On The Run

What Are The Benefits Of Hill Training?

Gaborone is as FLAT as a pancake, which often lulls runners into a false sense of security. We feel we’re getting stronger and faster, until we leave the confines of the city and get bamboozled by even the slightest of elevations! During the Phikwe Half Marathon, I met a runner from Gaborone, and for the kilometre we ran together, we both condemned Gaborone for its flatness. This was clearly Gaborone’s fault, not ours! Poor Gaborone was blamed again as we struggled up Kanye’s Hills this past Saturday, LOL. But the truth is we can’t keep blaming the poor city, instead, we need to make the extra effort to hill train, either outside of town or on a treadmill. When I was breaking personal records, I was actively and consistently training on hills. It’s been a couple of years since I made that consistent effort, so I think it’s about time I reminded myself (and all of you reading!) just how beneficial hill training is.

FIVE Key Benefits of Hill Training

1/ Builds Muscle Strength. We often think of resistance training as requiring dumbbells, medicine balls or some kind of exercise tubing. But running inclines is also a form of resistance training and as such helps to build muscle in your calves, quads, hamstrings, and glutes. It also helps to strengthen your hip flexors and Achilles’ tendons. Running up a hill forces your muscles to work harder and ultimately become stronger over time. The steeper the incline, the harder they’ll work. So you can see just why hill running is more likely to strengthen these muscles than running on flat surfaces. With consistent effort, your muscles will strengthen and tone, and your body mechanics become better adapted and prepared for tough races.

2/ Increases Speed. The muscles you use to run hills are the same ones used for sprinting. Hill training also improves your cardiovascular system and your body gradually adapts to the stress hills place on it. By incorporating hill training as part of your routine, you develop better running technique, coordination, rhythm, and cadence, all of which, ultimately, makes you faster.

3/ Reduces Injury. When you’re running uphill, you engage and thus strengthen your glutes and hamstring muscles. When you’re running downhill, you strengthen your lateral and medial quadriceps muscles. This explains why both my glutes and quads were crying after Kanye! With increased hill training, your muscles are better prepared to deal with challenging situations, and you may reduce your risk of getting ​running-related injuries. However, it’s important to add – don’t go hill training every day! Running hills too often, can increase the risk of injuries. Make sure you give your body time to recover after each session, as it adjusts to the training demands.

4/ Helps Build Mental Stamina. I remember the second time I ran the Soweto Half Marathon, the hills felt less intimidating than the first time. Yes, I was better prepared as I knew what to expect, but my hill training in Mokolodi had given me so much confidence and mental strength. And after pushing my way through the Kgosi Malope II Race this past weekend, I know the next race I’m running, I’ll be able to say, “If you made it up those Kanye hills, this is NOTHING!”

5/ Makes Running More Interesting. I know in recent months, I’ve felt kind of bored with my running. But I also know I haven’t changed my running routine either. It’s been the same old, same old. And maybe that’s what made Kanye so exciting – yes, it was a new place, but going up and down, made things so much more interesting. There wasn’t a single moment I was bored during that race. Ditiro is an adrenaline-seeking mountain biker, so road running has him bored after about 15km. But even he said that in Kanye, he felt motivated and invigorated throughout the race. My body has gotten so used to running on flat roads, so I just know incorporating hills will provide a new challenge, and a reason to celebrate each time I reach the top!

Hill training is intimidating, and one of the big reasons I haven’t made the effort to do it the last couple of years. The fact I’m surrounded by flatness just makes it easier not to bother. But I also know how much stronger I was both mentally and physically when I was hill training consistently. There is no doubt in my mind that hill training helps you build muscle strength and endurance, makes you faster, reduces injury, builds mental stamina, and just takes the boredom out of any training plan. So, with that said, I’m looking forward to bringing this aspect back into my running. I’ll also be back in a few weeks to talk about where and how you can hill train in Gaborone! If you’re not hill training, I hope this inspires you to start (or return)!

What benefits have you discovered from hill training? What are your favourite hill workouts? Do you have to go out of your way to hill train? Are you also from a flat town/ city? If you’re from Gaborone, where do you hill train?

I’m so happy to be linking up with these fabulous bloggers, My First 5K and MoreRunning With AttitudeRun Laugh Eat PieRuns with Pugs, and Zenaida for Fit Five Friday

References: Science Training and Very Well Fit

14 thoughts on “What Are The Benefits Of Hill Training?

  1. I do agree. Unfortunately I never seem to get around to hills. The paths I run on are flat. I do run some races with hills but so not to get injured I usually walk run up them.

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  2. I had no idea Gaborone was flat! I (admittedly ignorantly) assumed Botswana was hilly and/or mountainous, but then again I’ve only been to Rwanda and it is actually silly to assume the two counties are alike. The Netherlands is very flat but funnily enough I live in one of the only hilly areas of the country, my actual neighborhood being in a hilly area of town. No matter which way I go I will always have to go “up” to get home. Trust me when I say I curse these hills but at the same time I know it gives us a big advantage when we go to the west to run. All of your points are super valid!

    Now I need to get myself to Botswana to take any misconceptions out of my mind and experience the landscape itself!

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    1. Haha! Gaborone is very flat, and even though other cities and towns are hillier, they’d probably still be considered relatively flat by other countries! 🤣 As for mountains I wish! I think we’re 70% desert! So yes, please come so you see the landscape for yourself!!

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  3. I did some hill training last spring and ended up really liking it. It definitely helped with my strength and mental toughness

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  4. It’s completely flat where I live (in South Florida.) I could do hill training by running up and down the overpass of the turnpike, but I rarely do it. But you’re right- hill training is speedwork in disguise! Maybe your post will motivate me to get to the turnpike one of these days.

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  5. yes yes YES to the hills!!! I actually kind of love hill training, for all the things you stated. I get plenty of practice since I live on a hill, and there are several hills in my area (and let’s snot forget that bike path!). Also, I do a lot of stair climbing, which is like hills on steroids. A recent revelation is that I think my recent hammy/glute/Piriformis discomfort is from the lack of hill training…duh!

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