Running Fitness Class

Hill Workouts: Intense & Short or Slower & Long?

Hill training is commonly used by distance runners to increase running speed. It’s been associated with increases in VO2max, lactate threshold, and running economy. But how can we get the most out of our hill training? (Because let’s be real, we all know it can be our most dreaded training day of the week.)

Should we be focusing on running uphill as fast as we can and taking breaks, or should we use a more comfortable pace to run longer with fewer breaks? A study published in the International Journal of Sports Medicine explores differences in hill training techniques and makes a few suggestions for how to get the most out of all our hard work.

The researchers used these performance markers to figure out how effective their interval training program was:

1. Maximum Oxygen Consumption (VO2Max): the maximum amount of oxygen that an athlete can utilize during maximal exertion – aka how efficient your cardiovascular system is

2. Velocity at Lactate Threshold: the velocity at which lactate begins to gather in the blood more quickly than it can be removed – aka the fastest pace you can maintain using your anaerobic system

3. Running Economy: how efficiently you run (think body mechanics, etc)

4. Time to Exhaustion: the amount of time an athlete can exercise at a given intensity (80%VO2max at 20% treadmill grade for this study)

Runners were put into 1 of 2 groups:

1. The high-intensity, short duration group = 10-14 repetitions of 30sec sprints at a velocity matched to each person’s VO2max, at a 10% grade

2. The lower-intensity, long duration group = 4-6 repetitions of 3 minute runs at a velocity matched to 68% of each person’s VO2max, at a 10% grade

Both groups trained 3 times per week, including two workouts of incline intervals and one steady 30-minute run on a level grade treadmill.

Results showed that both incline training intervals improve performance, but the high-intensity, short-duration group had significantly greater improvement in velocity at onset of lactate threshold and time to exhaustion!

What does this mean for training? Short-duration, high-intensity incline interval training may allow us to reach a higher velocity of running before lactate starts to take over and we need to reduce our intensity; so you can run faster for a longer period of time! Additionally, a higher "time to exhaustion" suggests the ability to run longer at a high intensity and in a variety of conditions. All in all, high-intensity incline interval training is an effective way to improve running speed!

Jordan Bunger, Student Physical Therapist

Cathlin Fitzgerald, PT, DPT, CSCS, CAFS

NY Custom PT & Performance

295 Madison Avenue #1026

New York, NY 10017


Ferley DD Hopper DT Vukovick MD. “Incline Treadmill Interval Training: Short v. Long Bouts and the Effects on Distance Running Performance.” International Journal of Sports Medicine. 2016; 37: 958-965