8 Great Hill Workouts For Runners + The Top Benefits Of Running Hills

Hill workouts are not often a runner’s favorite part of the training season, most likely due to the fact that these sessions are very challenging and take a lot of mental and physical grit to get through. 

However, running hills is a fantastic way to supercharge your cardiovascular system while at the same time working as a strength training session. 

Another great perk of hill workouts is that there is a wide variety of sessions that you can add to your training depending on your current running objective. Whether it be speed, strength, power, or endurance, there’s a hill workout with your name on it. 

In this article, we will discuss the benefits of hill workouts for runners and give you 8 great hill workouts to choose from for your next uphill session.

We will discuss the following:

  • The Benefits of Running Hills 
  • Tips For Performing Successful Hill Workouts
  • 8 Great Hill Workouts For Runners  

Ready? Let’s jump in!

People doing hill workouts.

The Benefits of Running Hills 

If running hills isn’t on your list of favorite workouts, mentioning its excellent benefits will hopefully motivate you to add some sessions to your training program. 

Hill workouts: 

  • Develop an explosive and powerful running stride by strengthening leg muscles involved in uphill running, such as your calves, hamstrings, hip flexors, quads, and glutes.
    There is a very high muscle activation percentage while climbing hills, making it a two-for-one with cardiovascular and strength training.
  • Improve running mechanics, as you use a short quick stride and good upright posture, which in turn will help increase running efficiency and economy.
  • Increase your speed. Short, explosive hill workouts will work like short intervals on a track and help improve your top speed.
  • Improve your endurance. Longer hill repeats will increase your aerobic capacity and train you to tolerate running uphill for extended periods.
A person running on a treadmill.

Tips For Performing Successful Hill Workouts

When performing the following hill running workouts, you will first need to find a hill. Now, depending on where you live or train, you may or may not have easy access to hills. If this is the case, most treadmills have an incline range of 0-15 degrees; some specialty treadmills even reach 30 degrees.  

You have complete control over the incline when using a treadmill for your hill workouts, which can be a great advantage. Also, you won’t have the impact of constantly pounding down a downhill after each repeat. Instead, you can opt to recover by walking on a flat surface. 

When looking for a hill or incline for your hill running workouts, choose an incline anywhere from 5 to 15 degrees, depending on the length of the uphill interval, your current fitness levels, and, ultimately, what you have available.

The shorter the interval, the steeper the hill can be, and vice versa. 

The most important thing to consider is that the incline is challenging but doable; you want to avoid being forced to take walk breaks during a running interval because the slope is too steep

People doing hill workouts.

The idea with these hill workouts is that you are able to advance at the effort level instructed in each interval while thoroughly challenging yourself with a “runnable” incline. 

Here are some more of our top tips for performing hill workouts: 

  • Use a powerful stride with a strong knee and arm drive that propels you up the hill.
  • Focus on maintaining an upright posture with a slight lean toward the hill.
  • Use a quick foot turnover and propel yourself from the balls of your feet.
  • To avoid burnout, run the first repeat of the series with caution. Then, after you have a feel for the interval length, gauge if you need to push harder or pull back during the following intervals so that you can complete all of the repetitions with the same energy as the first. Each repeat should result in a similar distance covered. 
  • Take note of where on the hill you end up after the first interval to ensure each following interval is similar in distance. If you begin to slow in the later repetitions, it’s better to start your cool down than burn yourself out over trying to push through the last couple. 
  • Do not pound on the way down during the recovery intervals of your hill workout. Land softly as not to intensify the impact forces of downhill running. 
A person running uphill.

8 Great Hill Workouts For Runners

#1: Short Uphill Sprints

This workout will improve your speed, power, and running form. Since these intervals are short, a sprint or all-out effort can be given as long as you can perform all repetitions similarly. 

  1. Warm up with a 10-15 minute jog and dynamic stretching exercises. 
  2. Run 10-15 seconds at a hard effort uphill.
  3. Walk back down to the starting point.
  4. Rest for 1 minute at the starting point.
  5. Repeat between 6-12 times, depending on your fitness level.
  6. Cool down with a 5-minute easy jog.

#2: Short Uphill Bursts 

These uphill intervals increase in time significantly. Therefore, the effort is still hard, but it can not be an all-out sprint, as 30-45 seconds can be an eternity when running uphill. 

  1. Warm up with a 10-15 minute jog and dynamic stretching exercises. 
  2. Run 30-45 seconds at a hard effort uphill.
  3. Walk back down to the starting point.
  4. Rest 1-1:30 minutes at the starting point.
  5. Repeat between 5-10 times, depending on your fitness level.
  6. Cool down with a 5-minute easy jog.
A person running uphill.

