Getting fit for running on hilly terrain

beautiful scene

Running over hilly terrain is becoming more popular and as the days get longer the opportunities to explore areas of natural beauty over hills and down dales are increasing. 

Fitness components can be described as the Five S's:






But, which of these do you need for hill running?


The answer to that is easy! You need all five:

Stamina because hill running is an endurance event

Speed because gravity will push you down the hills so you need to be able to go with the pace

Strength because the hill offers resistance when you are climbing

Skill because the ground is uneven and so your posture, balance and co-ordination need to be tip-top

Suppleness also because of the uneven ground. You need to be able to 'give' in different directions on uneven terrain.

These are just a few of the reasons. There are many more....

This article will look more specifically at the need for power-endurance, which is a combination of stamina, speed and strength. Speed and strength = power and to be able to run uphill you have to exert power several times over so this brings in the endurance factor (or stamina).

Power is "the combination of speed of contraction and speed of movement". Runners need to develop strength before they can develop power. So to break this down further we need to understand what is meant by the word strength.

There are many different types of strength. Here we differentiate between maximum strength and strength-endurance.

Maximum strength is the greatest force that is possible in a single, maximum effort. This can be developed through weight training.

Strength endurance is the ability to express force many times over. This can be developed by circuit training, running and an emphasis on duration.

  • circuit training develops strength-endurance, amongst other things, but not maximum strength. Exercises are performed repetitively over a given time (eg 20 - 30 secs) or for a certain number (eg 8 or more) before the runner moves onto the next exercise to go through the same process.
  • running with an emphasis on duration also develops strength-endurance. Again, this is a repetitive activity and so endurance is a key component. The resistance is the ground itself and a greater resistance would be a hill, sand, water, wind or maybe pulling an object behind.

In order to convert strength into power the runner needs to work on fast, explosive actions. This could be done by developing elastic-strength through plyometric activities. These exercises require an eccentric (lengthening) muscular contraction followed by a concentric (shortening) contraction of the same muscle. This develops the stretch/reflex capacity in a muscle. The muscle fibres should be able to store more elastic energy and transfer more quickly and powerfully from the eccentric to the concentric phase.

Examples of plyometric activities include hopping, bounding and jumping.

There are great benefits to developing power-endurance for uphill running - running up a hill requires a rhythmical action where you have to land elastically and push off with every step. The muscles that you call on go through a stretch-shortening cycle so - the better prepared for this that they are, the more force and velocity you will create with each step.