Why Every Runner Should Add Hill Repeats to Their Workout

By , Holly Martin, The Run Experience
Whether you are a trail runner, a roadrunner or a combination of the two, you need hills. As challenging and unpleasant as they sound, hills can be used to work on uphill endurance, improving strength and building turnover (taking more steps per minute) to help your run form.
While most outdoor running routes will have some level of hills, repeating shorter runs on the same hill (a.k.a. hill repeats) is going to be more effective in reaping the many benefits you can gain from the added incline.
Hill repeats are a way to overtrain and exaggerate race-route conditions. Most race courses will not have as many hills at that grade or they’ll be more spread out with flat stretches in between to recover. Thus, because you’re repeating one tough hill multiple times, you're challenging your legs and lungs to adapt to the difficulty level and be better prepared when a hill does hit on a traditional race course.
In addition, hill repeats train mental toughness. It is difficult to see yourself try harder and run slower simultaneously, but that is exactly what happens on a hill. Training your mental perseverance will make you more prepared if and when you encounter taxing situations in a race.
Running hills also improves your aerobic capacity and your ability to control your breathing. Working at a higher heart rate and a bigger power output will make the rest of your training feel easier and improve your speed as time goes on.
Lastly, hills demonstrate the importance of good run form. Hill repeats will show you how powerful a strong, parallel arm swing can be and how much good posture with your hips pushed forward can help you. Form flaws that you might not notice on a flat road become big obstacles on a tough hill, so training on a hill several times in a row will allow you to work out those kinks and run with better form under all conditions.
And because hill repeats are a great way to put your form to the test, allow run and strength coach Kirk Warner convince you to take advantage of this important training strategy.


3 Takeaways for Taking on That Hill

1. Maintain Your Cadence
To run up a hill, it's important to keep your feet moving at your normal, flat-road cadence, meaning you're taking the same number of steps per minute as you usually would on a normal run. This can be especially difficult on hills, and it will often feel like your feet are moving much faster than they should be. That’s okay! In fact, that’s a good indicator that you’re doing a good job.
2. Use Your Arms
When you start to get tired running up a hill, our first instinct is often to slouch over, tense up and minimize upper-body movement. Don’t let that happen! It’s crucial when running hills to not just keep driving your arms, but to exaggerate the motion. Keep your shoulder and neck muscles relaxed, and really drive those arms to help solidify your forward momentum and get you up that hill.
3. Don't Worry About Splits
Hills are tough so it's important to choose your battles when it comes to training on them. With this in mind, focus primarily on the form aspects listed above, using your exertion level to measure your performance. Don’t worry if your pace is slower than you had planned, or if you didn’t make a split (or interval time) you were hoping to achieve. Focus on quick foot turnover, relaxing your upper body and using your arms. If you’ve got more in the tank while focusing on those, give it! But if not, don’t sweat it.
Remember, form and turnover are your top priorities when running hills. All hills are temporary, so push yourself, drive your arms and you’ll be at the top before you know it.

About the Author
Holly Martin is a San Francisco-based running coach and personal trainer. With more than 20 years in dance, Holly brings a strong focus on technique and mobility to all of her coaching. She currently trains clients at Midline Training and Nfinite Strength and coaches online with The Run Experience, an online training community for running workouts.