I’m not a fan of the treadmill. Yes, I own one, but I think of it less as an indoor running option and more as a foul weather contingency plan — well, with one big exception. There is still a workout that I routinely use the treadmill for — 400-meter hill repeats.
If you’re like me, the idea of running up a hill over and over sounds more like a punishment than a workout — but hear me out. Seriously, this workout changed my running. When you’re done with this one, you’ll feel like a running rock star.
Over time, this workout that seemed so dreadful at the start has become a staple in my race training schedules — for myself and the athletes I coach — because it’s simple and it works. Nothing builds confidence and strength as efficiently as this workout and it does so without increasing the risk of injury. BONUS!
Why Hill Repeats?
Hill repeats are an excellent strength-building workout involving — you guessed it — running quickly up a hill repeatedly followed by periods of recovery.
Uphill running is similar to doing a ton of single-legged squats as you climb a flight of stairs, which is why it jacks up your heart rate, gets you breathing heavy, and makes your legs burn (in the best possible way).
In addition to strengthening your legs and improving your aerobic and anaerobic energy systems, there are tons of benefits in doing this type of workout.
First and foremost, if you train yourself to maintain good form while running uphill, it becomes much easier to maintain it just about anywhere, particularly when you’re in the late stages of a race. Plus, the risk of injury is reduced since there’s less impact involved in uphill running compared with flats or downhills.
It’s also a great way to teach you mental toughness and focus while dealing with a bit of physical discomfort which is critical to racing well.
Even if you’ll be racing on a flat course, these repeats will make running on race day feel much easier and more comfortable.
Of course you could run hills outside — assuming you live in a hilly area — but the treadmill adds consistency. When I’m running hill repeats outside, it’s harder to maintain a consistent incline and pace throughout all the repeats and that’s a critical component. On the treadmill, I can set the incline and the pace and let the machine keep me honest.
A Few Notes on Form
• Take small but quick steps, landing near the back of the ball of your feet — not on your heels or on your toes. Focus on a strong leg drive backward using your glutes.
• Don’t let your chest and shoulders collapse even as you’re finishing each hill. Instead arrive strong and confident, standing up tall and proud — YOU MADE IT!
• Keep your shoulders over your hips and run tall and don’t slouch, hunch over, or hinge forward.
• Use your arms to help propel you by focusing on pressing your elbows back rather than pumping your arms forward at the shoulders. This will help you keep your chest open and collarbones wide to help better support your breathing and posture.
• Let yourself be a little uncomfortable — that’s a big part of the training benefit here, learning to mentally manage some physical discomfort.
• Remember that every hill repeat ends.