My Treadmill Reviews UK

Are Hills Worth The Hassle?

sosie cox
By: Sosie Cox, SOS Fitness

When training for a specific event, the aim is to recreate a similar or tougher stressor to acclimatise the body to cope with the conditions that you will endure during that event. Firstly, not many races are going to be on a 0% gradient, so hill training is beneficial to help the body cope with this when racing. This is also not limited to uphill efforts but also how the body adjusts to running downhill too. If you are training for a race that you already know involves inclines, practice for it!

Do hill sessions offer physiological benefits?

To expand on the physiological benefits of hill sprints, it not only helps to improve our power and strength but also our running economy. Jim Walker, sport science director at The Orthopedic Specialty Hospital explains that uphill running forces you to drive your knees high and land with your foot underneath you opposed to in front of you. When running, this biomechanical error of overstriding is common, especially when fatigued. As a result, the angle between your thighs when you push off for the next step increases, and more of the energy you generate moves forward instead of upward—making you more efficient while reducing impact forces that may cause injury. Vernillo et al., (2016) hypothesised that energy dissipation is far more prevalent compared to energy generation when running downhill. The increased demands for work as running incline increases are met by an increase in power output at all joints, particularly the hip. This implies that uphill running requires greater muscular activity compared to descending. It was found that the energy cost of running (C r) linearly increases with positive slope but C r of downhill running decreases until a minimum slope is reached at −20 %, after which C r increases again. This highlights the importance of not only training to deal with the demands of uphill running, but also minimising energy cost of downhill running.

Do hill sessions offer biomechanical benefits?

Slope biomechanics, muscle contraction patterns and physiological responses have notable implications for injury prevention and success of athletes training and competing on undulating routes. When training for a long-distance race such as a marathon, risk of injury is the most common barrier runners face when trying to clock up the miles. To avoid encountering or exacerbating this prevalent issue, runners can include uphill training for a couple of reasons. Primarily, uphill running changes the running mechanics and adjusts which area of the body experiences the most load. Typically, runners experience injury in the hips, knees and shins through overuse. By changing the incline, it changes where the strain is placed. Running uphill also strengthens our muscles. To put it simply, running uphill requires the utilisation of more muscle fibres than running on a flat surface. This will not only improve strength but also burn more calories in doing so! Hill sprints can be viewed as weight training for running, you are simply increasing resistance which will in turn increase explosive strength and power to your stride. It will also bring about lactate threshold and cardiovascular improvements. Derek Ferley, director of sports science research and sports performance training at the Avera Sports Institute is a researcher who has found significant benefits to speed through the use of uphill running. In one study, Ferley randomly assigned some runners to do hill workouts x2/week while others did faster repetitions on level ground (and a control group kept up their typical training). The results showed that in 6 weeks of hill training, runners boosted their top speed and allowed them to sustain it for 32% longer. So whether your goal is increased cardiovascular endurance, speed or injury prevention – including a hill session every week or so will help you stride towards your goals!

In conclusion, there are copious benefits to uphill (and downhill!) running; improved biomechanics, increase in strength and power, burning more calories and improved cardiovascular capacity whilst also helping you find your groove and make the most of the descents in a race too! So next time you try pick a flat route to get the best Strava splits you can, think again as a hill session could be just what you need to improve!

My go to Hill Sessions:

  • Hill Sprints
    • 2km Warm Up Jog
    • 30s Uphill Sprint
    • Walk Back
    • Complete 8-10 sets
    • Into 1km Run (~Sub 5km pace)


  • Ascend & Descend
    • 5 minute Warm Up Jog
    • 30s Strides, 30s Walk x5
    • Moderate incline effort for 2 mins (~10km pace)
    • Descend back down in 1:45 mins
    • Rest 90s
    • Complete 8-10 sets


  • Post Incline Speed
    • 1km Warm Up
    • Find a steep incline that plateaus into flat
    • Uphill effort for 1 minute followed by 1 minute effort on flat
    • Jog back to start point
    • Complete 5 sets
    • 0.5km Cool Down


  • Fartlek Hills
    • Find a loop with stints of varying gradients. Work hard up the hills and recover on the flats.


Ferley, Derek D.1; Osborn, Roy W.2; Vukovich, Matthew D.3 The Effects of Incline and Level-Grade High-Intensity Interval Treadmill Training on Running Economy and Muscle Power in Well-Trained Distance Runners, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: May 2014 – Volume 28 – Issue 5 – p 1298-1309 doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000000274

Vernillo, Gianluca & Giandolini, Marlène & Edwards, W. Brent & Morin, Jean-Benoît & Samozino, Pierre & Horvais, Nicolas & Millet, Guillaume. (2017). Biomechanics and Physiology of Uphill and Downhill Running. Sports Medicine. 47. 10.1007/s40279-016-0605-y.