Strength Training For Hills

Are there strength training moves specific for training and adapting the muscles you’ll be using during a hilly race?

You betcha! And Coach Danny is here in today’s daily podcast to help you develop a plan for which ones to include in your training.

Audio Transcript

Danny: This is Coach Danny. Today’s question comes from John.

John asks, “Is there some strength training specific for hill training? I’m signed up for the San Francisco marathon, and there aren’t a lot of hills in our area necessarily close by. So I’d like to do some lifting to build up the muscles that need to be strengthened for that race.”

This is a great question John. It is one that can be applied to any marathoner, any runner really, that wants to get stronger.

It doesn’t have to be a runner who is training for a hilly marathon like San Francisco but it could be for anybody in any ability.

For example, I train and live in Indiana where it’s pretty flat. I have to find creative ways to build up the durability, build up the strength in my legs to give me the strength to last over 26.2 miles and not break down as bad, and not fatigue as much as some of the other competitors.

That being said, some of the exercises that I would incorporate into a gym routine would start with looking at what the leg or legs are doing, during running.

When you foot strike, you have basically three joints that are working the most; your hip, your knee and your ankle.

All three of them, upon landing, are flexed.

You’re flexed at the hip flexor, flexed at the knee and flexed at the ankle and that’s called, in the physical therapy world, three points of flexion.

Any exercises in the gym that mimic that would be where I’d want to start. A strength training program would mirror a training program.

You’re starting with general exercises, build up in reps and or weight, and then as the race draws near, you change your exercise to be more specific.

I’ll run you through a general overview of how I would go about that. I would start with doing exercises, like squats, which have three points of flexion.

At the bottom of a squat, your ankle’s flexed, your knee’s flexed and your hip is flexed; same with lunges. Those are all a bit more specific to running because it’s a split-squat basically.

Then work on those different forms of squats and different forms of lunges. Those are the two main that I would use.

You can manipulate those, just like you would a workout with your run training. You can add weight. You can do them quicker. You can do more reps, less reps, less rest in between sets.

There are a lot of different ways you can go about that.

I would always encourage you to locate a trainer, within the gym, to help you set up a program for that. That’s a great place to start, and as you progress, I would start to incorporate more of a plyometric part of those exercises.

You can turn squats into jump squats, and turn lunges into jump lunges to keep things simple. But also things like step ups, or single leg squats, single leg squat jumps, single leg deadlift, those kinds of exercises are going to be working those muscle groups of the lower leg.

That being said, nothing simulates hill training like getting out and running on the hills.

If you’re in the same boat that I am, and you live in the flatlands of Indiana so to speak, you have to get a little more creative with how you become more specific, outside the gym to prepare you for the ups and downs of a marathon like San Francisco.

The ways that I would do that are to incorporate some of my tempo runs, or some of my runs that are close in resemblance to the pace that I’ll want to run the marathon in, and I’ll have to apply those to the treadmill.

Uphill tempos; if I had for example three mile tempo run, I would run that at 2-3% incline or maybe a little bit more on the treadmill.

Obviously adjust the pace as necessary.

Just turn it into effort based, or use a heart rate monitor to gauge effort or pace on the treadmill.

Adding that little bit of hill work into a continuous tempo is going to simulate the demands that you’re going to face in a marathon.

Again, you can be creative with these additions to a tempo run. You can do a continuous uphill tempo. You can do a rolling tempo where you’re adjusting the incline and the decline, throughout the miles of a tempo run or tempo intervals.

It’s also good, especially for races like Boston where you have a ton of downhill, to incorporate a lot of fast intervals using downhill on the treadmill.

You can do that with a down slope on the treadmill or you can prop up the back legs with two paint cans or put it on the step, that’s just what I do.

But the final point I want to make is, don’t just think about hill training as just being able to run up a hill. Most of the fatigue and damage done to the legs during a marathon is devoted to what happens with your quads, running downhill.

The thrashing they take, breaking your body basically. You’re breaking your stride, your speed down a little bit going downhill. Boston, for example, the first 15 miles are basically downhill and that’s what makes those heartbreak hills so much tougher than they really are, if you just ran them in isolation.

It’s all the built up fatigue from braking going downhill for an hour, an hour and a half.

It’s always important to train that as well and you can do that in the gym, incorporating some downhill strides, some downhill tempo runs, or some rolling temple runs with the programming on a treadmill.

For those of you, who are living in a hilly area, don’t be afraid to seek out those hills and adjust your paces for those runs accordingly.

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I hope that answers your question, John, and if there’s any I can help you with, please let us know.

Thanks for listening to the podcast, Runners Connect fans, and have a great day.

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