In the previous articles in my blog series, I talked about training for endurance and speed; how and when to do it, and why it’s important. Lastly, I want to talk about training your ability to climb.
I love trails that go uphill; both for the view at the top and the effort required to get there. No matter how steep the hill, running uphill is rarely easy and often keeps your heart rate in the threshold regime. Sometimes the trails are steep enough that power hiking is faster than running while saving both energy and leg strength for the more runnable sections. And contrary to what one might expect, running uphill often can make you slower at it. So how to get fast at running up?
The simple answer is to get faster running on flats. It took me a while to learn this and not without the help of those smarter than me (thank you, coach, David Roche). If you look at any climb, no matter how steep, your speed will have both horizontal and vertical components. For most grades, the horizontal component still dominates the overall vector, and without a fast horizontal speed, you won’t be moving very fast up the hill either. Hence it’s important to never neglect those flat runs; one of the main reasons I’m writing about training for hills last in this training series. Endurance and speed training should take the majority of your time, with specific training (in this case for climbing up hills) coming in third.
One of the most important parts of the ability to climb is to have good leg strength endurance. This can be achieved both by running hills and by doing strength workouts outside or in the gym. A few of the most important exercises for strong climbing legs are box step-ups, lunges, lunge jumps, squats, and squat jumps. You can do a combination of those in a workout, starting with just using your body weight then continue adding weights in terms of dumbbells, sandbags, weighted vests, etc. Since it takes a few days for leg muscles to recover, those shouldn’t be done more than once or twice per week. Second, you can incorporate hill repeats into your interval workouts. This can be anything from 30-second sprints up steep hills to 3-minute long intervals up gentle grades. To recover, jog slowly down in between repetitions. Lastly, work on your leg strength endurance by doing tempo workouts on extended climbs: anywhere from a 10-minute long effort to over an hour of climbing, depending on the geography of where you live and how tall the mountains that surround you are. Once you’re at the top, don’t forget to enjoy the view!
When we’re out during a race (or a long run) with long and steep climbs, one important question to ask is what’s faster – to hike, or to run? It depends on the individual grade at which hiking is beneficial, and it’s important to determine what works for you in training. There are two main considerations – which mode of going uphill is faster, and which tires you less so you can pick up the speed quicker once the trail flattens. To determine that, time yourself both from the bottom of the hill to the top, and from the bottom to the top and beyond. How quickly can you scale the hill if you run? Was it faster if you hiked? And when you keep going after the climb is over, is your speed higher if you hiked some of the climbs to preserve your energy and leg strength?
All of this will depend on the grade of the trail, nature of the footing (I tend to always power-hike trails with big boulders/steps/or very technical footing), and how rested you are on any given day. At the end of the day, it’s important to enjoy the training you’re doing. If running uphill is hard and daunting, let yourself hike. It’s unlikely you’ll be significantly slower, and by enjoying it more you’ll do it more often, hence get better at it over time. And remember: you don’t have to climb steep hills all the time to be fast at ascending. A couple of good climbs per week are plenty to keep your climbing legs strong yet not lose the running economy which is so important for maintaining speed – both on the hills and the flats.
Stairmaster 10G workout for climbing
The beauty of StairMaster is any workout on the machine IS a good workout to train your climbing ability. No matter how slow you go, you’re always working on leg strength and developing muscles required to carry you up a hill. And you don’t have to descent – so you can do it more often without risking overuse injuries from pounding your joints on descents. Below is a sample workout to get your climbing legs ready for hills.
20 min progression warm-up in standard mode
Start easy and increase the intensity every few minutes for the first 15-minutes, then go back to easy for the last 5 minutes. Example (level 10 for 5min, 11 for 2, 12 for 2, 13 for 2, 14 for 2, 15 for 2, back down to 10 for last 5min).
5×3 min jog in standard mode with 2-minute recovery in between sets on as easy as needed. Avoid holding onto the rail if you can and reduce the speed to a fast walk if jogging becomes too hard
5 min easy to recover
15 min moderate in overdrive mode. Feel free to switch between farmers carry and sled push mode
By Rea Kolbl | Professional OCR Athlete