How to run a hill session

Just about every endurance athlete will have a hill session as part of their regular training program and these sessions are likely to vary from one runner to the next. So I thought I would just let you know how I like to construct a hill session.

A lot of coaching magazines or websites talk about doing a Kenyan Hill session, this is where you run the hill session at a continuous pace.  Therefore if it takes you 1 minute to run up the hill then it should take you 1 minute to run back down. Kenyan Hill sessions are nothing new, we were dong them back in the 70’s and 80’s, we just called it ‘a Hill Session’. Personally I think this is the best way to tackle hill sessions.

The Hill

I don’t like the hill to be too long or too steep. The great Frank Shorter once said “Hill running is just speed work in disguise”.  An athlete should be running quick and powerfully up the hill, therefore use a hill with a gradient between 5-8%, which will take you 2 minutes or less to ascend, preferably one which flattens out at the top for about 30-40 metres. Having the hill flatten out at the top allows you to power up the hill, run strong over the top and get back into your normal running stride much like you would want to do in a race.  If you can run the hill on grass, rather than the road, then that would be my choice.

The Technique

You should be running on the balls of your feet, powering the knees up and forward. Don’t stare down at the ground. Resist the temptation to lean too far forward or hunch your shoulders. Keep your head up and look in front of you. You should power the arms back from the elbow, the arm movement should be more pronounced during a hill session, this will help to generate power. As you run over the top of the hill, your posture becomes more upright and you quickly return to your normal running style and your arm movement will become less pronounced for greater running efficiency as you reach the flat.

The Session

For the novice runner I would start with a weekly session of 8×1 minute hills with the recovery being the 1 minute it takes you to run back down to the same starting point. Use a hill of about 5-6% gradient. Try to run every hill at the same pace, with the aim being that you are running at your limit for the last hill, but it’s no faster or slower than your first. Don’t forget to do a proper warm up and cool down as part of this session. After 3-4 weeks you can increase the number of hill repeats to 10, and in another few weeks increase the length of each hill repetition by 15 seconds.

For the experienced athlete the hill gradient can be increased to 6-8% along with the number of repetitions and length of effort. However, I would recommend that the total amount of time running up the hill is in the region of 15-20 minutes.

Happy hill running everybody.

1 comment

  1. I think it’s worth recording the total time of the hill ascent/descent running to monitor progress over time. Weather conditions are also worth noting, there will be times when there is a headwind as well as a gradient to provide resistance

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