and arms in an X position. Curl shoulders and left arm, lifting right leg to meet in center. Lower until leg and arm hover above ground. That’s 1 rep. Do 5 reps. Switch sides; repeat.

15 to 16 minutes

Arm Press

Image zoom

Lie on left side in middle of hill with head uphill, feet stacked, left arm curled around and under chest, and right palm on ground in front of chest with elbow bent up to start. Press into right palm to straighten arm, lifting head and shoulders off ground. Lower. Continue for 30 seconds. Switch sides; repeat.

16 to 17 minutes

Roll Back

Sit in the middle of hill with feet uphill, legs long, and arms extended forward at chest height. Pull belly in, rounding spine so lower back touches ground. Continue until you’re lying flat. Reverse motion and repeat.

17 to 18 minutes

Mountain Climber

Start in the middle of hill in plank on palms with head uphill. Alternate quickly pulling right knee toward chest between arms, then left knee. (Can’t get enough of interval training? Then try this Barry’s Bootcamp-Inspired Abs, Butt, and Core Workout.)

18 to 23 minutes

Sprint up and walk down as many times as you can.

23 to 24 minutes

Split Squat

Stand in the middle of hill facing uphill with left leg forward and right leg back, hands on hips to start. Bend knees until right hovers 2 inches above ground. Return to start. Repeat for 30 seconds. Switch sides; repeat.

24 to 25 minutes

Bridge Lift

Image zoom

Lie faceup in middle of hill with feet uphill and knees bent, feet flat. Lift hips so body forms a line from shoulders to knees. Extend right leg straight up to start. Keep hips lifted and lower leg to hover above ground. Continue for 30 seconds. Switch sides; repeat.

25 to 27 minutes

Cool down by jogging at the base of the hill.

  • By Jessica Cassity

Hill workouts are one of the most versatile workout that a distance runner can complete.

They can be run during the base phase of training or just a few days before the final race of a season. They can build endurance, top-end speed, or improve VO2 Max.

Just look at all the benefits:

  • Hills promote more economical form
  • Uphill repetitions are easier on your joints and connective tissues than similar efforts on flat terrain
  • Running hard up steep grades builds more power than running on flat ground
  • Hills are “specific strength work” for runners, using gravity to increase strength

In other words, hill workouts improve many aspects of your running so that you ultimately become a better runner. You’ll have more power, resilience to injury, speed, and endurance.

What’s not to love?

Let’s go over three valuable types of hill workouts so you can plug these directly into your training and start seeing improvement.

photo: 101 Degrees West

Long Hill Reps

This workout has you run hill repetitions of 2–4 minutes with a jog back to the bottom of the hill as recovery.

They’re not as intense as the next two workouts because of their duration, so this session is best used during earlier phases of training, like the base phase. They can be plugged into your training for several reasons:

  • To vary a tempo workout (as long as the pace is 10-20 seconds slower per mile than tempo pace)
  • If shorter repetitions were scheduled but an easier day is warranted
  • To build strength in the beginning stages of a training season

A similar workout on the track might be longer reps of 1,000m—1 mile at roughly 10K race pace. Both are examples of what I call “high quality endurance”—faster efforts that support tempo pace.

The grade of the hill should not be too aggressive—about 4–5 percent is ideal. Structure this workout as 4-6 repetitions so the total time of uphill running is about 12–16 minutes.

A few examples include:

  • 4 x 4min hills @ 10K pace
  • 6 x 2min hills @ 10K pace (or slightly faster)
  • 5 x 3min hills @ 10K pace

photo: 101 Degrees West

Short Hill Reps

This type of hill session is most similar to what many runners think of when they imagine a “hill workout.” You run uphill for 60–90 seconds with a jog back to the starting point as recovery.

Short reps are intense, just like a VO2 Max workout, so they’re best used during the middle or later phases of training when you’re more focused on speed.

The pace should be about 2 miles to 5K race pace on a hill that’s roughly a 6-8 percent grade. The grade of the hill and the speed at which you’re running make this a fantastic workout for developing power, strength, and your ability to deliver precious oxygen to your muscles.

