If you’re searching for a simple way to amp up your cardio training, look no further than the nearest hill.
Incline workouts improve endurance, increase cardiovascular capacity, burn fat, and build leg strength, says Rebekah Mayer, RRCA, national training manager of Life Time Run.
“When programmed into interval training, hills allow you to push into a higher heart-rate zone,” she explains. Without having to sprint, you burn more fat than you would while running on a flat surface. Running uphill also works your quads, glutes, and calves.
The Sisyphus workout is named after the Greek king who paid for his crimes by rolling a boulder up a hill — only to see it roll back to the bottom before he reached the top, forcing him to start over, again and again.
The protocol trains you to not only push beyond your comfort zone, but to also adequately recover.
Runners can practice hill intervals in the off-season to build strength for flat races in the 5K to 10K range. Marathoners might incorporate the Sisyphus workout into midseason training to prepare for hilly courses.
Those who aren’t training for a specific race but want to build general fitness can perform this workout two or three times a month — yes, per month, because it really is that intense.
Warm-up: Start with a 10- to 20-minute easy-paced run, followed by a five- to 10-minute dynamic warm-up.
Workout: Locate a hill with a moderately steep incline that is long enough to allow for a two-minute run — a quarter-mile is plenty for most people. Then, perform four hill repeats as noted below.
Uphill: Aim for an intensity that is challenging but sustainable for the full uphill interval. It should be a pace at which it is “difficult to carry on a conversation,” says Mayer. If you know your 5K pace, use it as a guideline.
Downhill: Recover with a slow jog or walk. Catch your breath and shake out your arms.
Uphill: Lean forward from your ankles and gaze slightly uphill. Focus on landing on your toes, lifting your knees, and pumping your arms. Keep your steps quick and light; avoid long strides or lunging.
Downhill: Shorten and soften your stride. Walk as needed.
Repeat 1: Run uphill for 30 seconds, then jog or walk back to the bottom.
Repeat 2: Run uphill for 60 seconds, then jog or walk back to the bottom.
Repeat 3: Run uphill for 90 seconds, then jog or walk back to the bottom.
Repeat 4: Run uphill for two minutes, then jog or walk back to the bottom.
One set of all four repeats equals about five minutes of uphill running. New runners and beginning exercisers should start with one set. Advanced exercisers and experienced runners can complete two or three sets.
This originally appeared as “Hill Runs” in the May 2018 print issue of Experience Life.