Hills: do you really have to run them, and–if so–what are the benefits of running hills? As difficult as they may be, running hills is extremely beneficial, both physically and mentally. Learn about the benefits of running hills below. Running hills should not be done every day, but it should be an incorporated into your training plan once or twice a week.
- Running hills increases your leg strength. Skip Stolley (USATF elite coach of 30 distance Olympians) says that running uphill requires 36 percent more energy than you would use to run on a flat surface. This increased energy expenditure turns into increased strength in your hamstrings, buttocks, calves and thighs. Stolley further says that the benefits of running hills are ever greater than the benefits of weight lifting. In the weight room, you are engaging in stationary weight lifting that does not promote the range of motion you experience while running. Conversely, hill running is a "dynamic" movement, which he defines as the ability to move large forces during free movement.
- Running hills increases your mental tenacity. Standing at the bottom of a hill looking up is not only a large physical undertaking, it is also mentally difficult. When you are running on flat terrain, you can tell yourself, "it is going to hurt to a point, but the pain can't get any worse." With hills, the pain seems to get worse, especially if you are ascending a steep hill. If you can overcome mental blocks while running hills, you will inevitably overcome them in your next race.
- Running hills makes you faster. Being a fast runner depends on your aerobic fitness and your running economy (or your form). Running hills improves both of these factors. Running uphill becomes anaerobic exercise very quickly; this is the same type of cardiovascular training you would be doing in a speed workout. Running downhill encourages you to increase your stride frequency, which increases your speed.