To get up to speed, head for the hills

Hill workouts improve your pace and fitness, inject variety into your training programme

Mok Ying Ren incorporated hill training into his routine while in Brisbane, Australia. Train wisely to reap great benefits from such arduous workouts, he advises.
Mok Ying Ren incorporated hill training into his routine while in Brisbane, Australia. Train wisely to reap great benefits from such arduous workouts, he advises. PHOTO: ONEATHLETE

The marathon champion of the 1972 Olympics, Frank Shorter, once said: "Hills are speed work in disguise." Hill training was introduced to me by my training partner, Jason Lawrence, early in my running journey. Since then, we have integrated hills into our weekly training programme without fail.

Some of the more "memorable" hills I have tackled - in terms of the pain level - are Mount Faber, Vigilante Drive (a side road off South Buona Vista Road) and just about every other corner within the National University of Singapore.

I was once told, "When you are fit, every hill is flat". Truth is, no hill has ever felt flat to me, not even when I had just won the 2013 SEA Games marathon. Nevertheless, hill training does benefit runners.

Here's how:


Running on short hills between 50m and 80m allows you to work on your power and speed. For this kind of workout, begin by leaning in and then sprinting up the hill at your maximum speed.

You may walk back down the hill slowly, until you feel ready to repeat the sprint.

  • #AskMok


    Do we really need to do slope training? My coach wants us to do this often but I'm wondering if it might cause injuries.


    In what way is slope training beneficial? How can we use this to our benefit?

Repeat this five to 10 times as you progress over the weeks.

This workout may be rather intensive and, to avoid muscle injury, should be tackled only after completing a thorough warm-up.


Running on hills forces you to focus on your running form in a natural manner. When running uphill, your body's natural response is to lean forward and run "into" the hill - it is quite impossible to run uphill with your body leaning backwards.

Over time, this optimal natural running form may be adopted and carry over to your regular runs on flat surfaces.

For this workout, find a hill route between 100m and 200m long and practise running smoothly uphill with your body leaning slightly forward. Focus on running tall, while driving your knees forward and swinging your arms. Don't worry about speed.


Hill training builds great muscular endurance in your legs and boosts your overall physical fitness levels, as you are required to work against gravity. Gradually, these improvements will become apparent in your runs on flatter routes.

My preferred hill to perform this type of workout would be Mt Faber. I usually start from the bottom of the hill at Morse Road and run all the way up to the peak of Mt Faber, before jogging back down slowly. This cycle is repeated three to eight times, depending on my training stage.

Do expect to experience some soreness after each of your first few workouts. But fret not - by your fifth visit to the hill, you should not feel as much fatigue after the session.

However, do not get your hopes up (too quickly) and expect each run up the hill to feel easier within a short time - it took me a while and, even then, I still had a healthy respect (and fear) of hills.

Your progress can be measured against the amount of time taken to tackle the slope or hill, all while running at the same level of intensity.

It's evident that hill training injects variety into your training programme and causes less trauma and stress to the joints with its upward motion. Do it wisely and you will reap great benefits from the arduous workout sessions.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 02, 2018, with the headline To get up to speed, head for the hills. Subscribe