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Running Hill Sessions

Sport: RunningDuration: N/A WeeksPrice: £

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1. Long Hill Runs

The long run is a staple of every distance runner's training arsenal. That's because our slow-twitch fibers require lower-intensity, longer-duration workloads to achieve maximum endurance. Adding a long hill (or hills) to this run results in several benefits:

Increases the percentage of slow-twitch fiber recruited

Creates extra resistance, strengthening our fibers

Increases ankle flexibility, improving our stride

Reduces neural inhibition, improving coordination between muscle groups

Recruits intermediate fibers, improving coordination between fiber types

By incorporating a half-mile to a mile of moderately steep uphill into our long run every second or third week. As our fitness improves, we can increase the total volume of uphill in our runs to 2–3 miles. The effort level for these runs should be comfortably aerobic. Running too hard won't give us a better workout. It will only decrease our volume of hill work, while increasing the time it takes to recover.

2. Long Hill Repeats

Two-time Olympic 1500m gold medalist Seb Coe maintained his off-season fitness by running circuits on a bicycle path that included an 800m hill section: 400m of steady uphill, 100m of level recovery, 250m of steep uphill and, finally, 50m of slight downhill.

Long hill repeats force us to climb the muscle fiber ladder. The power required to run fast up a long hill (6 to 7 percent grade) recruits our intermediate fibers, as well as all available slow-twitch fibers. A typical weekly progression of long hill-repeat sessions might be:

4-8 × 30 seconds, 2-3 minutes rest
4-8 × 60 seconds, 3-4 minutes rest
4-6 × 90 seconds, 4-5 minutes rest

As to pace, a simple rule of thumb is to finish every repetition workout with just enough gas in the tank to run one or two more repeats if the workout called for it.

3. Short Hill Repeats 

  • Strengthens all three types of muscle fiber
  • Reduces neuromuscular inhibition

Sprinting up a steep hill at 90 to 95 percent maximum effort recruits the fullest range of fibers possible. It also demands the widest range of motion from our stride. To accomplish this motion, opposing muscle groups learn "reduced inhibition." Just as we relax the triceps muscle on the back of our arm when flexing our biceps, so our hamstrings and quadriceps must learn to coordinate contraction and relaxation. The result is a smoother, longer, faster stride.

Start with four or five reps of 30–60m (5–10 seconds) up a steep hill, then build up over a few sessions to eight to 12 reps. For recovery, walk back down the hill and wait until 2–3 minutes have passed.

4. Hill Bounding

A great way to develop strength and stride efficiency is to incorporate "bounding" into our hill work. We use a moderate grade (6 to 7 percent) for this workout and perform one or more of the following variations of the bounding drill:

VERTICAL BOUNDING: Drive off the toes of the plant foot, lifting the opposite knee high, and emphasize vertical lift; land on the opposite foot and repeat.

HORIZONTAL BOUNDING: Same as vertical bounding, except that we emphasize the length (not height) of the bound.

SKIP BOUNDING: Same as vertical bounding, except that we land on the same foot that initiated the bound, then take a short step forward onto our opposite foot, spring vertically, land on that foot, and then repeat the whole process.

Whether springing high like Michael Jordan or far like Willie Banks, we bound for 50–70m, then jog back down the hill and repeat. One to two reps of each drill is sufficient.

5. Downhill Strides

Our final "hill climb" isn't a climb at all. Downhill strides build quadriceps strength through eccentric contraction. An eccentric contraction occurs when a muscle simultaneously contracts (shortens) and relaxes (lengthens). When we run downhill, our quadriceps contracts to prevent our knees from buckling. At the same time, our knee does bend slightly, stretching our quadriceps. This tug-of-war results in two notable training effects:

  • Eccentric contractions recruit fewer muscle fibers, increasing the force required from those that are activated.
  • The increased force results in more damage to the recruited fibers.

This reduced fiber recruitment coupled with more damage leads to a greater training adaptation: stronger quadriceps, better knee lift and a resistance to future quad soreness.

Start with four to five repeats of 60–100m on a moderately steep grade (6 to 7 percent). Run at 85 percent maximum pace and allow 2–3 minutes for recovery between reps. Build up to six to eight reps at 90 to 95 percent effort. If possible, do this workout on grass or the trails.

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