DIY Hills Sessions (by popular request)

By Karen Hancock

There are lots of ways you can do hills sessions with great benefit. The way we do them in Greenwich is designed to improve your VO2 max (i.e. the ability of your muscles use more oxygen and therefore run faster) and leg-strength (to give you nicer legs, and to help you run faster too).

First, find a suitable hill, or several close together. Choose one that takes at least 40 seconds and not more than about 90 seconds to run up if you run it hard. Steeper gradients give better workouts, but are tougher of course. Off-road is better for developing your flexibility and strength than pavement, but take best advantage of whatever your local environment offers.

Go for a warm-up jog (distance to suit you), finishing with some dynamic mobility exercises (circling arms, skipping for height, side-ways running, high-knees, bum-kicks etc) and a few acceleration runs. Take off warm-up gear and put on spikes/fell-shoes (if available).

Over a number of sessions, aim to build up to 3 sets of 5 hard efforts uphill, with a jog back down as your recovery. Take 3 minutes or so rest between sets. To begin with, you might want to do say 2 sets of 3 (depending on your running history and injury propensity), progressing first to 2 sets of 5 before adding a third set. But it is important to aim to progress.

Wear your HRM if you've got one, or take your pulse at the top of each hill, as soon as you stop (don't bother with timing them, unless you intend to stick to the same hill every week). You should be aiming to reach your max HR at the summit. This is unlikely to be on the first ascent, but should be there by the second or third. You should experience lactic acid in your quads on each ascent a sign that youre putting in the right amount of effort.

The technique to adopt is very like sprinting: run tall, looking straight ahead, not hunched over, running with a good knee-lift and pumping your arms with your elbows close to your body, like a sprinter. The steeper the incline, the more you need to pump your arms. Think Carl Lewis! It is important to your efficiency to avoid pulling yourself uphill using head and shoulders, so concentrate on how those areas feel and whether they seem relaxed enough.

Easy jog to cool down.

Stretching calves and Achilles tendons is important afterwards, as these areas are especially taxed by hills sessions. Next day expect stiffness in quads until you get used to doing them. However, such stiffness is not a barrier to say – doing your long run, as it usually wears off about 4 miles into your long run.

A fuller article when written will include advice on Kenyan Hills, and other types of hills-sessions, but that's all I've got time for just now.

Karen Hancock
Level 2 Endurance Coach

November 2004