IMPORTANCE OF HILL TRAINING IN AEROBIC CAPACITY, ENDURANCE, AND STRENGTH.
Most endurance coaches incorporate different techniques and exercise for their athletes to stay in good physical, emotional, and psychological shape in the modern world. This often includes fasted morning runs, cycling, morning and evening strength and conditioning, and hill climbing, among other exercises. Hill training is a common practice that is quite widely embraced, courtesy of its unmatched and high value fitness benefits. To be specific, hill training is exceptionally pivotal to most athletes today. Despite being quite obvious in focus, its actually more about building specificity into the training activities to deal with an athlete’s long term training goals. Leg strength, aerobic capacity, agility, or even to help improve arm drive, hill training is an important often overlooked training component. Don’t just take my word for it, according to medical experts, hill running has a tremendous number of benefits for the athlete concerning boosting their aerobic capacity, specific endurance, and overall strength and conditioning.
IMPORTANCE OF HILL TRAINING IN AEROBIC CAPACITY
In basic terms, aerobic capacity is the maximum amount of oxygen that an individual utilises per unit of time and body weight (see the Runner’s World reference below). It is measured by checking your pulse rate. For instance, one can place two fingers between the bone and the radial artery’s tendon, usually located on the palm side of the wrist below the thumb and take your pulse by counting the number of beats in 15 seconds and multiplying by four. Or alternatively most wearable devices also monitor heart rate.
Climbing a hill naturally increases an athlete’s heart rate. Repeating this activity over a period of time, improves the aerobic and anaerobic capacity of the individual. Research shows that runners who regularly train on hills have a much higher concentration of aerobic enzymes in their quadriceps than those who exercise on flat terrains. It is these enzymes that catalyse the secretion of chemicals that allow an athlete’s muscle to function at higher intensities for longer periods without fatigue. Hill training heightens the aerobic power in an athlete’s quads, thus improving their knee lift while running and helps to accelerate each leg forward as they run whilst also reducing the prospects of a shortness of breath – Magic? No… Science, Yes!
So… there’s a great benefit to your ‘engine’ by training the related energy system, but what else can you expect? Well, hill training strengthens the musculoskeletal system of an athlete (Runner’s World, 2015). What this means is that it strengthens different body parts’ bone, cartilages, and joints, with an inevitable bias towards the legs. When the muscular system is supported this way, an athlete’s running form typically improves—remember, running uphill forces an athlete to lift their knees higher than usual, thus enhancing their stride length and speed (or cadence). This aids the development of muscles, increasing an athlete’s power and strength during physical exercises and and building an effective platform for further training.
The fun (and benefits) don’t stop there. Regular hill running also makes an individual’s nervous system change its firing pattern rate. An athlete’s running gait automatically changes when they run ascending and descending hills. This change in firing pattern helps the fast-twitch muscle fibres to recruit, improve leg turnover rate, and help the central nervous system fight off fatigue (see the Danilop reference below). When you run up a hill at the same pace, with the same gait and leg turnover rate, the brain does not become fatigued from receiving the same stimulus information. This increases an athlete’s physicality, making them add strength and become fitter. So… hill running improves the body’s overall strength by enhancing muscular endurance and resistance to fatigue, increasing muscular strength and power, strengthening muscles and their fibres, and strengthening the body’s connective tissues. This, in turn, increases the strength of the bones, joints, and cartilages, making them rigid and hardened, thus reducing the chances of bone fractures and reducing the prospect of injury.
IMPORTANCE OF HILL TRAINING IN ENDURANCE
Endurance is very pivotal to all track and field athletes no matter what their focus is. It helps define and frame their willingness to do whatever it takes for them to win or complete a an activity. Athletes who have unmatched endurance can engage in specific physical exercises for a sustained period of time without getting exhausted. In this regard, hill training is a trademark activity for improving this. Because of regular hill training, an athlete can run faster and cover challenging terrain that builds strength in their legs and seasons the muscles and the connective tissues (Danilop, 2020). As a consequence, an athlete will build power and endurance that will, over time, make them hugely resistant to fatigue regardless of the environment they run in!
ANYTHING ELSE I CAN LOOK FORWARD TO?
Hill training can quicken an athlete’s stride, expand their stride, enhances their running economy, and over time, protects leg muscles against soreness. It develops the cardiovascular system, which is pivotal to stabilising the pulse rate and normalising breathing while running at speed. Therefore, regular hill sessions promote endurance in individuals by improving their ability to maintain their form and biomechanics. When athletes get tired, their biomechanics and shape can change, placing new stress on the body. However, engaging in hill running limits this from occurring. Endurance activity keeps your heart and circulatory system healthy. It also improves overall fitness. This itself may also help to reduce the prospects of diabetes, heart diseases, and strokes.
Many additional benefits are also available for an athlete prepared to endure the hills. For instance, it helps athletes manage their weight by efficiently burning calories from the body. It also reduces the risk of cardiovascular diseases by lowering the athlete’s blood pressure and improving cholesterol levels in the bloodstream. Most importantly, hill training helps manage chronic health conditions and disabilities by reducing pain, improving functions of affected body parts, and helps regulate blood sugar levels (Danilop, 2020).
As a general guideline, athletes are advised to begin their regular hill training exercises when their body can sustain the fifteen to thirty minutes of such ‘punishment’. it is essential to note that hill sessions should be conducted under specific guidance and using a training routine that has been assessed and verified by suitably skilled coaches and medical practitioners. Hill runs are not an everyday type of exercise but they should be done in a regular pattern. Doing hills at least once a week is suitable for all athletes.
So… who’s up for training in the hills with us on a Saturday morning? Not convinced? Feel free to book a call with a coach to discuss how you could benefit from a hill session?
REFERENCES AND FURTHER READING…
Runner’s World. (2015, February 10). Everything you need to know about hill training. https://www.runnersworld.com/uk/training/a760159/everything-you-need-to-know-about-hill-training/
Danilop, S. D. (2020, December 14). Hill Running Training. Training 4 Endurance. https://training4endurance.co.uk/running/hill-running/