In the running world, there are many different training routines for many different purposes.
Some are geared to improve your endurance, speed, technique and so on.
One of the best, but least enjoyed, is hill running.
Most competitive road and trail runners know about hill training. Athletes in team sports don’t always make use of it – but many should.
If your position requires speed and power, you should definitely consider adding hills to your training.
Sports such as soccer, lacrosse and rugby can all benefit from hill training, but it’s not just for running sports. Hockey players, for instance can benefit quite a bit, even though the pattern of muscle firing is a little different in skating compared to running.
Hill running can do many things for the athlete. The first and most obvious benefit is that you will help build leg strength. Running uphill effectively increases the load on your legs more than on flat terrain. Sports that require explosive leg strength and power will benefit from hills. And although weight training is great for running and skating sports, hill running will also do this while performing an actual running stride. So the motor firing patterns will be reinforced with extra load. This is an excellent functional type of training.
Another benefit is that hills help improve your technique, and does so in a number of different ways. The biggest and most important change is that it helps improve speed by moving the centre of mass slightly forward over your toes. When you run uphill your body is vertical but the angle of the incline creates an artificial simulated forward lean. Once you get back on flat ground you naturally lean forward over your toes, which is a more speed/sprint posture.
Hills also force the lifting up of your ankles (called dorsiflexion of the foot), lifting of the knees (hip flexion) and pumping of the arms, all essential in generating speed. During flat running or skating, the athlete doesn’t naturally perform these movements.
The other benefit of running uphill is that you then have to get downhill again. Running downhill provides a strengthening effect for the legs because you are absorbing the force of gravity pulling your body weight downhill. This kind of activity in weight training is called ‘eccentric’ muscle contraction (called ‘negatives’ in the gym).
The typical frequency for hill training is once a week during in-season or for those unfamiliar with this type of training and twice a week for pre-season and experienced athletes.
The usual interval periods are 10-30 second intervals but it depends on the demands of your sport. For instance, a striker in soccer may need a maximum of an eight second sprint in a game situation, so training longer than that would not be necessary. A hockey player may want to train for a typical 30 second shift on the ice, and so the goal will be to increase the duration to 30 seconds.
You would normally start with two to four repetitions each session if you are new to hills, and progress to 8-10 repetitions per session, but the demands of each sport determines the routine. You need to incorporate sufficient rest periods of 1-3 minutes between repetitions in order to give a full effort running up the hill on each subsequent rep.
Running up or downhill has risks associated with it. It is a higher intensity training that should only be attempted by those with at least moderate to higher levels of fitness and is not for beginners.
Ideally, it should be supervised by a coach familiar with this type of training.
– Kerry Senchyna is the founder, owner and president of West Coast Kinesiology since 1992 and is a provincially registered kinesiologist.