Head to the hills Winter; hill work equals summer speed!

Winter hill work equals summer speed, which contributes to strength, endurance and structural stability and prepares you for faster running as you move closer to the race season. This durability also helps you run well off the bike on tired legs.

To reap these benefits, do the following three hill sessions for six to eight weeks during your early-season training.

Classic hill reps:

Perform this session once a week or once every two weeks. Run on a 4- to 8-percent incline. The grade must be reasonable and not so steep that you can't run with rhythm. The effort should be steady, and not too intense. The idea is to build strength without working toward a race effort. Stay below your anaerobic-threshold heart rate (your AT heart rate corresponds to the pace at which you would typically run a 10K).

After a good warm-up, do 10-25 minutes of hill work, as described below.

  • Your first two to three sessions should involve shorter hills and more rest. Keep your heart rate 10-15 beats below threshold. Example: 5-15 x 1-2 minutes uphill, with 100 percent rest (one minute of rest for every one minute uphill; two minutes of rest for every two minutes uphill).
  • Over your next two to three sessions, work toward longer hills at a sustained effort. Let your heart rate rise to within five to 10 beats below AT and perform 4-8 x 3-5 minutes uphill with 75 percent rest.

Treadmill hills:

Perform this session once a week or once every two weeks, alternating it with the classic hill reps session described above. Treadmill hill sessions are good for athletes living in colder climates and are useful for shorter-rest hill sets, as you can simply step off the treadmill to recover. Put the treadmill grade at 6-8 percent. Think of this workout as an uphill tempo-run effort with periods of rest.

After a good warm-up, perform the following:

  • Your first two to three sessions should be shorter, controlled efforts on short rest.  Let your heart climb from 10-15 beats below AT to five to 10 beats below. For example, perform 10-15 x 1 minute uphill with 50 percent rest (30 seconds of rest for every one minute uphill). Do 10-15 minutes of total work.
  • For your next two to three sessions, increase both the hill length and the duration of the set while maintaining pace and grade. Let your heart rate rise to five beats below threshold. Do 15-25 minutes of work as 10-15 x 1.5-2 minutes uphill with 50 percent rest.

Hilly base run:

Perform this session once per week. Start with 10-15 minutes of easy running on level ground to warm up. The middle 75 percent of the run should be over hilly terrain. Your heart rate can climb to 15-25 beats below AT. Choose a route with hills of varying length and grade. Trails are a great choice if they are available. Overall, keep the effort aerobic and in control. This should be your weekly long run. Gradually increase it from 45-60 minutes up to 90 minutes to two hours.

Take-home message:

  • Hill training is particularly useful early in your annual preparation to gain strength and muscular endurance.
  • Try these three sessions for six to eight weeks during your early-season training: classic hill reps, treadmill hills and a hilly base run.
  • Run a hilly base run once a week. Add one other hill session once per week, either the treadmill or classic hill reps.
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