If you’re looking to improve your running performance, hill repeats are an essential training tool. 

But what gradient should you use for the best results? Calculating the gradient is a crucial step in ensuring you’re pushing yourself at the right intensity. Don’t fret, though—it’s a straightforward process.

To calculate the gradient, you need to determine the vertical elevation gain over the distance traveled. It’s a simple formula of rise over run. 

For example, if you run a 400-meter segment and the elevation gain is 40 meters, divide 40 by 400 and multiply by 100 to get the percentage gradient. This tells you how much you’re climbing per 100 meters. 

In Imperial measurement, the process is similar. If you run a 1,000-foot segment and the elevation gain is 100 feet, divide 100 by 1,000 and multiply by 100 to get the percentage gradient. This will give you the climbing rate per 100 feet.

By the end of this article, you’ll have a solid understanding of hill repeats and be equipped with the knowledge to incorporate them effectively into your training routine. 

Whether you’re a seasoned runner or just starting out, hill repeats can help you build strength, and improve speed. 

So let’s dive in and master those hills!

What Are Hill Repeats?

Hill repeats are structured workouts where you exert effort while running uphill and then recover by running downhill.

In simple terms,  a hill repeat is a repetition where you choose a segment of a hill, either based on time or distance. You work hard or run firmly up the hill, then turn around and run easily down to recover. 

This process is repeated for the prescribed number of repetitions.

During a hill repeat session, you’ll choose a designated hill that suits your fitness level and training goals. The uphill portion is the challenging part where you push your limits and work hard, testing your strength and endurance.

Once you reach the top, you’ll turn around and jog or run easily, or walk downhill to recover and catch your breath before starting the next repetition.

Why You Need Hill Repeats In Your Training Routine

Prescribed repetitions play a crucial role in hill repeats. 

They provide structure and ensure that you’re getting the most out of your workout. Your training plan or coach will specify the number of hill repeats you should aim for in a session. 

Following the prescribed repetitions helps you gradually build your fitness, increase your stamina, and improve your overall running performance.

Hill repeats are not just about randomly running uphill and downhill. They are a purposeful training technique that targets specific aspects of your fitness and running abilities. 

By incorporating hill repeats into your routine, you can develop strength, enhance your cardiovascular endurance, and improve your running form and efficiency. Hills lay the strength foundation necessary to minimise injury risk during speed and interval training.

Now that you know what hill repeats are and why you need them, let’s get to know the benefits you’ll reap from doing hill repeats.

Benefits of Hill Repeats

Hill repeats offer a number of benefits that can significantly improve your running and overall fitness. These include: 

  • Building Strength And Speed
  • Enhancing Running Form
  • Preparing For Tough Hilly Routes
  • Reducing The Risk Of Injury During Speed Work
  1. Building Strength and Speed: 

Hill repeats are like a supercharged workout that will make your legs and core seriously strong.

When you run uphill, your muscles kick into high gear to conquer the resistance. They work extra hard, and that hard work pays off big time. Your muscles get stronger and more powerful, which has a positive effect on your speed.

So, whether you’re racing on a nice, flat route or tackling those uphill battles, the strength and power you gain from hill repeats will give your speed a major boost.

  1. Enhancing Running Form: 

Running uphill naturally encourages proper running form. 

When you face an incline, your body instinctively leans slightly forward, engaging your core and encouraging a more efficient posture. 

This improved alignment promotes better running mechanics, including a more powerful push-off, increased stride length, and improved overall running economy.

  1. Preparing For Tough Hilly Routes: 

If you’re training for a race that includes hilly sections, hill repeats are invaluable. 

By regularly practicing hill repeats, you develop the strength and mental fortitude necessary to overcome any challenging terrain. Uphill running becomes more manageable, and you’ll have the confidence to tackle any hills that come your way during a race or endurance event.

  1. Reducing The Risk Of Injury During Speed Work:

Hill repeats serve as a precursor to speed work.

Before diving into high-intensity track workouts or interval training, hill repeats provide a safer and more controlled environment to work on speed development. 

The incline acts as a natural brake, reducing the impact and stress on your joints and muscles, and lowering the risk of injury associated with fast-paced running. 

By integrating hill repeats into your training routine, you’ll witness significant improvements in your running ability. Your legs will grow stronger, your speed will increase, and your form will become more efficient. 

Additionally, the mental resilience you gain from conquering challenging hills will translate into increased confidence and determination during races and demanding running routes.

What Is The Ideal Gradient for Hill Repeats

Finding the right gradient for your hill repeats is like striking the perfect balance. 

Let’s break it down into two phases and discover the ideal gradients that will take your training to the next level:

Phase 1: Gradual Hills (3-5% Gradient)

When starting out with hill repeats, opt for gradual hills with a gradient of around 3% to 5%. 

These hills offer a sweet spot of challenge and maintain a smooth running rhythm. 

They’re not too steep to make you feel like you’re climbing a mountain, but they’re still demanding enough to work your muscles and boost your endurance. 

With these gradients, you’ll find a balance between building strength and maintaining a reasonable turnover, ensuring your training is effective and enjoyable.

