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Workout Of The Week: 3-2-1 Hill Repeats

  • By Mario Fraioli
  • Published Aug 24, 2011
  • Updated Oct 24, 2012 at 4:17 PM UTC

Looking for a ticket to fast fitness? Head for the hills!

Written by: Mario Fraioli

When running uphill, get up on your toes, lift your knees, drive the arms and attack the climb with short strides. Photo: madetorun.com

Do you shy away from speed workouts because you’re afraid of impending injury? Or perhaps you’re just tired of going to the track and turning out lap after lap, week after week. Whatever the reasons, whether you’re looking for a workout that will give you the most bang for your buck with the least likelihood of incurring an injury, or if your speed sessions have simply gone stale, a few sets of 3-2-1 hill repeats will keep you on your toes — quite literally.

All you’ll need is a long enough hill (or reliable treadmill), a fresh set of legs and an hour or so of your time. Here’s how to do it:

Beginner (Shorter) Version

  • Warmup: Run easily for 10-15 minutes, 4 x 20-second strides.
  • Workout: Run two minutes up a gradual grade (4-6% grade) at 5K effort; jog 2/3 of the way back down the hill for recovery. Run one minute up the hill at faster than 5K effort; jog halfway back down to your last starting point for recovery. Run 30 seconds hard (not all out!) up the hill; walk/jog all the way back down to the start of the hill for recovery. Repeat the entire set 2-4 times.
  • Cooldown: Run easily for 10-15 minutes, stretch.

Advanced (Longer) Version

  • Warmup: Run easily for 15-20 minutes, follow with 6 x 20-second strides.
  • Workout: Run three minutes up a gradual grade (4-6% grade) at 8K/10K effort; jog 2/3 of the way back down the hill for recovery. Run two minutes up the hill at 5K effort; jog halfway back down to your last starting point for recovery. Run one minute up the hill at 5K effort or slightly faster; walk/jog all the way back down to the start of the hill for recovery. Repeat the entire set 3-4 times.
  • Cooldown: Run easily for 15-20 minutes, stretch.

Fitting 3-2-1 hill repeats into your training.

This workout was a favorite of mine back in my collegiate cross country days, and some variation of it continues to be a standard session at the beginning of any training cycle for myself or any of the athletes I coach. Why? First of all, it’s just a great workout. Period. No one workout that I know of will get your heartrate up faster than a series of hill repeats. Also, in addition to the aerobic/anaerobic benefits of attacking an incline, you get an awesome muscular workout to boot. It’s the perfect combination of speed and strength.

Number two, regardless of your training focus, a hill session of this sort is the perfect segue at the start of any training cycle before it’s time to transition into more specific speed work further down the road. There’s no pressure to hit specific splits–this workout is all about effort. Also, the session itself can easily be adapted by shortening the length of the repeats (see Beginner/Shorter Version above) depending on where you are with your training and what you’re trying to accomplish.

Lastly, you’re less likely to get injured running hard uphill than you are clicking off fast laps around a track. Be careful going back down the hill, however, as that’s when gravity is the enemy and your shins, knees, quads and lower back will take a beating. Focus on running with good form throughout the workout. On the way up, get up on your toes, lift your knees, drive the arms and attack the climb with short strides. On the descent, control is the key. Don’t slam on the brakes and keep the pounding to a minimum by jogging back down gently.

So what are you waiting for? Head for the hills!

FILED UNDER: Run / Training

Mario Fraioli

Mario Fraioli

Mario Fraioli is a senior editor at Competitor magazine. A cross-country All-American at Stonehill College in 2003, he now coaches the Prado Women's Racing Team in San Diego and was the men's marathon coach for Costa Rica's 2012 Olympic team. His first book, The Official Rock 'n' Roll Guide To Marathon & Half-Marathon Training (VeloPress, 2013) is available in bookstores, running shops and online.

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