For the next three weeks I’ll be sharing a hill progression run workout series that’s perfect to implement in the off-season and will allow you build a strong foundation to help you go faster later in the year.

Hill workouts are great for when you have limited time to train… like during the busy holiday season. In one hour or less you’ll get a fantastic session and — due to the short high intensity repeats — there are numerous physiological plusses and huge post-exercise metabolic benefits that rev up your internal furnace!

During my career, I quite often avoided running hills.  Long hills, short hills I didn’t do them.  However, when I moved to Boulder, I thought I should listen to my own advice as a coach and began implementing hills nearly year round.

Back in 1994, the first hill that I started running in the off-season was Mt. Sanitas.  This is a favorite hike and run in Boulder that has an elevation gain of over 1300 feet. I ran hard up and down (about 20 min uphill and a 15 min down). I hadn’t built up to this load and for almost 9 days afterwards my quads were so swollen and smashed that I could barely walk, let alone think about a slow flat jog. Lesson learned!

Learn from my mistakes and if you are new to hills, ease into these workouts gradually.

Hill workouts need to be well thought out during the off-season and early season. During the off-season try long slow hills, both up and down. These cause less trauma on the body. Slow hill running works the core, gluteals and quads.  Also try shorter hills and hold good form, increasing the load progressively. This places more strain on the muscles, tendons and connective tissue and requires more time to adapt (don’t do what I did on “Mt Sanitas”)!

Don’t dawdle on the downhill. Running downhill produces a huge eccentric strengthening benefit for the quads and calves.

Finally, it’s fine to begin running hills slowly.  Slow strength can be built up to increase the speed or power (intensity over time), so just follow the instructions for my workouts.

If you give these workouts a try, let me know how they went. Get in touch with me on Facebook or Twitter.


Run Hill Repeats Week 1

The workout combines hill running utilizing the benefits of the uphill and downhill segments. Besides strengthening the muscular system, this training will specifically build the fast twitch fibers, the connective tissue and skeletal system. This short run session will also tax your gluteals, quads, core and calves. Additionally, proper form is critical on both the uphill and downhill segments.

Think about the following during your hill repeats to maintain your form:

  1. Keep your neck neutral and in line with your spine
  2. Shoulders relaxed and level… not bunched around your earlobes or internally rotated like you’re getting a scolding!
  3. Slight rotation of upper body about 22 degrees without over-rotating the navel.
  4. Arms relaxed and let them rock a bit more on the hills. Slightly tighter elbow angle of 90 – 60 degrees elbow flexion.
  5. Toes open on landing uphill and downhill.

This workout can be done on the treadmill at a 5% grade on the uphill. Some treadmills allow a negative or downhill option. If so, then select -2% for all downhill segments.

When running outside, the ideal hill is approximately 200 yards/meters in length at a 5% grade. A variable gradient is fine.
Warm Up

9 min to aerobic pace.

1st Set

6 x 20 sec pick-ups with an easy glide recovery of 40 sec.

Main Set

Start at the base of the hill

8 x 20 sec

Rest Interval (RI) Jog down

Give these a solid effort.

Then 8 x 40 sec matching and double the distance of the 20 sec interval from the first block.

Maintain hard pace to finish the repeat and hit the last two repeats with a very hard effort.

After each repetition coming downhill, run 16 steps on the ball of your foot. This strengthens the soleus on the eccentric downhill. Then change to running 16 steps with light heel contact. Continue this pattern of 16 on ball of metatarsal pad and 16 regular stride.

RI 40 sec at the bottom of the hill.

Following the hill repeats hold 1.5 mi or 2k on a flat road at aerobic pace. Depending upon your pace, do not exceed 10 min and note your distance.

Cool Down 

5 to 10 minutes at an aerobic or easy pace.

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