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Hill sessions on a treadmill
Hill sessions on a treadmill

Got a hilly race coming up or simply fancy mixing up your training with some hill training? Check out our top tips

Ben avatar
Written by Ben
Updated over a week ago

You've signed up for a hilly race or just want to get a good hill session in but there's a catch. Where you live is flat as a pancake. What do you do? have a couple of options. The first is you find a way to get out of your local area and try and find some hills or trails to run on, but that might be easier said than done. The other option is you decide this is one of those times when using the treadmill makes sense.

Let's talk about how to pick the right incline for your session.

Hill training on a treadmill

Let's start by addressing the fact that all treadmills are slightly different and the way in which the gradient is measured can differ. However, regardless of the specifications of your treadmill, we are looking to increase the gradient to a point where we can run for a set period of time. It's useful to play around with the inclines before starting your session, to familiarise yourself with the machine and how it works. The main aim of the hill session is always the same. We're trying to simulate the feeling of being outside, on a real hill and should try and adjust the treadmill to reflect this.

I wish I could give you a magic number for the incline setting, that'll work for everyone, but that's just not the case. Instead, I want you to pick an incline that if you were to walk up for two to three minutes, would leave you breathing a little heavy. The incline shouldn't be so intense that it massively affects your stride (you should not be on your hands and knees!). We want to still be able to run and whilst it'll feel different to running on the flat, we're still looking to move smoothly.

As a rule of thumb, you'll want to set your incline to between 8-15%. This will give you good variety in the types of elevation profiles that you'll be presented with on race day. It's important to note that you shouldn't do all of your sessions at a 15% incline nor should you do all of your sessions at an 8% incline. In order to get the best possible adaptation you'll need to mix up the inclines that you use in training.

Using RPE with hill training

Now that we've touched on incline, we also need to consider the speed at which we do these intervals. Rather than refer to objective speeds here, I'd rather you consider RPE (rate of perceived exertion), which is essentially how difficult each interval feels. In your plan, you will be set hill reps that vary from 30-90 seconds and whilst they differ in time, each of them should be working to an RPE of 8/9 out of 10. You'll need to increase your speed as the intervals get shorter but the aim is to work hard and have a bit of energy left at the end of your session. To convert your Runna workouts to be based on RPE, you can go to 'Manage Plan' > 'Edit preferred units' > 'RPE'.

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