Hill Training Not Just for Younger Runners

Posted by Evolved Inspired on Friday, June 28, 2024

Older (choose your own definition here!) runners have a tendency to slip into zone 3 running. Avoiding harder intensity runs as they feel their peak performance is behind them. This is the opposite of what we runners should do as we age, sure we may be a little slower and need to prioritise smart recovery, but doing the hard workouts and throwing in some resistance training is key to combating and reducing age related reduction of muscular strength and mass, hard intensity runs along with resistance training are essential tools.

Incorporating hill workouts into your routine can enhance strength, endurance, and overall running efficiency. However, it’s crucial to approach this type of training with a smart strategy that prioritizes recovery and follows the 80/20 training principle to avoid overtraining and injury. Let’s delve into how older runners can effectively integrate hill training into their regimen while maintaining optimal health and performance.

Benefits of Hill Training

Hill training offers numerous advantages for runners of all ages, but it can be particularly beneficial for older runners.

  • Working out harder without increasing impact. To achieve zone 4 or 5 on flat routes, you need to increase speed. Potentially this is at the cost of good running form and increasing impact on the body. Running up-hill allows you to achieve one 4-5 without the speed or increased impact risk. You can also do more in less time!

  • Building Strength. Running uphill engages your glutes, hamstrings, calves, and quads more intensely than flat running. This helps build muscle strength which is essential for maintaining good running form and preventing injuries.

  • Improved Running Economy. Hills can improve your running economy by forcing you to run with better posture and technique. Over time, this can lead to more efficient running on flat terrain.

  • Increased Cardiovascular Fitness: Hill workouts elevate your heart rate quickly, providing a robust cardiovascular challenge that can enhance your overall fitness.

  • Injury Prevention: Strengthening the muscles used in hill running can help protect against common running injuries such as runner’s knee and Achilles tendinitis.

The 80/20 Training Approach

The 80/20 training approach is based on the principle that 80% of your training should be at low intensity, and 20% at moderate to high intensity. This balance helps to maximize endurance and performance while minimizing the risk of injury and burnout. Here’s how you can apply this approach to hill training:

  1. Low-Intensity Base: The majority of your weekly mileage should be at a conversational pace. This builds a solid aerobic base, essential for endurance.
  2. High-Intensity Intervals: Incorporate hill workouts into the 20% of your training that is high intensity. These sessions should be challenging but manageable, ensuring you can recover properly before your next workout.

Running in an AI generated Auckland, New Zealand
Running in an AI generated Auckland, New Zealand

Hill Training Workouts for Older Runners

Hill Repeats (Hill intervals)

Hill repeats are a classic workout for building strength and speed. Use the rest to recover as much as possible (walk or slowing jog). As you progress increase the uphill effort duration and/or reduce the rest to 30 seconds.

• Warm-Up: Start with a 10-15 minute easy jog to get warmed up. • Workout: Find a hill with a moderate incline (4-6%). Run up the hill at a hard but sustainable effort for 30-60 seconds. Walk or jog back down for recovery. • Repetitions: Start with 4-6 repeats, gradually increasing to 8-10 as you get stronger. • Cool-Down: Finish with a 10-minute easy jog to help your muscles recover.

Long Hill Climbs

Long hill climbs are excellent for building endurance and mental toughness.

• Warm-Up: Begin with a 10-15 minute easy jog. • Workout: Choose a longer hill or a series of rolling hills. Run up at a steady, moderate effort for 3-5 minutes. Recover by jogging back down or continuing on flat terrain for a few minutes. • Repetitions: Start with 2-3 climbs, progressing to 4-5 as you adapt. • Cool-Down: Finish up with a 10-minute easy jog.

Rolling Hills

Running on rolling hills mimics race conditions and helps build strength and stamina.

• Warm-Up: Jog easily for 10-15 minutes. • Workout: Run a route with rolling hills, maintaining a steady effort throughout. Focus on keeping a consistent pace on both the uphills and downhills. • Duration: Aim for 30-60 minutes, depending on your fitness level. • Cool-Down: Finish with an easy jog for 10 minutes.

Recovery: The Key to Progress

Recovery is an integral part of any training program, particularly for older runners who may take longer to recover from intense workouts. Be mindful of the following to help avoid overtraining and injury

  1. Rest Days

Incorporate rest days into your weekly schedule. These are days when you do no running at all, allowing your muscles and joints to repair and strengthen.

  1. Active Recovery

Include low-impact activities like walking, swimming, or cycling on your rest days. This promotes blood flow and aids recovery without adding additional stress to your body.

  1. Stretching and Foam Rolling

Regular stretching and foam rolling can help alleviate muscle tightness and prevent injuries. Go easy on stretching, there should be no pain. Hold the stretch for around 2 minutes. Focus on the muscles most used in hill running, such as your calves, hamstrings, and quads.

  1. Hydration and Nutrition

Proper hydration and nutrition play crucial roles in recovery. Ensure you’re consuming enough protein to aid muscle repair and carbohydrates to replenish glycogen stores. Staying hydrated helps maintain optimal muscle function and recovery. Use electrolytes if needed, if drinking more simply means you go to the bathroom more, then throw in some electrolytes to aid absorbing ghe fluid.

  1. Sleep

Quality sleep is vital for recovery. Often the hardest part to get into a routine for. Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep per night to give your body ample time to repair and rejuvenate. Avoid or restrict alcohol consumption. Also if you often wake through the night, don’t have any fluid 2hrs before bed (to avoid the full-bladder/midnight toilet pee trip). Also try to avoid food 2-3 hours before bed to allow the digestive system to slow down as you sleep.

Example weekly plan

Here’s an example of how you might structure a week of training, incorporating hill workouts and the 80/20 principle. Remember easy should be easy and hard should be hard. Don’t spend time in the middle zone (zone 3). Cross training can be swimming, walking or even better some resistance training!

  • Monday: Rest or active recovery (e.g., walking or yoga)
  • Tuesday: Easy run (45-60 minutes at a conversational pace)
  • Wednesday: Hill repeats (see workout details above)
  • Thursday: Easy run or cross-training (30-45 minutes)
  • Friday: Rest or active recovery
  • Saturday: Long run with rolling hills (60-90 minutes at an easy to moderate pace)
  • Sunday: Easy run or cross-training (30-45 minutes)