Runner completing a hill training session
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The 5 best hill running sessions

Master running on hills and you’ll not only get faster, but build strength and improve your running form.
Written by Laura Fountain
6 min readPublished on
One of the simplest and most time-efficient ways to improve your running is by including a regular hill session in your training. Running up hills builds strength and power in your legs, which, as well as helping you bound up hills like a mountain goat, will transfer into faster speeds on the flat, too.
What’s more, hill training also encourages positive changes in running form. We’ve all heard the heckle as we run through the park to "get those knees up", and though it’s not the best way to get your form analysed, most of us could do with a little more knee lift to our stride. Running up hills encourages that; it’s impossible to run up a hill without lifting your feet.
Just one hill session a week can make a difference – and will help to bring some variety to your standard training runs.
Here are five game-changing hills sessions to try, put together by running coach and PT Laura Fountain.
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1. Straight up hills

Suitable for: beginners, intermediate and advanced runners.
The simplest of hill sessions, this one is also easy to add to as you become stronger. As you progress, you can add more reps to the workout. The key with this, and all hill sessions, is to concentrate on your forming.
  • Keep your shoulders relaxed and drive your elbows back, to help power your legs up the hill
  • Run tall with a slight forward lean that comes from the ankle – don’t bend at the waist
  • Look a few meters ahead of you rather than down at the ground.
Run at an easy to moderate pace for 15 minutes before stopping at a hill. Choose one that’s long enough to accommodate two minutes of effort running up, and not so steep that you have to stop before the two minutes are up.
Run hard up the hill for two minutes and walk or jog back down to recover. Forget time and run on effort – you should feel ok to do another rep after your recovery. If not, you’ve gone too hard. Your recovery should be three to four minutes, so take your time coming back down. Finish with another 15 minutes of easy to moderate running.
  • 15 minutes easy
  • 6x 2 minutes uphill
  • Walk or jog back down for 3-4 minutes to recover
  • 15 minutes easy.
Progression: you can add distance to the beginning or end of this run to fit your training, as well as adding a couple more hill reps as you get fitter.

2. Kenyan Hills

Suitable for: intermediate and advanced runners.
This tempo session with the added challenge of a few hills along the way is a mainstay of the Kenyan running diet. And if it’s good enough for the world’s best distance runners, it can certainly help you to a PB.
Plot out a short loop in your local park that includes at least one hill, some flat and some downhill. It doesn’t matter how long or short your loop is, as you’ll be running to time instead of distance. That said, if it’s too short, you might get bored after a few loops!
Start with an easy 10-minute run on the flat before moving to your hilly loop. Run at 80 percent effort for eight minutes, completing as many loops as you can in that time. Run strong up the hills and maintain your effort level on the flat and downhill.
Take a three-minute walk recovery then repeat for the second eight-minute interval. Cool down with another 10-minute, easy jog on the flat.
  • 10 minutes easy
  • 8 minutes hard (80 percent effort)
  • 3-minute recovery walk
  • 8 minutes hard (80 percent effort)
  • 10 minutes easy

3. Pyramid session

Suitable for: intermediate and advanced runners.
If you’re running a hilly race, it’s unlikely that the gradients are all going to be the same length. This pyramid session replicates that environment by mixing up the duration of your intervals.
Find a hill that takes around 90 seconds to run up from bottom to top. After warming up, you’ll find your hill and run up it for different durations of time, turning round after each effort and jogging back down to recover. Moderate your speed so that you’re running faster on the shorter efforts than the longer ones.
  • 10 minutes easy
  • Uphill efforts of 45 seconds, 1 minute, 90 seconds, 2 minutes, 90 seconds, 1 minute, 45 seconds, jogging back down to recover between each effort
  • 10 minutes easy.

4. Downhill practice

When we think of hill training, we always think of the leg-burning uphill efforts. Few of us give much thought to the downhill during our training.
While it might be easier on your heart and lungs to run downhill, your legs don’t get a break. Downhill running requires your muscles to work in a slightly different way to running uphill, and is likely to be the cause of the DOMS (delayed-onset muscle soreness) in your quads the day after a hilly race.
Downhill running is a real skill that needs practising, and can give you a real advantage over the competition in a race. Try not to lean back or run too stiffly. Relax into the downhill.
Complete a series of uphill intervals, using the same stretch of hill for downhill efforts. Your form should be loose, try not to tense your legs or lock your knees, and your arms should be relaxed and helping you balance.
  • 15-minute easy jog
  • 4x 2 minutes hard uphill, easy downhill
  • 4x 2 minutes easy uphill, fast downhill
  • 15-minute easy jog.

The gym

Suitable for: beginners, intermediate and advanced runners.
Any of the sessions above can easily be transferred to the treadmill, which is particularly useful if you live in an area lacking in hills. But while you’re there, head over to the mats and work on your stability.
There’s no use building all this strength and power if you’ve not got a solid foundation beneath it. Core strength, stability and flexibility are key for any runner, and become even more important when you’re doing higher-intensity training sessions.
This quick session can be completed after a run. Complete the circuit below three times, with 30-seconds rest between exercises and two-minutes rest between sets.
  • 30-second plank
  • 30-second side planks (each side)
  • 30-second bridge
  • 20 mountain climbers (count one each time your feet swap positions)
  • 20 Russian twists with a medicine ball
  • 30-second balance on each leg (make it harder with a balance board).
Laura Fountain is a UK Athletics coach in Running Fitness and Level 3 personal trainer. For training tips and advice, visit her blog, Lazy Girl Running.
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