Why is hill climbing so often recommended to runners and what does such training really do? We will go over this training form for you once exactly.
Can you get faster by running uphill?
For decades it has been recommended by trainers and authors to include hill climbs in the running training. From the sprinter over the middle distance runner to the marathon runner, this training tool is known and is also used with pleasure.
The recommendations are essentially based on a wealth of positive experiences from runners and their coaches, who built hill climbs into the training with different goals. Anyone who has ever walked uphill knows the feeling of heaviness in the legs, which sets in immediately after the start of a climb.
Tradition or training method?
It is interesting that the widespread positive attitude towards the mountain races is based on a wealth of experiences of world-class runners and their coaches. As so often, recommendations for action of successful athletes and coaches are the basis for the many recreational runners.
However, different objectives can be identified by taking a closer look at the sources of this training form.
While some trainers see the effect of mountain training in strengthening the running muscles - especially the leg stretchers - for other hill catches are more a means to train intensely and thus to achieve anaerobic capacity adjustments.
In the early 1970s, hill climbing was also thought to have an effect on coordination, because speed barriers are avoidable and muscles can be tense more consciously.
Network of effects during the mountain run?
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For mountain runs, which are usually carried out in interval training form, there are different adjustments, which is targeted with this training form. While mountain running is seen more as a variant of intensive interval training (1) and thus forms an endurance training course, other authors see in mountain running a way to increase endurance (2).
Believing older sources, uphill running, as a form of endurance training, is a way to increase "aerobic endurance." (4) However, since there can be no aerobic endurance exercise in sports, this training effect is fundamentally questionable. (5)
Basically for mountain running
Climbing and running in the plain are very different. The electrical activation of the musculature differs fundamentally from that in a mountain run. On the mountain, on the other hand, the level of activation of each muscle depends on the grade of the slope.
It changes the intensity of involvement of certain muscles as well as the proportion of individual muscles in the total propulsion. In an early study on the topic, it was shown that the twin calf muscle shows a similar EMG pattern at different inclines, that only changes quantitatively.
The straight portion of the thigh extensor, on the other hand, not only shows a stronger activation, but a completely modified innervation pattern. So it is not just the "strength" of the impression that changes the entire innervation. This problem must now be transferred to your personal running goal.
For example, if you are planning to start in a more mountainous marathon, such as the event in Luxembourg, then you should adjust your preparation accordingly. On the other hand, if you are running on the Rhine or on a tartan track, it is not absolutely necessary to go uphill - unless you want to add some variety to your training.
It is important to note that runs on a slope of more than 20% will distort the pattern of coordination as the leg extensor is significantly more heavily loaded than the calf muscles. In terms of intensity, intervals can also be wonderfully incorporated into training forms in the plane.
What is strength training?
The fact that a classic strength training with free exercises such as the free squat, can have a positive effect on running, confirmed in various sports science studies. Influences on the stride length and various adaptation processes on the level of neuronal activation were frequently found as effects.
As a runner you benefit less by an effect of strength training on the muscle cross-section, but by adjusting the nerve control. Strictly speaking, it is only possible to speak of a strength training if you train with a resistance of at least 50% of the maximum possible strength your muscle can develop. Adjustments to lower resistance are endurance training effects and no longer attributable to the force.
Climbing uphill can not be attributed to strength training per se. This also applies to train resistance runs and similar training methods. A specific strength training for runners does not have to be carried out "continuously", but in a weight room - at least if it is desired in individual cases. Strength can only be trained in the weight room, even though many other exercises are also credited with "strength training effects".
Mountain running is not a strength training!
Even if you feel that you need to use "more power" uphill, the power can only be adequately trained in the weight room. Although hill climbs with gradients of 20% or less result in greater activation of the muscles, they are not comparable to strength training. The stimulus generated by a "single power surge", ie an imprint while running, is simply too low to create appropriate adjustments.
The intention that you can strengthen your leg muscles so can not be realized. Conversely, this does not mean that you absolutely must incorporate a strength training in your training program. Although this can represent a performance reserve for each runner, it is by no means a must.
Intensive mountain training?
If you want to train intensively with mountain bouts, you should not neglect the described coordinative aspects. Although various forms of interval training can be done on the mountain, differences in activating your leg muscles may make the effects too specific.
