Hill Training on the Treadmill

It probably won’t surprise you to hear that I like doing my hill workouts on the treadmill.

Here’s what my current routine is like for Wednesday hill night:

I start with an easy warm up – a kilometre my steady pace (which is what I’ll run throughout the workout). Tonight that was 6.8mph. It’s supposed to be a very easy warmup, just to get my legs going and my heart rate elevated a bit.

Then I start creating some hills. I begin at the top of my virtual hill, rather than the bottom. Each hill repeat for me is 400m flat (no incline) which is like the downhill run to the bottom. Then I start up the hill with 100m at 2.0% incline then 300m at 4.0 or 4.5% incline to simulate a bit of a gradual start followed by a pretty good hill. At the top of the hill, I back the incline down to zero again and run out 100m before “turning around” and taking a 100m walk break back to the top of the hill to do it all over again.

After the repeats are done, I run a 1km cool down with no incline and at the same pace to finish things up.

Each hill repeat ends up being 1km this way so it’s easy to keep track of where I am in the workout – the repeat number matches up with the kilometre number. When I have 3km on my watch, I’m starting down the hill on repeat three. The total distance of the run will be 2km plus 1km X the number of repeats.

Adjusting for maximum training effect

An example of the heart rate graph from a good hills workout. Five hill repeats with a 1km warm up and cool down.

An example of the heart rate graph from a good hills workout. Five hill repeats with a 1km warm up and cool down.

Depending on how I’m feeling, I’ll play with the pace or the incline to ensure that I’m getting my heart rate elevated enough on the hills. All of the repeats should be done at the same pace and incline, so you need to make sure you aren’t over doing it early and then paying the price on the last repeat.

When I’m done, the result is a nice set of hills in my heart rate graph, and if I got the pace and incline right, there shouldn’t be too much difference in the height of those heart rate hills between the first one and the last.

Compared to doing real hills outside, I find it easier to adjust the treadmill incline and pace to get a better quality workout. Some weeks I feel good and I’ll edge up the pace and incline to match. Other weeks, when I’m feeling less than stellar, the hill can get a bit less steep, or the pace can come down a touch.

Keep in mind that whether you choose inside on a treadmill, or outside on a real hill, the real key to hill training is that you do it.

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