Hill Training – No Expiration Date

It was one year ago last week when I cleared a hill sprinting path in the woods behind my home. I’ve always been a fan of hill sprints and was thrilled at the idea of having a hill to run within walking distance of my backdoor. Therefore, I eagerly took to the woods with an axe and saw and slowly began clearing out my future hill. At the time, I took a few before and after pictures and wrote an entry to the blog (see here).

Hill sprints

One year later and I still run the hill regularly. I have likely sprinted more hills in the past year than I have at any other time in my life. And while that may not sound significant, hill sprints have been a favorite conditioner of mine throughout my 20+ years of training. In other words, I have been around the block and run my share of hills.

Yet after all these years, hill sprints are still kicking my ass. No matter how hard I run, the hill is always ready for more. It does not matter how well conditioned I am, hill sprints always remind me that I am human. It is only a matter of time before the hill takes over and wins. Hill sprints are truly an undefeated conditioning exercise that will never expire. I will never reach a point where I am too good for the hills. I may technically own the hill, but when I run it, the hill owns me.

Unfortunately, despite the obvious benefits, hill sprints still don’t get much love in the fitness industry. The lack of attention should not come as a surprise however. Why would an equipment manufacturer advertise the benefits of hills? It wouldn’t make financial sense unless that manufacturer doubled as a real estate agent. The same could be said of a gym owner. The gym owner wants you to run on his treadmills. There is nothing in it for him to have you out scouring the neighborhood for a steep hill to run.

Consequently, it is no surprise that I have never seen a traffic jam of runners on a steep hill. And while my wooded hill is a bit secluded, I have run various hills throughout my town There is even a picture of me running a local hill that was tweeted by Sean Combs (aka P. Diddy). He has millions of followers who saw the picture (see here). It was taken in 2005 and it has been shared countless times since. I have also publicly listed the address many times (Orchard St. Rockville, CT). Yet despite all the views and mentions, I have never once seen anyone else running that hill. When I am there, I am always alone.

What Gives?!

Although some readers may grow tired of me proclaiming the benefits of hills, I must not be doing a very good job if all of the hills in my own town remain desolate. How can so many people overlook such an effective and free to use exercise location? If the average person did nothing but run a few hills and mix in some calisthenics afterward, they would be in better shape than 90+ percent of the world.

Sadly, simple but effective solutions must not be flashy enough to attract the masses. People either do not know about hills or are not willing to put in the work. Perhaps it is a combination of both. Regardless of what leads to the avoidance, it baffles my mind that more people do not take advantage of what is perhaps the best conditioning exercise of all.

In summary, rather than searching high and low for the next best exercise, consider investing that time and energy into an exercise that has already stood the test of time.ย  Legendary athletes such as Walter Payton, Jerry Rice, and countless others ran hills for one simple reason. Hill sprints work, as long as you are willing to work. You can either follow in the footsteps of these past legends or waste your time looking for an easier yet less effective alternative.

It seems like a simple decision to make. Unfortunately, the desolate hills seem to suggest otherwise. Hopefully that will eventually change. I will certainly do my part to hype the benefits of hills for as long as I’m alive. And if you are ever in the area and want to hit up Orchard Street, shoot me a message. Perhaps we can run together.

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“It’s okay to lose, to die, but don’t die without trying, without giving it your best.” – Walter Payton

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24 comments:

  1. Ross,

    Couldn’t agree more. I have always loved running hills. I remember seeing the Walter Payton video you posted several years ago and realizing that I wasn’t crazy, even the greatest athletes find value in this exercise. Low tech, high effect!! That’s all there is to it. Thankfully, there will never be membership dues for running the local hill!

  2. I’ve always loved running hills and they surround where I live which is fantastic. They offer such variety too as every hill has its own shape. Last week I came up with a new exercise: hill burpees. Do burpees going uphill and you really will feel like a primal 4-legged monster. On a grassy slope I’ve tried it barefoot too and that feels great. Thanks for your articles Ross, keep them coming..

  3. My hill sprint day is Sunday…. gradual one in my back yard and I’ve driven to super steep ones… I use em and they kick my ever lovin’ arse. ๐Ÿ™‚ Which is why I was drawn to read this post! *fist bump*

  4. Dear Ross,

    How far do you usually run? 100meters, 200? 400?

    I know you can mix and match but just curious as to how you usually plan it out.

  5. I was just about to head out to the park to do some conditioning with the Jump rope. Fuck it, amma go run me some hills! Thank you Ross

  6. You are absolutely true, Ross. Like always. That is why I, being from Europe, Czech republic, read from all the aports blogs and pages only yours. Keep up. You are an island of common sense. Karel

  7. Due to old injuries I don’t run on hills any more. In the summer I sometimes roll a truck tire by pushing it up the short hill down at the end of the street. At the summit I roll it back down and then follow it. Then I repeat the exercise. In the winter I drag a sled through the deep snow up a different hill that has a gentler slope. I ride the sled quickly downhill and do it over again once I get to the bottom.

