Do Hills Really Pay the Bills?
We’ve all said it before – hills pay the bills. But what exactly does that mean? What “bills” are we trying to pay? And do hills really pay them?
The answer is, as expected, yes. Hills do in fact pay the bills – multiple bills. Hills are a great way to improve your anaerobic capacity, your speed and power, your form and running economy, your physical and mental strength, as well as keeping you injury free.
We all know and love aerobic running. They’re the easy runs, the long runs, the steady state runs. The runs where you feel slower and comfortable. Anaerobic running, however, is less fun. Sometimes it’s the thing we dread as much as it is the thing that spices up training and makes running fun. It’s the kind of running that involves quick bursts of energy that are held for a short time but with maximum effort. We might know it as speed work or hill repeats.
Hill repeats help us build a stronger anaerobic capacity. Hill repeats naturally increase our heart rate. They force us into a state where we’re pushing hard for a short amount of time. As we include these in our training, we are able to build out anaerobic capacity.
Speed and Power:
When we think of short bursts and maximum effort, we usually think sprinting. Sprinting is a combination of speed and power. But as we just explained, hills are a great anaerobic exercise and therefore a great replacement to sprinting around the track.
Not only can hills replace a speed workout, they can be a great introduction to speed workouts. They are less impactful on the body and provide you with the same benefits.
Form and Running Economy:
Form and running economy go hand-in-hand. The more efficient your form is, the less excess energy you are wasting. The less energy wasted, the better your running economy is.
Hill workouts, when done correctly, can create better running form. Running uphill forces your knee to lift higher than usual which improves your stride. Improving your stride improves your form – which as we said, improves your running economy.
It can be difficult to coordinate good form and fast running while on the track. Since you aren’t able to run as fast up hills, they are a great way to practice hard efforts with good form.
Most runners will hit the gym when they hear strength training. While the gym is a great way to focus on individual muscle strength, hill training is a great way to focus on small sets of muscles at a time. Hill repeats force the muscles in your hips, legs, ankles, and feet to work together to power you up the hill. Hill repeats also act as a form of resistance training which strengthens areas like your calves, quads, hamstrings, glutes, hip flexors, and achilles.
Hills aren’t just a great way to provide additional lower body strength – they can also provide additional core and upper body strength. Most of us know how hard we need to pump our arms to get up a hill fast. While we may limit upper body strength in the gym, hill repeats make sure we keep our arms working hard. And while most runners keep up with their core routines, hill repeats provide us with even more opportunities to strengthen our core. When you’re running up hill, your body is naturally tilted forward. To keep ourselves stable, we have to engage our core with each rep.
Mental strength – the toughest type of strength to improve on. It takes endurance to complete a hilly race and it takes physical strength to climb up that final hill. But, it takes mental strength to push ourselves up the hill, get to the top, and say “I’m ready to keep pushing”. Hill workouts are a great way to practice telling yourself to keep pushing while you’re already physically tired.
Hills provide a lot of benefits that we think of when we think of ways to prevent injuries – like staying on top of our strength and improving our running form. Running hill workouts tend to impact the body less than running on flat surfaces. When you reduce the pressure you put on your body, you reduce the risk of injuries such as overuse.
Like we said, we’ve all said it once. And we’re here to keep saying it: Hills pay the bills.