This means that while you can run better uphill, your level performance does not increase. In terms of muscle activation, this thesis is very likely. However, when it comes to looking at the supply of energy, attendance may well be an interesting training tool. At least a high intensity training can be done on the mountain. To what extent the physiological effect differs from interval in the plane remains unclear!
The pure development of your anaerobic capacity works independently of the surface and is determined solely by your running intensity. The effects are varied and quite interesting for marathon runners. Basically, intensive interval training can be recommended. Whether this must necessarily be done on the mountain, can be questioned.
Differences of mountain biking in level and on the mountain
When walking uphill, the coordination processes in the body are very different from running in the plane. Muscles are weighted differently in activation and subjected to varying degrees of stress. On the one hand, these findings speak against mountain training if the target is a run in the flat. On the other hand, runners who want to participate in mountainous runs, should run very mountainous in preparation.
However, you have to say goodbye to the idea of being able to achieve very specific training adjustments through mountain training. Neither your strength nor intensive training content can be trained particularly effectively on the mountain. Basically, there can be no aerobic power endurance training, so that the proclaimed effects are negligible, especially in view of the described activation properties.
However, if you want to break old structures and simply add variety to your training, you are welcome to train on the mountain. Currently, interesting new competition fields are developing here, as trail running - running on natural paths - is experiencing a veritable boom, especially in the mountains. Here is the uphill running a specific form of training, which must be installed as well as the mountain running in the training.
Mountain runs for training and competition
So, if you run in the mountains, you should also train in the mountains. Runners who run a competition in the plane also prefer to train in the plane. The same is true for the underground: If you plan to participate in a city marathon, you should also complete your training on asphalt as a focal point.
The adjustments of your body have to be basically aligned with your training goal. On the other hand, if you want to pursue the goal of increasing your strength, running on the mountain will not be productive. Strength training always requires loads and can only be successfully implemented through strength training. Runners, like other endurance athletes, rely on a workout that consists essentially of exercises with the barbell.
Runners also benefit from strength training, where the squat is at the center of the unit. Studies have also shown positive effects on long-haul routes. Strength training for runners, however, should not be implemented in the form of train resistance runs or mountain bouts. Due to the small individual power surges, these methods always act alone at the level of energy provision, without, however, addressing influencing factors of the force. If a single force impulse is too low, no adjustments can be expected either at the neuromuscular level or at the level of tendomuscular adjustments.
Alternative running training
Mountain training remains an interesting alternative for runners who are looking for variety and want to give their body time and again alternative loads. Here is probably the great strength of mountain bouts, because the avoidance of monotonous and always constant loads should be in the foreground of an intelligent and individual training planning.
For this purpose, mountain runs can be used in addition to the mountain runs on the rise. Again, altered EMG activations are noticeable compared to running in the plane. Due to the eccentric load during interception also occur much higher levels of muscular tension. In the foreground, however, is less the muscular effect than much the motor adjustments. Runners with very high base shares are often retracted at the stride frequency. In mountain runs, you are forced to run higher frequencies.
Again, this is primarily a training tool, with which it can succeed to generate variety and thus to generate new training stimuli! However, mountain courses are to be treated with caution especially for susceptible athletes. Due to the high loads, injuries to the musculature or the passive structures are easily possible. The core of your training should continue to consist of training sessions in the level. This is the only way to lay the foundations for your success!
Tips for your workout
- Only train mountain runs if you are running mountains in competition.
- Intensities can be trained over intervals - Mountain running is not absolutely necessary.
- Strength increase best by supplementing strength training.
Also read: Running for Professionals: Efficient use of exercise time
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1. Noakes, T. (2002). Lore of Running. Human Kinetics: Champaign.
2. Schiffer & Sperlich (2008), introduction to endurance training. Sports Publisher Ostrich: Cologne.
3. Schurr, S. (2003), Performance diagnostics and training control in endurance sports. Books on Demand: Norderstedt.
4. Neumann, G. (1991), Increasing the aerobic power endurance training (endurance training against increased resistance). In: M. Reiß & U. Pfeiffer (ed.), Power reserves in endurance training: successful training strategies with examples in sport swimming, rowing, cycling, athletics, running / walking and speed skating. Sports Publisher: Berlin.
5. Wagner, A., Mühlenhoff, S. & Sandig, D. (2010), strength training in cycling. Elsevier: Munich.
6. competitive sport, 1981, vol. 11 (5). Pp. 350-356.