Depending on your current level of masochism, running up and down hills can be brutally painful and something to be avoided at all costs. Or, it can be something you look forward to because you know that afterwards, when you’re sweaty and sore, you’ll feel like a total badass.
The best part about running hills? There’s no escaping the hard work. Even at a walk or hiking pace, you’ll still feel the burn. Downhills come with a unique quad-burning challenge, so if getting fit fast is your goal for 2016, adding some hills to your running routine can shake things up and jumpstart your fitness.
If you have a goal race in mind for the year, take a look at the elevation profile of the course. Does it have hills? If it does, you need to be prepared. The best way to prep for hills is by — you guessed it — running hills. Look on the bright side: There’s nothing like hill running when it comes to toning your butt, quads and calves, and a short hill workout will make you feel like you’ve just done a long run and a hard gym session combined!
How do you get started? We’ve got some tips:
1. Pick your pace.
If you’re just getting into running, or even if you’ve been running for years, hills present an interesting challenge and a conundrum: Do you walk up, or run up? If your goal is to get fast and torch calories, running is the obvious answer. But on your long run days, you may want to consider starting at a run, but slowing to a walk as your heart rate skyrockets. Remember, if you’re training by perceived effort or heart rate, you’re supposed to be sticking to one zone for a run if you’re not doing a workout. If you’re in the red on an uphill, there is no shame in walking.
2. Do some repeats.
The best way to measure progress on hills is by having that one killer hill that seems like a huge challenge when you first start running. Time yourself up and down it, and do that same hill every week or two to see how you’re progressing.
Hill repeats are popular for a reason: They work. Sure, they’re boring, but repeating the same hill four or five times in a workout is a great way to get better at hills.
You can practice running hills on a treadmill if you live in a flat area. Set your incline to something hard but doable, and do the same type of repeat workout, switching between flat and incline. If you are out on a hill, switch emphasis occasionally so that your downhill descent is the hard part of the workout and the walk back to the top is your recovery.
3. Add steps to your day.
An easy way to prep for hills is also one of the most recommended tips for beginners trying to lose weight. Take the damn stairs. In fact, seek out stairs when possible, and power-walk up them. You’ll help get your gluten activating and take some of the sting out of your calves so, when you start running hills, it won’t be as brutal. The same goes for walking down stairs. Don’t live in a fourth-floor walkup? If you’re a gym rat who uses the treadmill more often than not, consider swapping to the stair climbing machine once a week to up your climbing game.
4. Ease into running downhill.
Once you crest the hill, it can be tempting to speed up on the descent and just let your legs go. There’s something freeing and wonderful about the wind in your hair and getting that flying feeling and subsequent endorphin rush. But, if you’re new to hills, that can lead to seriously burning quads for days after your run.
Ease into downhills. When you’re new to hills, you can run short downhills (ones that last a few seconds) at full speed, but for longer or steeper descents, keep the brakes on a bit or even walk down — especially if you’ve had a brutal run to the top and are already redlined.
5. Practice the art of the fast descent.
Getting fast at descending can be a hugely helpful trick, especially in races, so don’t walk every downhill. Practice letting your legs spin out on shorter downhills. On gradual declines, let your stride lengthen naturally and embrace the feeling of flow. Downhills should be the reward for running, not the punishment.
6. Recover right.
If you’re new to hills, you’ll likely feel stiff after your run. Follow the standard rules for recovery even more carefully: Take some time to foam roll your stiff muscles (it’s probably going to hurt a bit, sorry!), make sure you’re hydrated, and, if you’re really achy, consider some cold/hot contrasting with an ice bath and a hot shower. And plan to take a day off or run easy the day after a hill workout.