Hills, useful for all runners

Muscular strengthening, cardiovascular work, and even technique-the positive effects of hill training are legion, and it's an essential part of a runner's programme.

© © Getty Images / sportpoint

"The climbs are tough, but they're essential if you're going to be able to break new ground in other sessions, particularly when it comes to speed. We work hard on power and transfer with the weight training done elsewhere."

The view from Jimmy Gressier, European 10 km record holder

Jimmy Gressier, whose personal best 10 km time is 27m07s (an average speed of over 22 km/h!), knows what hill training has done for him throughout his career. For Jimmy, as for all runners, whatever their level, hill work is vital. In any case, there's little chance that you'll have missed out on the information as you prepare for the 2024 Paris Marathon Pour Tous: with the famous Côte des Gardes, its gradients of up to 12%, and the difference in altitude that blossoms over a significant portion of a particularly hilly course, it's best to have worked on this sector.

Work? Yes, because hills are real work. You develop the specific weight-bearing strength more enjoyably than by doing more sessions in the weight room or running drills - although all these exercises are somewhat compatible. Another benefit is improving your positioning, even on level ground. The range of your stride decreases - while its frequency increases - with the gradient. A hill forces you to make the necessary effort to use your arms as best you can. They become much more active, and often, it's only through this type of exercise that the runner becomes aware of their predominant role.  

Another imperative, as you approach the summits, is to raise your knees in a constant quest, prompted by the slope, for the ideal alignment of the foot, pelvis and shoulder. Once you've got the hang of it, you should continue to do this on flat ground... Improving strength and positioning, then, all progress that positively affects endurance - particularly late in the race, when your stride can begin to deteriorate. All the more so, hill work must be combined with strengthening the abdomen, back and lumbar muscles to ensure an optimal stride.

To summarize, the hills help to improve the runner's physique and the general strength of his system. Without forgetting to improve the heart, the increase in heart rate as you climb enables you to vary your pace and work your cardiovascular system in different ways, sometimes at intensities you'd never have imagined.

How do you go about training once you've gotten your head around all this? The idea is to vary the conditions as much as possible, such as the incline (while retaining a gradient that ensures a position similar to running), the frequency of repetitions and recovery time. The objective is to get used to all running conditions. The hills can be in the middle of a long run, alternating short and long climbs, or as part of a specific split session. Remember: varying the types of training you do helps to keep it enjoyable.

The article was written in collaboration with the French Athletics Federation.