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Hill repeats

What are hill repeats?

Definition of hill repeats.
Running hills can be one of the most effective tools in a runner’s regimen. Hills serve as a method of resistance training, building power and strength in running specific muscles like quadriceps; hills tax the cardiovascular system without the pounding that often comes from traditional speed work; they help develop stamina and speed for any race distance.

They sound intimidating, but the format is simple. Run with high intensity up a hill and recover by walking or slowly jogging back down—repeat.

When to do hill repeats.
Many coaches and training plans prescribe hill repeats once a week in the early phase of a running cycle before swapping them out mid or late in the cycle for race-specific interval workouts.

Pace goals of hill repeats.
While they can be simple in format, many coaches and training plans differ in the frequency, length, grade, and pace. In some cases, “effort” is stressed over actual pace.

Training method Recommendations
Hal Higdon Higdon does not prescribe hills in any of his plans, except his advanced I and II marathon programs. For advanced marathoners, Higdon recommends running hills once every third Thursday, alternating with tempo runs to add some variety. He advises that marathoners running a particularly hilly course substitute hill repeats for some, if not all interval workouts. He recommends adding downhill repeats to those running courses with notable descents, i.e., Boston. Higdon is lenient with the length and grade of hill repeats. He recommends selecting a moderately steep hill of about a quarter mile long; running up at 5K pace; jogging back down; and repeating until you finish your last repeat.
Jeff Galloway While it may not be clear on his training plans, it’s no secret that Jeff Galloway prescribes hills for runners of all abilities. In his book, “Galloway’s Book on Running,” he divides a runners’ training cycle into three phases: base building, hill training, and speed work. His hill workouts are forgiving in pace and grade; after a 10 minute warm-up, run up a hill with a gentle slope; once at the top, walk down the hill for 50 to 75 steps, turn around, and run up and slightly over the crest of the hill; walk downhill again until you regain comfortable breathing, and repeat. He advises to run easy for the first uphill repeat and on each one following, to gradually increase your speed so that you’re breathing hard at the top. Begin this phase with two repeats, increase to a maximum of eight, and taper down again at the end of your training cycle.
FIRST This revolutionary, bare-bones plan does not include any guidance for or mention of hill-training.
Hanson Method The Hanson method does not include any guidance for or mention of hill-training.
Pete Pfitzinger Pfitzinger recommends running longer hill repeats on a moderate incline of at least two minutes as a substitute for V02 max intervals. Once at the top, jog back down so that your rest is only slightly longer than your repeat. Furthermore, he recommends Ethiopian style repeats—10X 50-100 meter high intensity with a full recovery before each. He cautions runners against the risk of injury, but praises the many physiological benefits that come from explosive running.
Greg McMillan McMillan recommends adding hill repeats to training plans of any distance. He recommends finding a hill of a medium slope that takes about 45 to 80 seconds to climb. Instead of focusing on a specific pace, he says to run up at an effort equivalent to a race you would complete in 5 minutes – 15 minutes. In other words, run with high intensity. Once at the top, jog back down and repeat. He also recommends occasional downhill repeats at 5K race pace. In addition to the weekly workout, he encourages runners to add hilly courses into their weekly regimens, especially during the early phases of training.
Jack Daniels Daniels treats hill repeats as a form of resistance training to be completed in the early phases of your training cycle. He recommends completing 5 or 6 weeks hill training with regularity, up to three times a week. Unlike the other plans which swap hill sessions with intervals, Daniels recommends you maintain a weekly session throughout your cycle to keep the benefits you gained. In his book, “Daniels’ Running Formula,” he presents runners with the VDOT table, a chart that measures various training intensities—easy, marathon, threshold, interval, and repetition. He advises runners to use their repetition (R) pace, which is anaerobic and often faster than race pace, for hill repeats. Interestingly, the treadmill is his preferred method of incorporating hill training into a program. He argues that the downhill running between harder uphill runs can lead to landing-shock injuries. In his chapter on cross country training, he stresses the importance of full recovery before each repeat and even the inclusion of some longer (one minute – several minutes) faster, downhill running on soft, grassy surfaces. This allows a runner the ability to maintain a fast pace with minimal effort. He even encourages runners to incorporate their interval (I) pace for courses with rolling hills. You can look up your appropriate training intensities with this calculator.

Hill repeats in a nutshell.

We use “hills” and “mountains” as metaphors for life’s many challenges and obstacles. Running up a hill is tougher and requires more energy than running on flat terrain. It can provide you with the same mental boost and physical reward as accomplishing a difficult task.

While hill repeats can give your body the most bang for its buck, there is such a thing as over-doing it. Stick to one session a week, two at the most, and mix it up. Try short and explosive Ethiopian-style hill repeats one week, and try long, two minute repeats at race pace the next week.

RELATED: Check out our full series on the different types of runs

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Written by Stephen Marcin.