Training on hills is a reliable way to gain leg strength — especially early in the year.
For years I have been advocating hill run training to my athletes. While training in the hills is valuable all year round, it is particularly useful early in your annual preparation to gain strength and muscular endurance. Propelling your body weight upward against gravity increases the load on your muscles. It also emphasizes the drive phase of the run stride (the segment of your stride that begins when your foot is directly below your center of gravity and continues through to point at which you toe-off and your foot leaves the ground).
Another benefit of running uphill is the reduction of impact on the lower leg bones (the tibia and fibula) and ankle and knee joints compared to running on level ground. Obviously, the impact is exponentially greater when you’re running down hills, but hill sets that emphasize a hard uphill section with a gentle jog back down can mitigate this factor. That said, your muscles are not only active movers of your body but also function as shock absorbers that protect your bones and joints, so there is significant value to running downhill more aggressively, to enhancing their shock absorbing capacity, as your legs adapt to the stress.
In addition, hill training boosts muscular endurance in the calves, hamstrings and hip flexors, which contributes to strength, endurance and structural stability and prepares you for faster running as you move closer to the race season. This durability also helps you run well off the bike on tired legs.
To reap these benefits, do the following three hill sessions for six to eight weeks during your early-season training.
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