#3: Long Hill Repeats 

With this hill workout, we are still running at a hard effort. Still, since the time has increased in these intervals yet again, you will have to find where your max effort is for this interval time to stay consistent throughout. 

You’ll also see that there is no rest at the end of each interval. This is because the uphill running interval is longer, and in turn, the recovery jog back down is longer too. Therefore, you will have more time to recover in between without the need to stop completely. 

However, if you are more of a beginner, and need a full recovery when you reach your starting point, give yourself time to catch your breath before you begin the next repeat.

  1. Warm up with a 10-15 minute jog and dynamic stretching exercises. 
  2. Run 60-90 seconds at a hard effort uphill.
  3. Jog back down to the starting point.
  4. Repeat between 4-10 times, depending on your fitness level.
  5. Cool down with a 5-minute easy jog.
A person running uphill.

#4: Uphill Endurance Intervals 

If you have access to a much longer hill, a treadmill, or one of your hilly running routes, you can really work on your uphill running endurance with this hill workout. 

  1. Warm up with a 5-minute light jog and dynamic stretching exercises. 
  2. Run uphill for 3-10 minutes at a moderate to hard intensity (the interval length will depend on your current fitness level and uphill running capacity).
  3. Recover, still walking uphill, for 2-3 minutes.
  4. Repeat intervals for a duration of 30 minutes.
  5. Return to your starting point as a cool down.

Note: If you run straight up one hill for this workout, the cooldown will be long, as you will need to jog back down to your starting point, so consider that when planning your route. 

This is why running it on a hilly route or treadmill could be much more advantageous to avoid the long downhill after you complete your intervals. 

A person running uphill.

#5: Power Hike Intervals 

This hill workout benefits trail runners, especially, who always find themselves in a back-and-forth of hiking and running throughout their long runs and races. 

Being an efficient hiker is very advantageous for any trail runner. However, few runners take the time to work on this important skill.

  1. Perform the following 5-8 times throughout your long run: 
  2. When you reach a steep uphill, power hike for 1-3 minutes or until you reach the top of the hill. 
  3. Be sure there are at least 10 minutes of recovery hiking or light jogging between each power hiking interval.

#6: Fartlek Hill Workout 

You have probably seen Fartlek sessions in your training plans but have most likely performed them on the road or primarily on flat terrain. 

A Fartlek Run translates to “speed play” and involves hard intervals interspersed with recovery intervals throughout the length of your run. They are unstructured workouts where the runners choose how many and for how long each “hard’ interval will last. 

Runners usually use landmarks for this speed play, such as, from this tree to the next lamppost; I will run with a hard effort. 

So, for your next Fartlek hill workout, choose hilly terrain, whether a trail run or road running with elevation changes, and have some fun! Add 8-10 hard intervals for a one-hour session. 

A person running up hill at sunset.

#7: Summit Strides 

This workout can be done as repeats isolated on one hill or during any other hilly route run or long run. 

  1. Climb all the hills you encounter on your run at an easy pace, whether walking, hiking, or jogging.
  2. When you reach the top of the hill, run a strong 15-20 seconds stride on the flat or downhill section that follows, with a quick stride and excellent form.
  3. Repeat for some or all of the hills that pop up along your route, but be sure and give yourself time to recover after each one. 

#8: Downhill Strides

Be careful when performing downhill workouts, as running downhill will create much more impact stress on your body because of the pounding. 

However, to feel comfortable running downhill during a race and work on concentric muscle contractions, these types of hill workouts can be beneficial. 

If possible, perform downhill workouts on soft terrain such as a groomed trail or grass, and ensure the incline isn’t too steep.

  1. Warm up for 5-10 minutes. 
  2. Jog uphill at an easy effort for 2 minutes.
  3. Run back down to the starting point at a moderate to hard effort. 
  4. Repeat 4-8 times
  5. Cool down with a 5-minute jog.
A person running downhill.

When adding any of these hill workouts to your training program, once a week is just plenty. Also, repeating the same hill workout for four weeks will be a great way to see your progress. 

If you choose to increase the difficulty each week, be sure to adjust one variable at a time, whether it be adding more reps, increasing the length of the interval, or decreasing the recovery time between each one. 

Believe me; you will see excellent results in your uphill running and performance overall. It’s worth the effort! 

For other types of running workouts, check out our article: All Types Of Running Explained: Guide To Top 10 Running Workouts.

Two people high fiving after a track workout.
Photo of author
Katelyn is an experienced ultra-marathoner and outdoor enthusiast with a passion for the trails. In the running community, she is known for her ear-to-ear smile, even under the toughest racing conditions. She is a UESCA-certified running coach and loves sharing her knowledge and experience to help people reach their goals and become the best runners they can be. Her biggest passion is to motivate others to hit the trails or road alongside her, have a blast, and run for fun!

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