How Hill Training Works

If you train on hills you'll be able to race a hilly course with a smile on your face.
If you train on hills you'll be able to race a hilly course with a smile on your face.
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To effectively run up hills in a race, a runner must also train on hills. That's common sense, but hill training isn't about just running up long, continuous inclines -- regimens of short runs at full or near full pace up a series of small hills must also be included. This type of targeted training conditions the muscles needed to propel you up and over a hill at your goal pace without making you overly tired.

Why hill train? Hills are a part of many major marathons and other long-distance competitions, including the 12-kilometer (7.46-mile) Lilac Bloomsday Run in Spokane, Wash., and the Boston Marathon [source: Monti]. Hill training helps you prepare mentally and physically for what you'll experience on race day, and it helps you to bounce back quicker from the added exertion of a tough course so you have the fitness to speed up on the flat sections. Most people are familiar with the success of Kenyan runners who frequently win high-profile marathons. What's their primary marathon training method? You guessed it -- hill training [source: Solkin].

Moreover, running on hills provides better all-around exercise than flat terrain running. Running hills is resistance training in which the slope provides the resistance, while also forcing the cardiovascular system to work at or near its capacity. It keeps the heart rate high because the organ has to beat faster to keep up with the increased energy needed to fight gravity. Hill training burns more calories than running on a flat surface or a decline; it also boosts aerobic power almost as much as interval training [source: Cooper]. Psychologically, you can benefit from the confidence boost -- if you've trained with hills, you're not going to be as nervous during a race, and you're not going to slow down as much as you otherwise would.

Read on to find out how to train most effectively on hills.