Recently I was asked the question “Should I Run Hills Every Day?” to which I immediately answered, “variety is key.” While I stand by that statement, I’d like to expand on it because there’s a lot more to it than the answer I gave.
Your body is amazing at adapting, and it has a unique ability to adapt to many different activities and movements.
The key to adapting is repetition. Repetition promotes efficiency in your brain, muscles, joints, and almost every system in your body.
With that in mind, if you’re questioning whether you should perform a particular task every day, like running hills or even counting cards, the answer is … only if you want to become an expert in that skill.
When we’re talking about a physical activity such as running hills, there’s another element I’d like to point out which could potentially yield problematic expectations. Running hills…every day.
While you may want to run every day, sometimes it’s best to give your body a rest.
If you don’t know it already, rest and downtime are just as important as training.
For any part of your body to repair, you need time, fuel, and rest. The amount of time you need depends on how hard you’ve trained, how stressed you are, how much sleep you’re getting, and so much more.
So running every day probably isn’t the wisest move. However, if you’re so adamant about being active, you can try switching out one of your runs for a walk or a gentle bike ride. Or just let yourself relax and find some motivation on the couch with the best running movies!
Now the second problem with the “every day” statement revolves around adaptation and the law of diminishing returns.
A simple way of saying this is, you make your most significant gains when you start something new.
When you first started running, you were training an inefficient machine to become an efficient machine, meaning that you end up knocking minutes off your PRs. But when you’re already an efficient machine, you’ve got a lot less wiggle room to improve, meaning that PR improvements are limited to seconds. This is the law of diminishing returns in practice.
If you rarely train on hills, then hill training will be highly beneficial for you. Your body will quickly adapt to the different forces and loads, making steep gains in no time (no pun intended).
But after a while, those gains will start slowing. You’ll see a gradual plateau in improvements.
That’s why it’s usually advisable to work in areas where you’ll see the biggest gains. That could mean speed work, strength, endurance, breathing, and sleeping.
Even better than that, you can cycle the areas you focus on. This concept is called periodization.
Say you’ve got a race coming up, and the elevation gain of the race is huge. Should you use a full 12 weeks to get better at hill running? If that comes at the detriment to other aspects of your training, such as endurance (and it probably does), then the answer is probably no.
Instead, you can look at periodization.
That means for a period of say, 4 weeks, you’ll be focusing on hills. Doing hill repeats, long efforts downhill, even stair workouts. During these 4 weeks, you’ll probably see significant gains.
That then leaves the other 8 weeks to focus on something else.
Another way of explaining this is the 80/20 rule. With 20% of the work, you’ll get 80% of the benefit. So you’re better off working on ALL training modalities to gain 80% in each aspect of your running. That’s the best bang for your buck.
Do not despair; just do what you can.
The following tip comes from a recent KoopCast with Guillaume Millet, Ph.D. Again it’s taking advantage of the law of diminishing returns.
If you don’t live near the mountains, but you need to train for a mountain race, you can make one special trip out to the hills for one weekend only and still make significant gains. Those 2-3 days of hill training will bring tremendous benefit, and any hill days after that will only bring moderate gains in comparison.
Always know there are options no matter what your situation is. That’s why it’s always great to work with a coach to explore all these unique options and get an experienced outside perspective.
Do you still want to run hills every day?
If you’ve got to this point, and you’re still aiming to run hills every day, I get it.
If that’s what makes you happy, and you can go out there and do it safely. Go for it!
- It’s not the most efficient way to get fit/be a better runner.
- You also need rest to see the benefits of exercise.
With those two tips in mind, maybe consider walking up the hills one or two of the days. Then, you can perhaps work in some hill repeats on another day to change up the intensity. That way, hills will still be part of your everyday life, but you’re getting the necessary rest to repair your body efficiently.