Training tips: Doing hill repeats when you lack real hills

Running hills undoubtedly makes you a stronger runner, and athletes in other sports swear by hill running. But what do you do if you don't have big hills to run?

Running hills undoubtedly makes you a stronger runner, and athletes in other sports swear by hill running. But what do you do if you don’t have big hills to run?

Demographics would suggest that most humans live in flat areas. They live on the coasts, by rivers, on the plains or other places that are historically easier to settle, farm and build upon.

Those of the hardier set settled hilly and even mountainous places. At this point in my life, I envy them.

I’ve spent the last few years going deeper into trail running, and ultimately, that means tackling hilly, unpaved and uneven paths where only the stoutest of athletes can travel fast.

I live in the Southern Plains, right on the edge of the hilly lands that make up the Ozarks, but not close enough to have a bounty of undulating places to run up and down. Bummer for me, because when it comes to getting in shape, running up and down hills is hard to beat. In running, strength gains and cardio improvement are most efficiently earned by hill training.

But what do you do if the place where you live lacks the necessary terrain? You improvise.

A few suggestions, based on my experience:

This grassy pitch is small, but if you run up and down it enough you will get one tough workout.

This grassy pitch is small, but if you run up and down it enough you will get one tough workout.

If you’re lacking real hills, find a steep incline (even if it’s small) and just run up and down that thing. This summer, I found a grassy embankment by a high school football field to do just that. It was maybe 30 yards up, but it was steep. Do that for 20 to 25 minutes, and you’ll feel the pain in a good way.

This bridge spans two city blocks over railroad tracks. Running up it once is no big deal. Running up and down it 15 times is a stout workout. Find a bridge and do hill repeats here if you don't have decent hills around.

This bridge spans two city blocks over railroad tracks. Running up it once is no big deal. Running up and down it 15 times is a stout workout. Find a bridge and do hill repeats here if you don’t have decent hills around.

Living in a more urban environment? You may be in luck. A lot of bridges that exist in the urban core of a city go over railroad tracks or rivers, and many times they can suffice as small hills. I do this every week for about 45 minutes, and it definitely has helped me become stronger.

If you have access to a stadium, you can always run those stairs. It’s not quite the same as running hills (your gait will be slightly different), but the quad/glute/hamstring work will be just as effective running stadiums as they are going up other inclines.

Do your homework on the terrain around your home. Chance are, even on the Great Plains or the coastal flats, there are going to be some places where you can run uphill. The benefits of this are manifold. It will improve your physical strength; it will heighten cardiovascular performance; and if you’re into weight loss, a hill repeat workout is an excellent way to get your high intensity interval training session in.

Lastly, if you live in a hilly or even mountainous area, be sure to take advantage of it. It’s hard to beat the hills that God made, right?

The workout: Do a nice, mellow mile to mile-and-a-half warmup run, then go to your incline of choice. I try to spend a minimum of 20 minutes doing repeats, running hard uphill, then coasting downhill. I repeat this process until the designated time or reps is up. In addition, challenge yourself to do more reps by the week. End your workout with a mellow mile cooldown.

Include this type of work once a week and watch yourself get faster and stronger. It’s worth the pain!

Bob Doucette

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2 thoughts on “Training tips: Doing hill repeats when you lack real hills

    • Thank you! I’ve been in that area before, and I bet that would be a great workout. I have to confess that I do have hilly options, just not many right outside my door. So I’ve found ways to improvise when time is tight. Running steps, bridges, stadiums, etc. are all excellent ways to get it done.

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