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Hill Drills: Running for Triathletes

By Lee Gardner

"We don't want our runners like weight lifters, we don't want our runners like gymnasts; we want them like ballet dancers." - Arthur Lydiard, Osaka, Japan, 1990

If you've ever been to the ballet, you've seen some incredibly gifted athletes (dancers) executing quite amazing movement: Leaping and bounding with precision and speed over distance, arguably not unlike great runners. Developing the ability of fast, powerful movement is something that we, as triathletes, are always striving for in our training, especially in running. One of the most proven ways to increase power, speed, and agility is to add specific exercises on hills to your running program. The following are three exercises that can be added to any running workout.

1.    The Basic Hill Interval. Add a set of hill running intervals (anywhere from 3-7 repetitions, ranging from 50 to 800 meters in distance), at a slow to moderate pace. This can be done as part of any run. During your run, you simply run up some hills. The pace is not a sprint or hard effort at all, and the point of doing such a set of intervals is to develop specific upper leg strength that develops the muscle used to lift the knees. Additionally, keep your hips forward and drive off of the back of your leg as your opposite knee is lifted high. There is sometimes a tendency to slouch or hunch forward the shoulders. This happens particularly if you are feeling fatigue, either in general or from the workout itself. Be sure to keep this from happening by maintaining a 'proud' form throughout the intervals.

2.    Hill Sprints. These are short but intense efforts on steep hills. Start with a few intervals of 8 to 10 seconds each, then very gradually increase repetitions and durations. When executing hill sprints, each stride should be strong. Focus on a powerful movement that brings your knees up as you drive hard off of the back of your opposite leg. The key here is to straighten the leg that is doing the driving. This movement translates into one thing: Power. If you find yourself slowing considerably or feeling quite fatigued, you have done enough repetitions.

3.    Hill Bounding. On a gentle hill, using your body as resistance by bounding as high as possible. There is little forward momentum needed here, as the point is to gain vertically more than horizontally. By landing on the ball of one's foot, this action in turn forces the runner's ankle to increase in flexibility and power, both up and down. It also strengthens leg muscles similarly to plyometric exercises. The number of repetitions, like the hill sprints, can be determined by performance during the intervals: If you begin to feel tired or your execution of the action begins to wain, it is most likely time to move on to a cool down in your workout.

An added benefit to these hill exercises is that performing them will strengthen the muscles used in running specifically, which will also help to prevent injury if done regularly. This is good news for anyone out there who might suffer from occasional Achilles tendinitis or hamstring issues. Note that these exercises are not a remedy to injury, but can be incorporated as part of a preventative measure.

Keep in mind that, as is the case with many strengthening exercises, a little goes a long way. As the quote above states, we do not want to create weight lifters. Your goal in adding these exercises is to enhance your ability to move quickly with power, but not to add bulk. Envision yourself effortlessly moving through space, the way a dancer moves on a stage. Elegant running is quick running.

trismarterLee Gardner is a USA Triathlon Certified Level 1 Triathlon Coach with Lee lives and trains in Colorado Springs, Colo., and occasionally takes time off from his training to recharge for next season! Visit to learn more about their personalized coaching options such as Tri4Life and Tri2Lose as well as innovative Eat2Win sports nutrition services. Contact or call 917.825.1451 for more information. strives to provide the highest quality internet-based triathlon coaching and sports nutrition services for the everyday triathlete and novice. These services are based on an understanding of the sport and tailored to the expectations and needs of each and every client. Our services address every aspect of triathlon preparation: Tri4Life personalized coaching, Tri2Lose weight loss and Eat2Win sports nutrition. At, we celebrate the journey along with our clients from start to finish.