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Training & Fitness

Run for the hills

Mark Hills

How hill training can give you the leg strength to finish a run on a high

“Ominous, tough, lung-busting, muscle-zapping, pain-filled critters”  - isn’t that what most runners think of when a hill rears it’s ugly head on a run? Whilst hills do break your rhythm, can get in the way of PB and have you feeling like you may cough up a lung, making friends with hills can actually really help your running in terms of speed, strength and endurance.

We caught up with our Health and Fitness Expert, Mark Hoban, in an attempt to learn to love hills and to understand what hill training we could do to help us get the best out of our running.

6 reasons to hill run:

  • Improves strength in your leg muscles
  • Helps to quicken your stride
  • Allows you to expand your stride length
  • Develops your cardiovascular system and improves cardio vascular fitness.
  • Enhances your running economy
  • Can prevent boredom in your training by presenting mini milestones and challenges

“Put simply, hill running will make you a stronger, faster and healthier runner,” says Mark,  “And the best thing about it is that the benefits take effect in a relatively short amount of time. In fact it can take as little as six weeks of regular hill training for you to notice a real difference in your speed and overall muscle power.”

With the weather improving, hills are the perfect place to take your strength training out of the gym and into the great outdoors. “Many of us use the gym and weights to help build our strength and power,” continues Mark, “But with the days getting ever longer, hills are a great place to hit to help continue this type of training. Rather than isolating the muscles, hill training allows the muscles and the joints to work together more powerfully to carry your body weight uphill, against gravity.”

So, what’s the best way to tackle the dreaded climb? Here are Mark’s top tips:

  1. PMA – the mind plays a massive part in any sort of training – especially when you are pushing out of your comfort zone. One great way to break up the daunting task ahead is simply focus three steps in front of you and not be fixated on the top. A quick and easy mantra of “I can, I will, I am” can also work wonders and keep those “let’s stop and have a rest” demons from your mind.
  2. Remember the old adage “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try and try again”? The only way you are going to get good at something is by continuing to try and conquer what’s in front of you. If you add one weekly hill run or hill repetitions (shorter speedier hill intervals of between 30 second to 3 minute bursts, you will really see a quick improvement.
  3. Pace yourself – sometimes even walking up a hill with momentum and conviction is better for you than trying to sprint. Keep your heart rate up, but don’t push yourself over the edge so that you leave hills off your following week’s schedule. It’s better to push yourself a little every time than go all out on the first run.
  4. Once you are up to speed and fitness levels are high enough you can start attacking the hills working as hard as you can on the way up then utilising the downhill for recovery. This will certainly increase your performance and the method has been a massive part of top middle distance runners training regimes.
  5. Perfect your technique. It’s always good to body map when running – knowing what you’re doing from your head to your toes can help prevent injuries.        
    1. Take shorter strides
    2. Stay on the balls of your feet
    3. Keep your body upright, but your eyes on the ground. Your head, shoulders and back should form a straight line over the feet.
    4. Drive forward with your arms
    5. Lift your knees
    6. Allow your breathing to determine your stride. Make sure you maintain a smooth and efficient breathing pattern throughout the hill by shortening or extending your stride accordingly.

Next week we will focus on downhill techniques, because what goes up must always come back down!


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