– Five Quick Tips To Maximize Your Hill Workout
Most everyone, by now, is aware that if you desire to improve your strength and speed, run hills. And, it should go without saying, that if you would like to improve your ability to conquer races with significant elevation gain, you run hills. Climb stairs. Take your treadmill, set the front feet on blocks, crank up the incline, and you run hills. Whatever your flavor, it all tastes the same. Sour — with subtle hints of achievement and brine. Most of us, although we know it’s for good, dread the “up days.” Do you remember the movie, A League of Their Own? Tom Hanks’ character, Jimmy Dugan, is screaming in my head now — “It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.” I love this quote, and agree, but I’d like to offer some tips to help maximize your efforts.
#1: Change the Pitch.
Mix it up! Going up and down the same set of stairs over and over is going to drive you, and your body, insane. Don’t get me wrong, it will do the job in a pinch. But, consider the purpose — to stimulate the muscle groups charged with moving you up and down various terrain by creating maximum resistance. Thus, increasing power. Seeking various inclines and surfaces for your hill work will go a LONG way toward seeing results from your effort.
#2: Erase the pace. Effort is what counts.
Trying to maintain a certain pace while maneuvering up and down a climb is, more likely than not, going to cause more frustration than satisfaction. What may prove beneficial, instead, is to gauge your effort. Listen to your breathing, your heart rate, your body. They tend to speak truth much more consistently. Plus, while training on hills, you will notice the impact of “the elements” more dramatically and quickly than a normal run. The heat, your recovery, stress, pain, etc. They will show themselves quicker, with more aggression, than just stepping out your front door for a “quick jog.”
#3: Distance Matters.
Long hills. Short hills. Fast hills. Slow hills. (Refrain from using a Dr. Seuss joke here) They all matter! And, they all mean something a little different to everyone. A long hill workout, to you, may be a half-mile to a mile, total workout. To someone else, a workout may be three miles of climbing. The same for the other descriptors. Either way, they have a purpose. And, they should all be incorporated into your overall approach to hill work. Less intense, longer hill runs to increase endurance. High intensity, shorter hill bursts to build stride strength and full range workout. Neither should be neglected. Experiment with different workouts, and see what fits best into your training plan.
#4: Down Matters Too!
Surprise! Going down the hill needs to be treated as an intentional component to your workout, OTHER THAN a recovery element! Who neglects this advice? This guy! So many times, I find myself putting forth so much effort into the climb up a hill, and taking a breather on the way down to save some juice for the impending repeat. What I am missing out on is the invaluable influence that down hill training has on my quads. Our quadriceps are responsible for keeping us upright downhill. This beefcake of a muscle prevents our knees from collapsing underneath us as we bound from cap to base. Additionally, with correct posture, extended stride and stretch of the muscle increases the strain — forcing the quad to adapt and respond positively to future tension.
#5: Rinse And Repeat. And, Recover.
As with all forms of training, consistency and recovery is important. You can ease the hill regiment into your training every 2 or three weeks, to start. Then, you can increase the frequency more and more as you become more confident and comfortable. Also, make sure you’re recovering, not only between each workout, but also between each set. Take a few minutes between each climb, if you need it. This should help decrease the amount of recovery time needed between future “hill days.”
Consciously making the effort to work hills into your plan, with consistency, is the secret to seeing the “benefits of gain.” From there, it goes back to responding appropriately. Making sure you are NOT pushing too hard up (or down) hills. Or, at least, making sure you are recovering adequately to the additional strain on your body. (This includes nutrition and hydration.) Try to do the majority of your hill work on softer surfaces. Grass, dirt, gravel, sand — they will all be more forgiving than pavement. And finally, DO NOT be afraid of the pain. Remember, “it’s the hard that makes it great.”