Phase 2: Power Phase (5% or Slightly Higher)

Once you’ve built a solid foundation on gradual hills, it’s time to crank up the intensity. 

Next, we’ll transition into an exciting power phase where the gradient ranges from 5% to just over 5%. We want to avoid going as high as 6% or 7% because it is too steep, and places too much load on the hamstrings, glutes, and associated tendons and ligaments, which can lead to tendinopathies. Instead, we’ll find that sweet spot that’s a little bit higher than 5%. 

During this phase, we’ll focus on shorter sprints that really ignite our explosive power. Even though the hill may be slightly steeper, the shorter distance allows us to sustain that intensity and push ourselves to the limit. 

After conquering the power phase, we’ll adapt our training based on our specific event goals. 

This typically involves gradually progressing to slightly longer intervals and incorporating shorter recovery periods to optimize our performance.

Now let’s dive into the process of calculating the gradient, a topic that often leaves people scratching their heads. It’s understandable why this can be a bit confusing, but fear not, we’re here to make it crystal clear.

How To Calculate The Gradient Of a Hill

To calculate the gradient for your hill repeats, you need to determine the vertical elevation gain over the distance traveled. 

It might sound complicated, but it’s actually quite straightforward. Here’s a simple, step-by-step guide:

  1. Measure The Vertical Elevation Gain: 

Start by measuring the total amount of elevation you gain while running up the hill. You can use a GPS watch, a running app, or even a topographic map to get this information.

  1. Measure The Distance Traveled:

Next, measure the total distance you cover while running the hill segment. You can use a GPS watch, a running app, or even a measuring wheel.

  1. Apply The Rise-Over-Run Formula: 

Once you have the vertical elevation gain and the distance traveled (in the same units), it’s time to crunch the numbers. Divide the elevation gain by the distance and multiply the result by 100. This will give you the percentage gradient of the hill. (Rise/Run) x 100 = Percentage Gradient

For example, let’s say you ran a hilly segment that had an elevation gain of 40 meters and covered a distance of 400 meters. Divide 40 by 400, which equals 0.1, then multiply by 100 to get 10%. So, the gradient of that hill segment would be 10%.

The good news is that we’ve created a Hill Gradient Calculator just for you. 

Now that you know how to calculate the gradient, let’s shift our focus to the length of your hill repeats and how to approach them. It’s a common question: should you go all out from the beginning or take a more controlled approach?

Approaching Hill Repeat Workouts

The key to a successful hill repeat session is finding the right balance between exertion and control. It’s important to maintain consistency throughout your repetitions rather than going all-in from the start and burning out. 

Here’s a breakdown of how to approach the length and intensity of your hill repeats:

  1. Length Of Hill Repeats

The duration of your hill repeats depends on your training goals and fitness level. 

For longer repeats, aim for a maximum duration of around 2 minutes. This allows you to challenge your endurance and build strength. 

Shorter hill sprints should last between 45 seconds and 1 minute, focusing on developing explosive power and speed.

  1. Consistency And Pacing:

Consistency is the name of the game when it comes to hill repeats. It’s crucial to maintain a consistent pace throughout your repetitions. Resist the temptation to start too fast and struggle towards the end. 

By pacing yourself, you ensure that each repetition is performed at a similar intensity, maximising the benefits of the workout.

  1. Recommended Pace: 

A general guideline for longer hill repeats is to aim for a pace that is approximately 10-15 seconds slower than your best 5k pace. For shorter, power-based sprints, aim for a 5km race pace or slightly faster.

This provides a challenging yet sustainable effort level. It’s important to find the balance that allows you to complete all the repetitions while still pushing your limits.

  1. Adjusting Intensity: 

The intensity of your hill repeats may vary from session to session based on your execution and progress. Pay attention to how well you execute the workout each week and adjust the intensity accordingly. 

If you find the repetitions too easy, you can increase the pace or add more repetitions. 

On the other hand, if they are excessively challenging, you may need to scale back slightly to ensure you’re pushing yourself without overexertion.

Hill repeats are an excellent tool for building strength, speed, and endurance, and with a strategic approach, you’ll maximise their benefits and take your running to new heights.

How Do I Structure A Hill Repeat Workout?

A hill repeat workout should always include a warm-up and cool-down. The warm-up should consist of running for between 10 and 15 minutes, with additional time if possible for a more thorough warm-up. 

Activation drills or short bounding run-throughs can be included to enhance neuromuscular coordination. After the warm-up, the hill repeat workout can be performed. 

Following the workout, a cool-down of at least 10 to 15 minutes of easy running and walking is recommended to bring the body back to a relaxed state.


With a passion for high performance sport – Lindsey Parry is one of South Africa’s most widely recognised coaches. Having led a team to the London, Rio and Tokyo Olympic Games as well as the Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh, the Gold Coast & Birmingham, and coached both triathletes and runners onto podiums of some of the world’s most illustrious races, Lindsey has a unique ability to understand what it takes to succeed at any level and thrives on coaching, motivating and inspiring others to do the same – whether it’s on the track, on stage or behind a mic.

Comments are closed.