In a post I wrote in 2018, I shared why “hills are speedwork in disguise”. Olympic marathon champion Frank Shorter spoke those words, and I wholeheartedly agree. We include hill training in all Coached training programmes.
The two most common things athletes ask us about hill training is 1) what type of hill runs to do. And 2), where to run hills in Singapore. We’ve been getting that last one a lot recently.
They’re good questions, and I will answer them now.
Types Of Hill Training
The primary goal of hill running is to build strength. Hills provide resistance, similar to weights in the gym, that help your muscles to build strength over time.
There are three main types of hill runs we prescribe in Coached training programmes.
- Rolling hills
- Hill Reps
- Hilly Fartlek
1. Rolling Hills
Rolling hills are best for general strength and conditioning. They’re a sport-specific way of building overall muscular strength that will make you a faster, less injury-prone, and more fatigue resistant runner.
For runs like this, you want to run a course that is consistently going up and down. Typically, at low-intensity. Finding a route like this can be challenging in Singapore so, depending on where you live, you may have to run a loop course.
I like venues like MacRitchie Reservoir, the Botanic Gardens, NTU and Fort Canning for this type of run. The Telok Blangah hill is also great as it links to Mount Faber and Kent Ridge Park, and is part of the Southern Ridge which is a 9-kilometre trail.
These venues are not always possible for me, so you’ll often find me looping around the hills in the back streets of Siglap since it’s closer to home.
2. Hill Reps
Hill Reps are what most runners think of when the mention of hill training comes up. Hill reps involve running repetitions up a hill, usually at high intensity, with a jog down for recovery.
Hills reps can be short or long. Short hill reps are typically 10-seconds – 2-minutes in duration—long hill reps last 2-minutes or more.
Shorter intense hill reps are great for increasing power and VO2max. Longer hill reps are more aerobic.
When you run hill reps, look for a hill with a gradient of 4% – 8%.
I like the hills at Fort Canning, Marina Barrage, Mt Faber, and the Botanic Gardens, but I typically run my hill reps at Bedok Reservoir or in Kembangan since they’re closer to home. If you keep an eye open, you’ll find there are suitable hills all over the island.
3. Hilly Fartlek
Hilly Fartlek is like traditional fartlek but run over hills. You vary your pace on the hills and flats as you run.
Hilly fartlek sessions are often best done over a loop course. I’ve run great hilly fartlek sessions around Leedon Heights, Siglap, Sentosa, Marina Barrage, Fort Canning, Bedok Reservoir and NTU.
If you don’t have hills near where you live, don’t worry, there are a few other options you can try. Before we get to them, you must understand what you’re trying to achieve by running hills in the first place.
As I mentioned, the primary benefit of running hills is to build strength. Hill running also helps to prevent injuries because it toughens your connective tissues and bones while strengthening your muscles.
Run On A Treadmill
The most obvious way to simulate hills is to run on a treadmill. Warm-up without gradient and then alternate between a 4% and 8% gradient for the hills.
Run Man-made Hills
If you don’t have access to a treadmill, an overhead bridge or a parking garage can do the trick and provide enough resistance to be beneficial. If you do the latter, run with extreme caution to avoid any nasty collisions with vehicles.
Run More Mileage
As a rule, the best hill runners are the runners who are in the best shape. It’s crucial then, to run a lot so that you get into the best shape possible. If you’re racing and hit a hill, you’re going to be more capable of running the hill strongly thanks to all the conditioning you have earned by running the miles.
Do Resistance Training
Outside of running, the best way to develop strength and power, and to prevent injury is to do resistance training. You can do resistance training in several ways, the most common being bands or free weights.
I recommend doing resistance training one to three times per week, depending on your needs and available time.
Run Hills, Run Better
If you want to improve your running, hills play an essential role, and I believe they are the best way for runners to develop sport-specific strength.
I encourage you to include the three types of hill runs I shared, and if you can’t access hills, use the other strategies to become a stronger runner.