Hill Training for Trail Runners

Run Hills with Confidence!

Running on a smooth rolling single track trail is enough to get anyone excited about trail running. but the reality is, most of the best trails involve some serious hills. I have to admit, I was hesitant to tackle some trail runs when I was starting out because I felt unprepared for the hills. What I found out is, that incorporating some hill training once a week not only increased my strength and stamina on hills but also made my overall trail running experience much more enjoyable.

Running hills doesn’t have to be hard! Think about how you shift gears while riding a bike uphill, the same goes for running uphill. Keep your revolutions the same and shift down. How that works when running up a hill is concentrate on keeping your stride rate the same, but keep shortening your stride so your breathing rate stays about the same. The idea isn’t to charge up the hill, but comfortably motor up. If the hill gets too steep, switch to walking.

To begin with, start with short moderate hills, practicing shortening your stride and keeping your leg revolutions the same. As you feel more comfortable, find some longer and steeper hills each weekend. Once you have your confidence up, go ahead and incorporate a hill workout during the week. If you been a roadie for a long time, this is the same as your weekly speed workout.

Find a moderately steep hill (5 to 10%) that takes 60 to 90 seconds to ascend at a hard pace. Warm up first for 10-15min then do 5-8 repeats, running at a hard pace up, then walking down. Finish with a 10-15min cool down jog. Add one or two repeats a week and keep track of your time. Of course the idea is to improve. Use good hill running form; run with a slightly higher knee lift, pump your arms higher and more vigorously, lean slightly forward and keep your head up. For more on proper body alignment for hill running. Watch this Scott Jurek Video.

But what if I don’t have hills in my neighborhood or the weather isn’t cooperating! Well you can always run stairs or train on a treadmill:

Run Stairs

Find a staircase or stadium with at least 100 steps Start out once a week, running up a single step at a time and walking down, do 5 sets. Gradually work your way up to 10 sets. Once you’ve mastered that, try two steps at a time and walking down, 5 sets. The final is two steps up and run single steps down. Start at 5 sets and build to 10.

Run the Treadmill

Same sort of workout. Warm up for 10-15minutes, then run your repeats at around 8% incline for 60-90 seconds then flatten out and jog for 2 minutes. Finish with a 10-15 min cool down jog.

Train the Lydiard way

I prefer just to go  up in the mountains and hammer up the hills to build up my hill running strength, but to learn more on the science of hill running training, go to the Lydiard Foundation web site. Arthur Lydiard is the founding father of Hill training and this site has pictures and explanations of proper training techniques, and even a slide show on how tie your running shoes!


1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. george aber level V distance running coach

    March 3, 2014 at 4:21 pm

    Hi: George here. When negotiating ANY hill, the objective is to keep up the intensity but let the degree of incline determine the speed; you will run from a minute to a minute and a half slower, depending on the steepness. For best results, TRAIN THE LYDIARD WAY!!

    Happy Hill Training…

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