Embrace running hills and reap the benefits.
Hills are speedwork in disguise. -Frank Shorter
2 weeks ago Amanda (aka Miss Zippy) and I started a new training cycle or maybe it’s more of a training to start a training cycle. Anyway, my first training plan came and the first thing I noticed was hill repeats. Little did Amanda know the one constant in all the years I’ve been running has been I dread and avoid hills. I know. I know. The benefits of adding hills to your training are many and no matter what running book you read it’s highly recommended by the “experts” and coaches. But, when I run hills (up or down) I feet inefficient and inept at form. My husband runs hills effortlessly. He practically glides on the descent. Me? Not so much gliding going on.
It’s time to change all that. No more avoiding. No more dreading. I’m going to
Embrace the challenge of hill running!
Running hills breaks up your rhythm and forces your muscles to adapt to different stresses. The result? You become a stronger runner. -Eamonn Coughlin
So, with my new attitude and changed mind set I needed to know specifics. What are the specific benefits? What can I do to improve my form? How long and how steep should the hill be? This is what I’ve learned:
Mindy Solkin described it best in her article the Ups and Downs of Hill Training, Training the Kenyan Way.
Physiologically speaking, hill running…
- Increases your aerobic capacity that enables you to use less oxygen at increasingly longer distances.
- Improves your running economy that enables you to use less oxygen to run at a faster pace.
- Increases your stamina that enables you to run farther at a given pace.
- Builds strength in your gluteals (buttock), quadriceps (front of thigh), gastrocnemius (upper calf), and soleus (lower calf) muscles.
Biomechanically speaking, hill running…
- Improves your stride length (from uphill running) and your stride frequency (from downhill running).
- Increases your ankle flexion that enables you to “pop” off the ground more quickly, so that you can spend less time on the ground and more time in the air.
- Teaches you how to run relaxed.
- Look about 15-20 feet in front of you (chin and neck neutral, e.g visualize yourself holding a softball between chin and chest)
- Drive hips forward and maintain a posterior pelvic tilt while engaging lower abdominals and glutes
- Keep body upright with shoulders back and a slight lean forward
- Arms are at a relaxed 90 degree angle, swing from top of shoulder to hips and avoid crossing in front of body
- Slightly decrease stride length and increase leg turn over (speeding up arm swing helps to increase leg turn over)
- Lift knees high & forcefully push off the balls of the feet to avoid shuffling and increase power production of stride
Choosing a Hill
The ideal hill for a strength and stamina hill workout should take you about 90 seconds to climb. The grade should be steep enough that you “feel the burn” in your legs over the last half or quarter of the hill repeat, yet not so steep that your normal running form is significantly compromised.
One more thing before I go! My friend, Laura, at Mommy Run Fast is hosting a 21-day spring reset. It’s the perfect way to clear your mind and body of the winter blahs and refresh for the spring season!
Tell me. What else do I need to know to learn how to embrace the challenge of the hills? Do you avoid running hills?
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