A few examples include:

  • 8 x 90sec hills @ 5K Pace
  • 10 x 60sec hills @ 2-mile Pace
  • 3x90sec, 3x60sec, 3x45sec that begins at 10K pace and gradually gets faster

This type of hill workout has the most flexibility, so feel free to alter the pace, duration of the repetition, and the number of reps to suit your specific needs.

photo: 101 Degrees West

Hill Sprints

Even though I don’t technically consider hill sprints a “workout,” they’re included here because of the immense benefit they provide to runners.

Hill sprints are literally sprints—meaning you run literally as fast as possible. They’re only 8-10 seconds long and unlike the previous types of hill workouts, they’re run after an easy run rather than as a stand-alone session.

Find the steepest hill you can find and run 4-8 repetitions of 8-10 seconds uphill at your top speed. The first rep can be slightly slower to help yourself warm up. The cool down is at least 90 seconds (but preferably two minutes) of walking (not running).

Because of the effort and the grade of the hill, hill sprints recruit an enormous number of muscle fibers.

This gives runners tangible benefits:

  • They increase stride power (just like strength exercises)
  • They improve running economy (i.e., your efficiency)
  • They strengthen muscles, bones, tendons, ligaments, and other connective tissues

If you’re an injury-prone runner, gradually adding hill sprints into your training once or twice per week can result in far fewer running injuries.

Every runner—no matter their experience or ability—stands to benefit from the strength, power, and speed that’s gained from these hill workouts.

If you’re training for a hilly race, hill reps provide the specific type of workout that can help boost your performance on race day.

If you’re injury-prone, hill reps and sprints build strength and, working against gravity, reduces the impact forces on your joints and muscles.

If you’re a beginner, hill reps reinforce good form and build power—two skills that are critical as you become more advanced.

Choose the type of workout that’s most appropriate for your goals… and hit the hills!

Originally published September 2017

Hill Running: Why Incline Repeats Help You Fly On the Flats

Take your running to new heights—literally. Get the lowdown on the benefits of hill running and learn how to increase your speed while improving your strength.

Legs hurting, lungs burning—you’re firmly in the pain cave with no hope of getting out when suddenly, you do it. You’re at the summit of the hill and if you’re lucky, you have a view that makes the elevation gain worth it.

Hill running is sometimes an intimidating prospect, but it’s a worthy workout to consider.

If you’re accustomed to running in flat areas, choosing to incorporate hills is choosing to make your life a little harder—but that’s just what you need if you’re looking to improve your speed, strength, and conditioning.

So stave off boredom, challenge your legs and get up that hill. Press on a topic below to jump straight to it, and let’s get started!

  • Hill Running Benefits
  • How to Run Uphill
  • Hill Sprint Workout
  • Muscles Used in Uphill Running
  • How to Run Downhill
  • What Muscles Do You Work When Running Downhill?
  • Can Running Downhill Make You Faster?
  • Does Road Runner Sports Offer Shoes So I Crush Hills?

Hill Running Benefits

Let’s get into the nitty-gritty of why running on sloping surfaces is a beneficial way to increase your overall running economy.

What’s running economy? This refers to how much oxygen you use— your aerobic capacity, aka your VO2 max—as it relates to your running speed.

Inclines require more effort than running flats, which means more muscles are recruited. Guess what muscles need when they’re under stress? Yep, oxygen.

By doing a hard uphill sprint workout, you’re encouraging more efficient oxygen usage. More oxygenated muscles can mean some satisfying gains in your aerobic endurance.

Running inclines can also build your speed because you’re building muscle when you run against gravity. Think of it as the cardio version of weightlifting.

Hills force different muscles to work together to fight gravity as you push yourself up to the summit, helping correct any muscle imbalances that have occurred from over-training on flat surfaces.

Hills also offer you a lower impact workout session which makes it great to incorporate as a running injury prevention tool while you’re training. Mile after mile of flat road running can result in shin splints and other painful repetitive impact injuries. The stress of repeated hard miles on materials like concrete can do a number on your joints, bones, and muscles. Because of the lower impact advantage of running up hills, you’re less prone to injury.

