Hills! (Part 1 of many)

Hills! (Part 1 of many)


Could you ask for a better training tool? Don’t have the best weight room (if any?). Want to build speed, strength and aerobic capacity? Mental toughness? Confidence? Discipline and pacing? RUN HILLS!

When it comes to scouting a race course, hills have to be the area of most attention. How will the hill affect my race? Where is it in the course? What is the strategy to use the hill to my advantage? All things everyone considers when they are putting together a race plan.

To me, hills can be the perfect training tool. They offer so many variables they can be used to accomplish nearly every aspect of training. Hills can get a bad reputation because of the intensity they bring up and down the hill. I find their reputation is highlighted by those athletes who do not run them correctly.

Without a doubt hills put a lot of stress on your body. Uphill is exhausting and downhill is loaded with impact. Implementing them into your training requires some skill and the confidence to err on the side of caution. Without a doubt, overdoing hills can quickly lead to injuries. Especially if you are working with novice athletes OR athletes that come from flatter regions and are not accustomed to running hills. In future posts I will expand on each version of hills we use in our practices. This post will discuss two major, hill-specific variables.

Variable #1: Duration.

Based on how our bodies work duration is the single most important variable when it comes to training. I find so many coaches use distance to define workouts: 800s, Mile repeats,  200s, etc. If you are working with a diverse population adaptations will differ based on abilities. A slower client will be running a 200 in the time it takes a quick athlete to do a 400. Or 1 mile in the time it takes another to run 2! Therefore I prefer to use duration to achieve desired adaptations.

Research has pointed out a few duration landmarks, while not specific to each individual, they are good references when designing a workout. Everyone’s body is different. Luckily these durations are gapped far enough that they tend not to mix.

Layman’s terms for landmark duration:

A 1-10 seconds: Anaerobic, no “waste (lactate)”

B 1-30 seconds: All of the above + waste but not enough to impact performance. Depletion of readily available resources decreases performance.

C 0-2 min: All of the above + a full dose of waste without sufficient time to begin managing/clearing.

D 0-3 min: All of the above + waste is starting to be maintained. Athletes feel they are steady-stating/settling into race pace.

E 0-3+ min: All of the above + steady state effort and endurance. Effort begins to be impacted by the body’s ability to metabolise complex resources into necessities to meet demands.

Variable #2: Grade

What goes up must come down. The grade of the hill is not only important for the resistance up but also the impact down. Can your athlete handle both? Often times we coaches want to find really challenging hills to go up without considering the impact downhill can be 50-75% more than that on level ground. IE: 150lb runner is hitting the ground at 225lbs of force (50%). If their body is not ready for that it can do a lot of damage.

The grade of the hill will also change the athlete’s running stride. Therefore, it will activate muscles in different patterns and quantities. Too steep of a grade might not translate into effective horizontal running speeds. IE: stressing the quadricep too much giving less attention to the upper hamstring. Something to consider how it will impact your athlete.


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