    1. Frikin eh right?! I feel like I’m dying every time! But the high you get after it, there’s nothing like it. Haha the way we torture ourselves to better ourselves. Worth every minute … though I rarely think that WHILE I’m doing it haha.

  8. Ross,
    I was in Santa Monica a few days ago and ran up the “Santa Monica stairs”. This is pretty close to a hill sprint, a 10 story stair climb up a hill. This was on a Saturday morning and it was packed solid! So it really depends where you live.

    I have a hill close to my house in Phoenix and it takes 80 seconds to run up. It destroys me every time. I built up to 7 laps last year, maybe I can hit 10 this year.

    And Ross, next time that I will be in Hartford, I will meet you in Rockville and take you up on that offer.

    Beytzim

  9. Walter Payton & Rocky Marciano were my inspiration to start hill training decades ago. We all know the Walter Payton story, but Marciano would sprint up hills and jog backwards back down them as part of his training long before Walter or Jerry. You don’t see many runners attacking the hills for the same reason you don’t see many people at the gym performing deadlifts or squats, they are too damn hard. You can never outgrow hill sprints, you can always run harder, run backwards uphill, less rest between sprints, run sand dune hills, wear weighted vests etc.

  10. I noticed Durian Rider has been running about 5km with 1000m incline twice a week to prepare for an ultra. Not easy to find inclines like that like that but even for longer distances hills are great. Forces a high turnover rate with small steps while keeping the speed at a pace where its easy to get proper footing.

  11. My street runs 90 degrees to a .35 mile road that gains about 110 feet – love that thing. Red rocks amphitheater 10 mins away is also amazing (150 ft gain stair case with a few hundred stairs).

    Bar none – fav place to train.

    Jeff

  12. God I remember those days ๐Ÿ™‚ Its been a long time since I ran hills , but God do I crave them . Just moved to Michigan , sure I can find some good ones out here . CANT WAIT !!!

  13. The biggest gains I’ve experienced have come from hill and stair sprints. I’m lucky that I have relatively easy access to both. Both the hills and stairs seem to have a dedicated group of users. I’ve never seen them empty. The stairs are 300 steps to the top and are a killer when you push it.

  14. I’ve always loved hill reps, moved from the north of England Surrounded by great hills to Sydney, Australia and although the long runs aren’t as hilly there are huge sand dunes which are perfect for hill repeats. There’s no better cardio fitness than hill fitness and after reading this I’ll be out on those dunes first thing tomorrow! Love the blog Ross, thanks for all the inspiration!

  15. I was introduced to Hill Sprints by a fellow player at my Rugby club about 4 years ago.
    We trained these twice a week for the whole season. Got in the best condition of my life.
    Nothing has made my lungs want to drop out of my mouth more than hill sprints.
    Other sport specific benefits I gained apart from better conditioning were running on my toes correctly (I used to be very flat footed). My first 10m dramatically improved.
    I hate long distance running and I am so glad I was introduced to hill sprints. Twice the benefit in half the time!

  16. Thanks! This was a great post. I do hill sprints. I live in a city of hills and valleys. High gradient hills are abundant here. And they always kick my ass. I do get stronger, and I can go further, but it still kicks my ass. Same with running stairs. I kind of wondered if it was problem with me, that this workout wasn’t changing for me, getting easier. It’s relentlessly challenging. It’s quite good to know that it’s not just me, or that I’m not weak. It certainly is not a mainstay of fitness though. Hills. I wondered if maybe it wasn’t that good of workout. Because you’re absolutely right, it is not talked about. But thankfully for myself, I like to judge workouts by how I’m feeling, and by that I mean feeling exceptionally worked. That magical point between ‘come on, you can do ONE more’ and ‘how’d I end up on the ground, staring at the sky, trying to calm my heart the fuck down, exhausted’. ๐Ÿ˜‰ That’s what I love. And that’s what gets me out on the trails ๐Ÿ˜€

  17. Great post. I love running hills and really missing it due to an Achilles injury stopping doing any more than gentle flat runs at the moment. I am always a bit puzzled when I see people in the gym on treadmills and they turn up the incline to get a “hill run”. I live in a city in England which has a hill called ‘steep hill’ for good reason. I love running up it and also love the way passers by look at me as if I am insane.

  18. Enjoyed the article; old exercise but works especially with groups to generate enthusiasm. Saturday’s are our Hill Tepeats and cross training : a set of exercise immediately followed by five HR of different lengths. Then another set of different but technically easy explosive lift; then five HR. Do four sets-and try to finish within half hour for 20 Hill Repeats. This followed by the Loaded Carries ( Farmer, Rack, Waiters Carries) and two tire pulls. Not too long – and the group remains consistent.

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