And of course, doing a hard hill session bolsters your mental strength. Don’t ever forget that athletic feats start with your brain first. Believing you can accomplish a goal is the first step to actually doing it – it sounds cheesy but visualization is a scientifically-backed idea. See the hill, ascend the hill, defeat the hill.

How to Run Uphill

So, when faced with a hill do you just get up the hill and call it a day? You can. But things will go more smoothly and you’ll see more benefits if you take the time to focus on your form. Follow these tips for adopting better uphill running form:

Hill Sprint Workout

If you’re ready to get your heart rate up, try a hill sprint workout. Here are some recs to get you started:

  1. Try 30-second intervals on hills that are between a 5% to 10% incline. Walk or jog in between each interval for a few minutes to get your heart rate down between intervals. Aim to complete 5-8 reps. A good reach goal is being able to complete 10-12 reps comfortably.
  2. For longer sprint intervals, try these 3-minute long killer intervals. For 3 minutes, run at an elevated pace (not an all-out sprint, but not a casual jog), at a 10% incline. Aim to do this two or three times. This is a great workout to really test your aerobic conditioning.
  3. If you’re looking for an uphill workout that’ll benefit your distance running, try this specific one that is higher repetition. Find a hill (or set your treadmill setting) that’s between a 5% and 10% grade, run for 10-15 seconds at a sprint pace, and take a short break that’s 1-2 minutes max. Repeat 6-20 times. Stop when your form gets sloppy.

What Muscles Do You Work When Running Uphill?

Ready to fire up those muscles? Head to your nearest hill and get to it. Specific muscles working hard during an uphill run include your:

  • Glutes
  • Quads
  • Hamstrings
  • Calves

The force of running uphill encourages these muscle groups to work harder than normal meaning more muscle breakdown. But with proper recovery, it also means muscle growth.

How To Run Downhill

Downhill running sounds simple, right? Just let gravity guide you down. In reality, that’s actually not the case. Downhill running can present a challenge because you’re forced to control your speed. Muscles are in a stretched out position while under tension during a decline run. This force can lead to more soreness and fatigue than flat running because of these extra stresses – the same is true for uphill running.

When you’re looking for the right hill for your downhill run, stay away from steep drops which increase the likelihood of falls and injury. The steeper the grade, the more the force each downward step has – more repetitive hard impact on your joints can invite over-use injuries. However, don’t shy away from a steep hill on your upward hill days, just take it easy if you’re going down the same grade.

Like any new training regimen, it’s important to ramp up slowly to give your body and specifically, the bones and muscles in your lower body some time to adjust to the requirements of downhill running. In fact, one of the best ways to start is by choosing a softer surface like dirt or grass (just make sure your training shoes have the right traction elements – like good lugs – for the terrain).

Downhill running is a good training addition but make sure you’re doing it correctly and don’t let your form slip up just because you’re more mentally relaxed when you trot downhill. Running form is important so you can reach the top or bottom of any hill most efficiently.

Here are a couple of tips that’ll ease you into great downhill form:

What Muscles Do You Work When Running Downhill?

Which muscles are getting a workout when you take off down a hill? Plenty. If you’re looking to up the ante on your lower body strength, downhill runs are the key to getting you there. During your descent, you’ll be working the following muscles:

  • Lower back
  • Glutes
  • Hamstrings
  • Lower abs

Again, make sure you’re not leaning too far back when you’re running downhill because this puts a ton of pressure on your hip flexors and back. It’s like pulling the emergency brake when you’re cruising down the freeway.

Incorporate downhill workouts into your uphill workouts for the best of both worlds. Different sets of muscles are worked and you have a challenge (the uphill) and a reward (the downhill). Variety is the spice of life but also, a critical aspect to training. Hill training will save you from boredom and burning out from too many runs where suffering on the flats is secondary to fun.

Can Running Downhill Make You Faster?

Yes!

Much like uphill running, downhill running can ultimately help you run faster on flat routes because it challenges and develops different muscles. Better speeds with less effort, it’s possible! Mentally, downhill running can also be a gratifying, more fun experience than suffering on upward slopes.

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Hill workouts for speed

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